A new documentary has explored the similarities between the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Prince Edward: Will He Change the Royals?, which airs on Channel 5 this evening at 9:15pm, looks at Queen Elizabeth II’s youngest son’s journey to becoming one of the most senior members of the British Royal Family.
It notes how the father-of-two, 59, failed to be included in the Buckingham Palace balcony appearance for the late Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – yet for his brother King Charles III’s Coronation, he was up front and centre with his wife, Sophie, 58.
The couple have become hard-working, valued senior royals, but it wasn’t always this way; they had series of scrapes after they married that saw Sophie boasting to the News of the World’s ‘Fake Sheik’ about her PR firm’s royal connections.
Edward’s film company, Ardent, then made attempts to get around a ban on filming his nephew, Prince William, at university in St Andrews. There was also his disastrous appearance on It’s a Knockout at Alton Towers in June 1987.
A new documentary has explored the similarities between the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh (pictured last month at the Order Of The Garter Service at Windsor Castle) and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Both were lambasted for trying to cash in on royal links. But unlike Prince Harry and Meghan , Sophie and Edward wound down their businesses and dug in to royals duties, rebuilding their reputations within the Royal Family.
The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh reportedly received a one-off payment of £250,000 to end their controversial business careers in 2002. It was said to be passed off as ‘ compensation’ for loss of earnings.
Speaking on tonight’s documentary, journalist Emily Andrews said: ‘The Queen effectively asked Edward and Sophie to give up their careers and become full time working royals.
‘As an effective sweetener, she gave them £250,000 in compensation, if you like.’
The journalist continued: ‘There are parallels between Sophie and Edward and Harry and Meghan. I mean Sophie and Edward were the forerunners of trying to balance their royal career with actual money-making careers.’
Royal commentator Katie Nicholl echoed this suggestion, adding: ‘I think you can draw parallels, absolutely, with the Sussexes.
‘Harry also wanted to strike out, do things a little differently, and just as Edward found, these parameters are quite rigid, they don’t really budge and kick against them too hard and you get badly wounded in the process.’
In March, after Prince Edward was handed his late father’s title, the Duke of Edinburgh, royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told MailOnline: ‘This rewards hard work and dedication to royal duty.
‘Since they have decided that their children should have the option of titles, Harry and Meghan might take note that, in the face of initial adversity when they too had problems and bad press, Edward and Sophie have done remarkable service to the Royal Family. They deserve this reward.’
The elevation to William and Kate’s second in command shows how far Edward and Sophie have come. Sophie has also become something of a confidante for the new Princess of Wales, who admires the way the new Duchess of Edinburgh balances royal duties with motherhood.
Experts have said the couple were the Harry and Meghan of their day – before making the decision to give up their business activities and opt to concentrate on royal duties.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, attend the Ms. Foundation Women of Vision Awards: Celebrating Generations of Progress & Power at Ziegfeld Ballroom on May 16, 2023 in New York City
Royal author Phil Dampier told MailOnline: ‘Edward and Sophie both had their problems in the past but they have shown how to react by knuckling down and getting on with their roles without fanfare.
‘By contrast to Harry and Meghan the pair have been supportive to their family and institution of monarchy and now they are getting their reward.
‘Sophie became a favourite of the late Queen and the King has seen how his brother and wife are a safe pair of hands.
‘With a slimmed down monarchy they have an important role to play and the conferring of the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh titles confirms their status. It’s the perfect birthday present for Edward and Sophie also deserves her title.’
Charles was reported to be reluctant to hand the dukedom over to Edward when he became king. He is known to be in favour of a slimmed-down monarchy.
Edward appeared to be aware of the uncertainty, hinting in a TV interview in the aftermath of Philip’s death: ‘It was sort of a pipe dream of my father’s… and of course it will depend on whether or not the Prince of Wales, when he becomes king, whether he’ll do that.’
Prince Edward And Sophie with members of their families after their wedding at St George’s Chapel, Windsor in 1999
Edward and wife Sophie (pictured on Christmas Day with their children Lady Louise Windsor and James Viscount Severn in 2018) now focus on their royal duties which involves a variety of patronages
Philip’s desire for Edward to have the title was in recognition of his son’s decades-long commitment to the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the youth scheme which is one of Philip’s greatest legacies.
