16 January 2019

An Actress in the Royal Family

Talented though she is, Meghan Markle was not the first actress to marry into the British Royal Family, although she was the first to give up her career for her marriage. Nine years before Meghan married Prince Harry and became The Duchess of Sussex, British actress Sophie Winkleman married Harry's cousin, Lord Frederick Windsor. The two cousins, who are five years apart in age, grew up as neighbors in Kensington Palace.

Sophie meanwhile grew up in a prominent but not noble London family. Her Canadian mother Cindy Black is the author of several children's books including "Marty the Molecular Ant and Friends" and "Marty's Fellowship of the King's Armor" while father Barry Winkleman published the "Times Atlas of the World." The most famous member of her family, however, is her older half-sister Claudia Winkleman, who has hosted numerous British television programs, including "Strictly Come Dancing" (the British version of "Dancing with the Stars") as well as news, entertainment and lifestyle programs. Claudia's mother, journalist Eve Pollard OBE, is now married to broadcaster and journalist Sir Nicholas Lloyd. It's almost inevitable that Sophie also landed a very public career.

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As a girl, Sophie attended the City of London School for Girls, a nondenominational independent school. She was accepted into the National Youth Theatre, which only accepts about 10% of applicants. Other prominent National Youth Theatre alumni include Ed Sheeran, Hugh Bonneville, Orlando Bloom, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Michelle Dockery, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, John Oliver, Colin Firth...you get the idea.

Sophie studied English literature at Trinity Hall at Cambridge University, where she was a member of the famous Footlights Club. Eric Idle, Olivia Colman, John Cleese, Julian Fellowes and Hugh Laurie are just a few other former Footlights members. Even Prince Charles The Prince of Wales was a member during his days at Cambridge, long before Sophie was born in 1980. In 2001, Sophie was nominated for the Footlights Best Newcomer Award.

Sophie launched her professional acting career in 2002, appearing in a few different television programs. A few years later, she made her big screen debut as the older Susan in the 2005 classic hit The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. By 2008, she was both dating a member of the British Royal Family and playing a royal in the TV mini series, The Palace. From there, she continued appearing on episodic television, occasionally landing a briefly recurring role as she did on 100 Questions and Peep Show, where she appeared as Big Suze. In 2012, she had the opportunity to work with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes on the mini series Titanic, but she is probably most well-known to American audiences for her role as Zoey on the long-running comedy Two and a Half Men. Sophie appeared in 18 episodes between 2011 and 2015.

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By then, however, she was already a royal in-law. She married Lord Frederick Windsor, only son of The Queen's cousin Prince Michael of Kent, in a lavish wedding at Hampton Court Palace on September 12, 2009. Although she continued to use her name professionally, she is also known socially as Lady Frederick Windsor. The couple lived for a while in Los Angeles. While she was working on Two and a Half Men, Freddy continued his career as an investment banker. (He is now a vice president with the world-renowned JP Morgan.) Their first daughter, Maud Elizabeth Daphne Marina, was born in Los Angeles in 2013. You may remember her as the little red-haired bridesmaid at the October 2018 wedding her godmother, Princess Eugenie of York. After the family moved back to London, their second daughter, Isabella Alexandra May, arrived in January 2016.

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In December 2017, Sophie faced a near tragedy. After wrapping on a day of shooting for the FX television series Trust, she was being driven home by a chauffeur when an approaching driver hit her car head-on, after swerving to avoid a deer in the road. Sophie, who was in the backseat suffered a broken back and foot and a ruptured abdomen. She said she was certain that she was going to die. It must have been a terrifying ordeal and a challenging recovery, especially for a mother with two energetic young children. During her recuperation, Sophie has shared, Prince Charles sent his cook to the rescue. (Some of us send a casserole to an ailing friend, others send a chef.) The Prince's cook would prepare lunches and dinners for Sophie's family at Clarence House and sent them over to Sophie's every day for weeks while she was hospitalized and after she returned home. Sophie told Hello! that she "heard from pretty much every member of Freddie's family. I was spoiled to bits by them."

Sophie returned back to the public eye a few months later. However, I have not found any information about any film or television projects that she may be working on currently. She may be focusing exclusively on her family or just working on quiet projects--the film industry can be notoriously secretive sometimes.

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For me, the takeaway of this nearly devastating episode is what it revealed about the relationships among the British Royal Family. While the media likes to publish stories about various members of the family being in battles against each other, I suspect that they are actually closer and more supportive of each other than most extended families. I don't even know all of my grandmother's cousins' children's wives. I could hardly call one up, as Prince William did, to check that they were doing okay.

So, it is perhaps easy to imagine a couple of cosy chats between Sophie Winkleman and the newest actress in the family, The Duchess of Sussex. The two of them certainly have some things in common that could make for interesting conversation.

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