| Countess of Wessex Sophie Rhys Jones
London, Feb. 20: The Countess of Wessex took her first tentative solo steps as a full-time working royal yesterday with the announcement that she is to be patron of several charities.
Since relinquishing her public relations career last year, the 38-year-old countess has mainly supported her husband, the Earl of Wessex, in his duties.
Although she has carried out some solo engagements, Tuesday’s announcement confirms a higher profile with her own mantle of charitable causes.
News of the patronages came as she and Prince Edward visited the Brainwave Centre in Bridgwater, Somerset, a therapy unit for children with brain injuries, where it was announced that she has agreed to become its president.
The other seven patronages indicate that she has chosen organisations specialising in helping people with speech and communications difficulties.
They include Wessex Heartbeat at Southampton General Hospital’s cardiac unit, the Dyslexia Institute, an educational service, the Healing Foundation for people with disfigurement and the New Haven Trust, Toronto, Canada, for treating autistic children.
In addition she will be patron of Tomorrow’s People which helps the disadvantaged to find work, housing and a place in society; St Mary’s School, Bexhill, East Sussex, a special needs school; and Vision 2020, a global organisation to eliminate avoidable blindness. “She is terribly excited about it,” said a source. “She wants the charities to take the lead because she feels she is inexperienced.
“It’s the beginning of a process for her. She wants to become really involved and then expand slowly and build as she becomes more knowledgable and as she grows in confidence.
“She is very, very interested in organisations that help people with speech and learning difficulties,” the source added. She visited Brainwave last year and was very impressed with what she saw.”
The deaths of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret last year left many charities and organisations without a royal patron. It is expected that the countess will take over some of those organisations, and more patronages will be announced in the coming weeks.
She is already a trustee of the Haven Trust, the breast cancer organisation, and attended a reception at a London hotel earlier this week for them.
In addition she is a trustee of the Jill Dando Fund, set up after the murder of her friend, the television presenter, to sponsor research into crime, and she is on the advisory committee of Gifts Direct, where manufacturers donate unwanted seconds to worthy causes.