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The School of Flaunt

Back when "Flying Was Fun" Alexandra Smythe and Cate Clarke were Flight Attendants with a Major International Carrier. Prior to Private Jets coming into vogue, Alexandra and Cate traveled in the First Class World, meeting and greeting the top celebrities, politicians who would become Presidents, nouveau riche, and yes the occasional Headline Grabbing Criminal in Handcuffs!

What the two ladies viewed and experienced became fodder for the School of Flaunt, so much money, such bad taste and oh those terrible manners. Something had to be done! Hence, The School of Flaunt Handbook was born. Read More

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The only way is Wessex: Sophie

Category: SOF Divas’ Diaries ®  |  Permalink

Published: Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The only way is Wessex: How stylish Sophie has transformed into a real jewel in the crown

By SARAH STACEY for the DAILY MAIL

Kate isn't the first middle-class jewel in the royal family's crown: since joining 'the Firm' 12 years ago, Sophie Wessex has become a favourite of both the Queen and the many causes she champions. And as Sarah Stacey explains, she has also quietly undergone a soigné transformation.

A hush fell among the 80 guests as a slight figure, understatedly chic in taupe and silver-grey, glided into the (very grand) dining room at St James's Palace for a charity dinner.

I hadn't seen guest of honour Sophie Wessex in the flesh for over a decade, and the change in her appearance and demeanour was remarkable. Back then she had been bubbly and attractive, if perhaps a tad chubby - in a word, ordinary. Now she is slender, chic and rather beautiful. There's something else too - an elusive, indefinable aura. Her title isn't just words. The PR girl from Kent has become Her Royal Highness.

Fashionwise, she's something of an icon for discreet glamour and statement hats (gorgeous ones, not a pretzel in sight). And for William and Kate's pre-wedding dinner, she broke away from her usual neutral palette and looked stunning in long flame-red silk with a plunging neckline.

We originally met through work, when she was running her PR company, R-JH, and came to know each other well enough to discuss her hair for her wedding to Prince Edward in 1999, and swap horror stories about renovating bathrooms (mine in a basement flat in West London, hers at a 50-room mansion in Surrey). She was genuinely nice: I remember her following the Queen round the Big Tent at Chelsea Flower Show, catching sight of me and bouncing off the dry walkway into the mud in her heels to give me a hello hug.

Now we were in the state apartments at St James's at a fundraising dinner for Treloar's, a school and college for young people with profound physical disabilities and learning difficulties. Sophie, now 46, was there as patron of the Vision Treloar's Appeal, part of her portfolio of charity work. As well as being a hands-on mother, she's known for her commitment to her causes (almost 60 in the UK and overseas).

Having a slice of Sophie confers an amazing advantage for a charity. It was down to her that we were at St James's, with a guest list of the great, good and rich, as well as two wheelchair-bound pupils - to whom she was as warm as if they were her own children. Her concern for disability started long before her daughter Louise, now seven, was born with the condition extropia, where one eye is directed outwards (now much less noticeable following treatment). I remember her passion when, more than a decade ago, she was trying to persuade me to write about a support group for a little-known and incurable genetic disability. (It worked: I wrote a long feature.)

Amid all the brouhaha about the Duchess of Cambridge, it's easy to forget that Sophie was the first just-middle-class girl (the daughter of a tyre salesman and a secretary, she went to local schools and secretarial college) to be accepted into the royal family. Although, curiously, she's 11th cousin once removed to her husband through common ancestry way back. It was Sophie who blazed the trail for the 'nouveau royals' to step in - Kate (and Pippa), Mike Tindall and Autumn Phillips. In fact, the Queen officially approved Sophie, who gets on well with Prince William, as 'mentor' to Kate in the run-up to her wedding, seeing her as a 'solid and trustworthy' member of 'the Firm'. Her widowed father, Christopher Rhys-Jones, is often a guest of the Queen's at Ascot (and interestingly, Sophie was the first royal girlfriend to be more or less permanently resident at Buckingham Palace for years before her marriage).

There were scandals (topless snaps with Chris Tarrant before her wedding, and a News of the World sting, which left her distraught and ended her PR career). But unlike Sarah Ferguson, Sophie has never repeated such mistakes, and the Queen's affection for her youngest daughter-in-law has grown stronger over the years.

As one commentator said, 'Sophie's more easygoing and vivacious than Princess Anne, the Queen never used to have an easy relationship with the Duchess of Cornwall, and Andrew never stays with a woman long enough for them to be introduced, so Sophie is all she has.' They ride together at weekends, share a passion for military history (gosh) and the Queen is apparently given to turning up unannounced at Bagshot Park for family tea with Louise and three-year-old James.

Becoming a family has taken Sophie (and her husband) through heartache: a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, an emergency caesarean with Louise when mother and baby came close to death, and several failed cycles of IVF before becoming naturally pregnant with James at the age of 42. While Sophie was in hospital after Louise's birth, the Queen paid a secret visit, in an unprecedented break with tradition. 'Her majesty doesn't even visit people on their deathbeds,' says one royal insider.

Now, hopefully, the storms are over. And unlike her former sisters-in-law - Diana with her dramas and 'issues', Fergie with her gaffes and extravagance - Sophie has come through triumphantly: with charm, grace, discretion and, not least, an enduring marriage.

In years to come, she may have to overcome her reluctance to put herself in the limelight. Word is that the Queen sees Prince Edward as taking over the Duke of Edinburgh's duties, with his wife at his side. Today, Sophie Wessex is one of the Royal Family's greatest assets.

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