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For years she has taken a largely background role in the world’s most famous family. Quietly concentrating on her studies, until very recently Lady Louise Windsor was the Royal grandchild who was seen but not heard.
Yet as the Queen’s nearest and dearest gathered to pay tribute to her late husband Prince Philip in an extraordinarily candid BBC documentary this week, the 17-year-old A-Level student fast emerged as one of the House of Windsor’s shining stars.
Marking the first time she has taken part in such a film, the blonde, curly-haired teenager spoke confidently as she recalled her close bond with her beloved “Grandpa” and their shared love of carriage driving, as well as her decision to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.
“There was certainly an element of making my grandfather proud and honouring him by taking part in the award that has been so much of his life’s work,” Louise assuredly told the programme Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers, which featured interviews from all of the Queen’s children and grandchildren, except her younger brother James, Viscount Severn, 13.
“I definitely hope I have made him proud,” Louise declared, describing the Duke, who died in April aged 99, as “honestly one of the most interesting people I have ever met.”
Explaining how she inherited his love of carriage riding, she added: “After a competition, he would always ask how it went. His eyes would light up because he just gets so excited when he talks about it.”
Taught for years by the Royals’ head carriage driver, the Queen took great pride in her youngest granddaughter leading the carriages of the Champagne Laurent-Perrier Meet of the British Driving Society at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2017. Two years later, she took part in the Private Driving Singles carriage drive at the same show, and achieved third place. Her Majesty is said to be so fond of Louise, who shares her love of all things equestrian, that she is understood to have allowed her to use her grandfather’s driving ponies and carriage following his death. Unlike her older cousins, Princes William and Harry, Louise got to see a lot more of her grandparents growing up because she has always lived just 11 miles from Windsor – and had the benefit of being born around the time the Queen and Prince Philip scaled back their long-haul travel. Weekend visitors to Windsor Castle would speak of stepping over scooters and tricycles belonging to Louise and James, thanks to their regular visits.
Suggesting that she has inherited her grandfather’s sense of adventure, Louise revealed in the documentary that her favourite part of doing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme is the expeditions. “Just having that level of independence and self sufficiency and having that sense of achievement when it was finished,” she said.
The stellar appearance from the young Royal comes 45 days ahead of her 18th birthday, when the 16th in line to the throne will decide whether to style herself Her Royal Highness Princess Louise, in the same way as her cousins are known as HRH Princess Beatrice and HRH Princess Eugenie.
Louise’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Wessex – known as Edward and Sophie – are understood to be leaving the decision to their horse-mad daughter, yet according to one Royal expert, as she comes of age, Louise could prove to be the monarchy’s “secret weapon”.
Phil Dampier, who has covered the Royals for nearly 40 years, says: “Because she’s the granddaughter of the Queen, Lady Louise can call herself a Princess when she becomes 18 – it’s theoretically up to her. And there’s a strong argument for her doing it.
“She seems to be very mature for her age and she’s shaping up to be precisely the kind of person the Queen can rely on in the future. Could there be a role for her in a slimmed-down monarchy? The Queen and Philip had 1,500 patronages between them.
“You have to ask yourself who is going to continue their legacy with Harry and Meghan and Prince Andrew off the scene? There’s a huge workload there.”
When Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones at Windsor Castle in 1999, Buckingham Palace announced that their children would be styled as the children of an earl, rather than as prince or princess. It is thought that the couple wanted to give their offspring the chance to live as normal a life as possible – not least after they were both required to give up successful careers to devote their lives to full-time Royal duties. It came after Sophie, who previously ran her own PR company, was duped by a News of the World reporter posing as a “fake sheikh” in 2001 – an experience that has understandably made her fiercely protective of her family’s privacy.
Sophie nearly died when Louise was born prematurely at Frimley Park Hospital on November 8, 2003. The baby had to be delivered by emergency Caesarean section due to placental abruption, which caused severe blood loss to both child and mother. Born with a severe squint, Louise underwent an unsuccessful attempt to correct the problem in January 2006 before undergoing further treatment in 2013.
Largely kept out of the limelight, her first major Royal outing came when she was a bridesmaid at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011, then aged seven. With her long golden locks, many noted her uncanny resemblance to the Queen at the same age. And as she has grown older, Royal watchers have been stunned by her similarity to her great-great grandmother Queen Mary.
An academic child who attends St Mary’s School in Ascot, in an interview with The Telegraph Magazine in June, Edward commented on how he was glad Louise, who was a Girl Guide, was “doing the DofE” as a distraction to her studies. Revealing how taking part had made his daughter “more confident,” the Earl said: “It’s just broadened her horizons. I think she’s probably got a little focused on, especially at the school she is at, just on the academics.”
Describing her as a “committed person,” who “took off on her bike” during lockdown, the Countess added: “This is the kind of thing that really ticks the boxes for her. But in terms of confidence, it’s given her a huge amount. She’s taken up fencing again as her skill, which she has really loved.”
Such is the close-knit nature of the Wessex family that Edward and Sophie have never discussed the details of their children’s education, although it is thought Louise boards at the all-girls school, where fees start at £10,155 a term. Although a Catholic school, describing itself as a “warm and caring community”, admissions are subject not to religious criteria, but the school’s own entrance examination, an interview and a report from the student’s current school. Unashamedly referring to itself as “an academic school” on its website, in 2019, the girls there were placed 12th in the UK for their A-Level results, with 77.1 per cent gaining an A* or A.
Louise’s younger brother James, who until recently attended Eagle House School in Sandhurst, is the more introverted of the pair although, like Louise, is described as “outdoorsy”. As Sophie put it in the interview when discussing how her children coped with lockdown: “James is very self-motivated to get out, so actually, it was never a struggle.” He is due to follow in his sister’s footsteps and start his Duke of Edinburgh’s Award next year. Having carried out a number of recent engagements as a family, including litter picking on Southsea beach last September, it seems inevitable that they will take an increasingly high-profile role as their parents continue to “step up” in the absence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the Duke of York.
Yet when they are not on Royal duty, the Wessexes appear like any other middle-class family, albeit having the run of a Grade II-listed mansion house set in 51 acres of beautiful parkland. Yet visitors to the stately pile on the Surrey/Berkshire border will vouch that it is as “homely” as it can be, with its floral curtains, comfy sofas and ornate conservatory looking on to the sweeping lawns. Like any children, Louise and James dote on the family’s pet dogs – Mole, an exuberant working cocker spaniel and Teal, a black labrador.
In loving dogs, horses and the great outdoors, and having already developed a strong sense of duty at such a young age, it seems Lady Louise Windsor is ideally placed to pick up the reins of Royal life.