Edward calls off hospice visit

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The Independent Online

Barely a fortnight after ditching their careers to save royal blushes, the Earl and Countess of Wessex found themselves back in the limelight yesterday after deciding they could not find time to visit a hospice.

Buckingham Palace began a damage limitation exercise after news that the Earl and Countess postponed the tour because an earlier private engagement was expected to over-run.

The couple, whose attempt to build business careers was dogged by a series of public relations disasters, were due to visit the Hospice in the Weald in Kent on Tuesday.

But the arrangement was abruptly called off last week when aides realised that the prior engagement, a lunch and meeting, had been extended. A spokeswoman for Edward denied that the couple had committed another faux pas by appearing to pull out of meeting the terminally ill in favour of some fine dining.

"It was nothing of the sort," she said. "It became apparent that due to a private lunch and meeting in London, time would have been tight for the visit to the hospice.

"When we contacted the hospice they indicated they were having problems with the arrangements for their programme so it was best to postpone. It is not a cancellation – we are rearranging."

The hospice, in Pembury, near Tunbridge Wells, had written to the Wessexes last month after learning that the couple were to visit nearby Kent College, the Countess's old school.

Prince Edward and his wife announced 13 days ago that they were giving up commercial careers to concentrate on public duties by supporting the Queen in her golden jubilee year.

The Countess was forced to leave her public relations company, R-JH, because of indiscreet remarks to a newspaper reporter posing as an Arab sheikh.

Prince Edward will remain a shareholder in Ardent Productions, the film company he set up in 1983, despite it running up losses of £1.9m and provoking a series of allegations that the Earl was trading on his royal connections by concentrating on films of his family.