Sophie, Countess of Wessex has been quietly stepping up as a key member of the royal family—and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth's

By Simon Perry
June 17, 2020 08:00 AM

It's time for Sophie Wessex to shine!

Having notched up more than two decades in the royal family, and with 80 charities and causes to her name, the royal mom of two is not new to the very public role that comes with marrying one of Queen Elizabeth's children.

But since the departure of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry from their royal roles, Sophie, 55, has been become more front and center. With a combination of volunteering behind-the-scenes and taking her place alongside Kate Middleton, Sophie has been garnering praise for her quiet discretion and dependability.

The Countess of Wessex, who is married to the Queen's youngest son, Prince Edward, has proved to be "a royal key worker," says Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty. "She is making a difference in a very understated, very ‘Sophie' way."

Sophie Wessex, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Prince Harry, Sophie Countess of Wessex and Meghan Markle

She has been helping weekly with a group of caterers and party planners to organize meals for National Health Service (NHS) workers. "There’s no fanfare. These are private visits done in her own private time," Peregrine Armstrong-Jones, of Bentley's Entertainment, tells PEOPLE in the current issue. "When she leaves our kitchens, she generally then goes on to do more projects in different hospitals."

Sophie, who grew up in a middle-class family, entered the royal family when she married Prince Edward in 1999 after a long courtship that began when the couple met at a sports event she was working at as a public relations professional.

“She was brought up by her parents and there was going to be no free ride in her family,” a friend says. “She wasn’t born to be the eldest daughter of a duke and duchess and find a marvelous marriage and polish her tiaras.”

Sophie and Edward, who are parents to Lady Louise Windsor, 16, and James, Viscount Severn, 12,  are regulars at the car pickup line and scout group meetings.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex with James Viscount Severn and Lady Louise Windsor
Samir Hussein/WireImage

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Sophie is also a favorite of her mother-in-law, the Queen, who regularly asks her to join her for church at Sandringham and invites Sophie's father Christopher (her mother Mary died in 2005) to Balmoral Castle in the summer. "They are very close," a royal source tells PEOPLE. Sophie "is very family orientated, and the Queen appreciates that."

Kate Middleton and Sophie, Countess of Wessex
Kensington Palace

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She has used her position to champion women and girls around the world, including joining the U.K. government-backed campaign against sexual violence used in war, recently traveling to South Sudan. And she has taken the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust's campaign against avoidable blindness  around the Commonwealth.

It is on those foreign trips, a former staffer tells PEOPLE, that Sophie is often able to show what she can do. "She has a simple connection with people when she meets patients and families," says the former staffer. "I think of it as scattering magic dust."