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We could learn something from the way the English treat their royal family.

The Sorrows of Royalty

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The Queen was displeased. Another scandal was brewing. It was a princess again — the Countess of Wessex, this time. She is the Queen's latest daughter-in-law and the press was raising awkward questions about whether she was using her husband's position to advance her own career. It's a sordid tale of ambition, connections and propriety. Sound familiar?

Last June, Sophie Rhys-Jones and the Queen's youngest offspring, Prince Edward, wed. It was hoped that Rhys-Jones would break the mold of previous scandal-plagued princesses - The Duchess of Kent, Sarah Ferguson, caught in a poolside toe-sucking session with a Texas millionaire; Diana, whose lover Major James Hewitt revealed himself a cad by chronicling their affair - and restore dignity to the House of Windsor.

Expectations were high. Rhys-Jones — with a canny resemblance to Princess Diana — brought charm and a disarming smile to an eager-to-be-adoring public. There was one minor hiccup when, weeks before the wedding, a photo — an old vacation snapshot of Ms. Rhys-Jones having her bikini top lifted, — was printed by the daily tabloid Sun. Buckingham Palace stepped in, the paper apologized and the Queen's subjects dismissed the photo as a bit of innocent holiday high-jinx.

The Queen, as monarch, matriarch and consummate family defender, usually deals with such stories. When possible, they are stifled. Otherwise, they are discredited by means both fair and foul. Some say the Queen's vigilance and tact keeps the Royal Family going. Others — pointing to the distress her meddling caused Princess Diana — claim she is a control freak. And the debate has started afresh.

Before becoming 'Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex' (styled simply 'Sophie Wessex'), Ms. Rhys-Jones was running her own public relations firm specializing in the promotion of luxury goods. With growing public excitement about her wedding, some clients wondered whether Ms. Rhys-Jones would be able to maintain her business interest while a member of the Royal Family. She could to do both, she said, and then flew off to Frankfurt promoting the new 'Rover 75' luxury car for her clients BMW. When the Queen, while eating breakfast at the Royal holiday estate Balmoral, got a gander of her daughter-in-law smiling coquettishly while leaning over the performance car in some press photos, she likely choked on her soft-boiled egg.

Full-time employment is hardly regal, and on that basis alone, some Royal advisers suggested that the Princess abandon her business interests. It was not proper, some said, and would leave room for accusations that 'Sophie Wessex' was exploiting her status as a member of the Royal Family.

Now, when it comes to networking, marrying a Royal is hard to match. It sure beats handing out business cards at Piccadilly Circus, but the Princess's defenders claim that is a cynical outlook. 'Bully!' they say. 'Sophie Wessex' is an intelligent, capable woman who had a life before marriage. It was ambition and drive that led to her founding a successful business — surely that sort of enterprise only reflects well on a Royal Family seen as aloof. Besides, everything she has she has earned on merit and will continue to do so.

Maybe they are right. Maybe BMW gave 'Sophie Wessex' an almost half-million dollar contract because she's a clever publicist. Yes, maybe. But what company, with enough money, would not sign a handsome deal with any PR firm that offered the added sweetener of a possible Royal introduction?

And what about this scenario? Extended Royal Family gathered at the annual Royal Ascot. Prince Edward is rubbing elbows with scions of industry, one of whom mentions his need for a reliable firm to smooth public relations after an unfortunate incident. Seems the old chap has been caught in a spot of bother over some, ever so slightly, mad cows. And, Edward, doesn't your wife deal with those sorts of things?

But that's the real world isn't it — glad-handing and back-scratching? Sophie Wessex is not doing anything unusual but apparently, the British hold their monarchy to a higher standard. The "mortar of our constitution," columnist Michael Gove called it in The Times and wrote that " In becoming a princess, [Sophie Wessex] must have realized that she was entering not just into a love match, but a broader commitment to support the monarchy. Her words and actions would reflect on an institution which is the foundation of our political stability."

So the Queen consulted her aides and reportedly gave Sophie a — don't call it an ultimatum — choice: public role in the Royal Family or professional career without Royal perks and trappings.

How did Sophie handle it? She wrote a letter to her clients saying that despite rumors of bad relations with Buckingham Palace, she had their support and it was "business as usual." That is the public face of it, but she also is said to be taking a lower profile role in the firm with fewer photo calls, etc. In the wake of the media rumpus, many expect "Sophie Wessex" to now ease into her Royal position so the Queen can rest.

So what have we learned? Use every connection you have to get where you want to be. Right. Sophie Wessex knew that already. Next? You can't have your cake and eat it too. Also true, and faced with the ghastly chore of choosing between a life as an overpriced executive or a Royal lady Sophie Wessex might also say, "Life is not fair." No doubt, but she seems to have dealt with it all rather courageously.

We in this country may not have a set of Royals, but we have political families who have learned the connection game very well. It would be nice if they toned it down a little, too.



Patrick Rucker, a free-lance writer in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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