'£250,000 payout for Edward'

Chris Bunting
Sunday 03 March 2002 01:00 GMT

The Queen was reported last night to have given the Earl and Countess of Wessex a £250,000 payout following the announcement that they would step down from their business careers.

Prince Edward told a Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme conference in Weston-super-Mare that he and his wife, Sophie, would be resigning from their companies to spend more time on charity work during the Queen's Golden Jubilee. He said: "I always knew in the back of my mind that one day things would have to change. Well, that day has come, not just for me, but also for my wife.

"It is quite obvious that in this year, the Golden Jubilee, we are required more than ever to support the Queen and to help my family shoulder some of the increasing responsibilities and workload into the future."

After fulfilling their current obligations, the couple would "cease to have any connection with our companies."

Prince Edward has a personal fortune estimated at £9m but that is unlikely to cover his lavish lifestyle. His 50-bedroom mansion at Bagshot Park in Surrey is roughly three times the size of Prince Charles's Highgrove estate. He is believed to receive a £241,000 annual allowance from his mother but that may have to increase to compensate for about £180,000 per year lost due to the couple's resignations.

The £250,000 one-off payment reported last night to have been given as immediate compensation for yesterday's decision by the Queen would cover only one year's upkeep of the Bagshot estate. Buckingham Palace has refused to comment on any compensation payments.

The Earl and Countess made their decision after acrimony within the Royal Family and growing public criticism of their mixing of business with royal status.

They have long been accused of cashing in on their rank, with the Countess's bid to win business from a bogus Arab sheikh for R-JH Public Relations triggering a major review of their commercial connections. Prince Edward also sparked a bitter feud with the Prince of Wales when a team from his company, Ardent Productions, were found filming at St Andrews University shortly after Prince William began studying there.

Prince Edward said that after a decade working in the television production business he would resign as joint managing director and director of production at Ardent at the end of this month.

Employees of the Earl's and Countess's companies had already been told about the decision to step down. R-JH said the Countess was giving up her duties as an executive director but would become a non-executive director. She would no longer draw a salary and would reduce her controlling share interest to that of a minority shareholder.

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