The late Queen Elizabeth II held the courtesy title of Duchess of Edinburgh following her marriage, as did the Queen Consort when Charles inherited the title.
Edward and Sophie being given the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh titles shows how far they have both come after the shakiest of starts, noted the documentary.
After dropping out of the Royal Marines, Prince Edward pursued a career in the entertainment world. He commissioned the 1986 musical Cricket from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for his mother’s 60th birthday – and managed to land himself a job at Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Theatre Company while he was at it.
There he worked as a production assistant on musicals including The Phantom of the Opera, Starlight Express, and Cats. He said in 1987: ‘I love the razzmatazz of show business. It’s a wonderful world of fantasy and make-believe.’
His first foray into television was with the one-off game show The Grand Knockout Tournament – informally known as It’s a Royal Knockout – staged at Alton Towers in June 1987.
Distinguished royal historian Ben Pimlott described it in his biography of the monarch as ‘excruciating’ and a ‘critical moment in the altering image of British Royalty’ because it ‘made the public stunningly aware that a sense of decorum was not an automatic quality in the Royal Family’.
Edward was said to have flounced out of the press conference afterwards when reporters failed to express sufficient appreciation of his efforts.
In 1993 Prince Edward launched Ardent Productions, in which he personally invested £205,000.
It floundered in its first year, failing to win a single commission, but in July 1995 there was a breakthrough, with Channel 4 agreeing to let the Earl front a short series on the niche game of real tennis – an indoor pursuit, played with wooden racquets.
Ardent’s big break came in 1996 with Edward on Edward, a documentary fronted by the prince about Edward VIII, his abdication in 1938 and his subsequent controversial life.
In 1998, at which point Edward was paying himself a salary of £119,000, Ardent moved its glamorous premises in Central London to Edward’s Bagshot Park residence.
It’s a Royal Knockout – the brainchild of Prince Edward – was four teams of celebrities, each with a non-participating royal clad in pantomime costume at the helm – Edward, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson (pictured). It was panned
In 2001 it declared a profit of just £30,000 – which was after Edward waived the usual £50,000 yearly rent for its office space in the Bagshot Park stables.
It all went horribly wrong in 2001 when, while making the series Royalty from A to Z for the US market, a two-man camera crew from the company filmed Prince William, Edward’s nephew, at the University of St Andrews.
The move violated a press agreement concerning William’s privacy. Despite an apologetic statement from Ardent claiming the filming took place without Edward’s knowledge, the Earl stepped down as joint managing editor and halted his involvement in March 2002.
Like the Sussexes, they insisted on trying to break the mould and forge lucrative commercial careers – she in PR and he in TV production – in tandem with their royal duties.
But then Sophie was sensationally caught up in a humiliating ‘sting’ operation engineered by the News of the World after talking with a ‘Fake Sheik’ posing as a potential client. Her taped indiscretions about senior politicians were highly embarrassing.
Since then she has turned it around.
The Countess is now the second hardest working female royal after Anne, and has won plaudits for her choice of work on preventable blindness and the issue of sexual violence in war.
One senior Whitehall source said recently that her championing of the cause has been ‘invaluable’.
Sophie’s image, too, has changed over the years. The ill-fitting suits from the High Street she favoured as a young PR executive were long ago dispensed with. In the past decade she has stepped up her game in the fashion stakes.
She has enlisted the help of stylist Pandora Delevingne (mother of model and actress Cara) and now favours collections by Suzannah London and Emilia Wickstead to flatter her physique and English rose complexion.
‘She fell into her role so brilliantly and has been dedicated to doing everything right,’ long-term friend, Penny Mountbatten, ex-wife of the Queen’s cousin Lord Ivar Mountbatten, said.
Edward and wife Sophie now focus on their royal duties which involves a variety of patronages.
Sophie is devoted to and fiercely protective of her children, having endured serious medical complications during the birth of Louise and an ectopic pregnancy.
‘She went through a lot to have her family and she and Edward have never relied on nannies. They have always had a rule that, when working, one of them is at home with the children as far as possible,’ Penny Mountbatten says.
And because the Queen lived close by, she got to spend a great deal of time with Louise and James when they were growing up, often watching Mr Tumble on CBeebies when they were little.