Sophie Wessex attends Royal Naval College in Dartmouth
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Sophie, Countess of Wessex, has been photographed on a visit to Heatherwood Hospital near Ascot, as she marked her first public outing of the year. She was seen sharing a laugh with NHS staff and chatted with patients as they celebrated the hospital’s refurbishment. During her visit, Sophie toured the hospital’s theatre suite, including the anaesthetic room and recovery area. Her outing comes the day before her 58th birthday, and the royal beamed when she was handed a card as she left. The Countess has close personal ties to Frimley Health, the NHS Foundation Trust that runs Heatherwood Hospital. Sophie gave birth to both of her children, 19-year-old Lady Louise Windsor and 15-year-old James, Viscount Severn, at Frimley Park Hospital, which is also part of the group.
In early 2003, Sophie and her husband Prince Edward announced that they were expecting their first child, due to be born in December of that year.
However, the Countess suffered from complications during her pregnancy and was rushed to Frimley Park Hospital a month early. The Earl of Wessex was on a royal visit to Mauritius at the time.
Julie Montagu, Viscountess Hinchingbrooke, recounted the incident on the Channel 5 documentary, Edward & Sophie: The Reluctant Royals? “Sophie was due in December; she went into premature labour and Lady Louise was born in early November,” she explained.
Roya Nikkhah, royal editor at The Sunday Times, added: “She was rushed to hospital for an emergency cesarian a month premature; Lady Louise was born a month premature and [she was] very, very small.”
Louise was born with esotropia, a condition that made her eyes turn inward; it was later treated with surgery.
“Sophie was actually parted from her daughter for the first days after she was born, which she found very, very difficult,” Rebecca English, royal editor at The Daily Mail, said.
The journalist went on to recall the Countess returning to the hospital years later, where was reunited with the midwife who delivered her daughter.
“A couple of years ago, when she went back to Frimley Park and met one of the midwives that was responsible for helping her deliver Louise,” Ms English explained. “Sophie just burst into tears; it was clearly still a really emotional experience for her.”
She continued: “Obviously, it’s not something you often see on royal engagements and I think it’s a sign of how deeply the experience affected her and how much she owed the incredible NHS team at that hospital.”
Four years later, in December 2007, Sophie gave birth to her son James. Again, the Wessexes went to their local hospital — Frimley Park — to welcome their newborn.
“Another example of them wanting to do things in a non-royal way, to have normal deliveries, normal births within the NHS,” said historian Anna Whitelock. “And in a sense, that marked out the beginning of how they wanted to bring up their children.”
Throughout the years, Sophie has made a continued effort to support the NHS. In 2004, she became Grand President of St John Ambulance and in 2021, she trained to become a Care Volunteer in support of the NHS Vaccination Programme.
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On her birthday last year, Sophie stepped out to volunteer at a vaccination centre, working with fellow volunteers to greet patients, take their details and look after their wellbeing while being vaccinated.
At the end of her shift, the Countess was presented with a pin badge, which is given to all volunteers to thank them for their support.
In September 2021, Sophie was honoured for her service to St John Ambulance and presented with a Bar to the Service Medal in recognition of her 15 years of working with the organisation.
A year earlier, in April 2020, the Countess returned to Frimley Park to meet NHS heroes on the frontline and help distribute donations to staff.
Jackie Almond, a senior sister in the hospital’s radiology department, welcomed Sophie’s support and thanked people for their donations.
“It’s a lovely gesture and it’s nice that she has come to help. I think the support from the public has been amazing,” she said at the time.
The royal mum-of-two also met student nurses training to join Frimley Park’s frontline as they battled coronavirus.
Janet King, Frimley Health’s director of HR and corporate services, said: “We are extremely grateful to The Countess of Wessex for coming to Frimley Park today to support our staff. The coronavirus is the biggest test the NHS has ever faced and our colleagues are working extremely hard to provide the best patient care. I know they will appreciate her support.”
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