Countess of Wessex's royal support for pubs as chancellor Rishi Sunak gives landlords a lifeline

The Countess of Wessex speaks to guests during her visit to The Half Moon public house in Windlesham. Credit: PA

As Chancellor Rishi Sunak was on his feet in the House of Commons announcing his rescue plan, the Countess of Wessex quietly drove herself to a pub close to her Surrey home. 

Sophie was making pre-arranged visit to the Half Moon to support the hospitality industry after what the landlord there called the worst period since his family started running the pub more than 100 years ago. 

Conrad Sturt has been the boss there since 1971, and he described to the Queen’s daughter-in-law how the government order to close his pub in March was like a "stab to the heart". 

The pub opened its doors on Saturday for the first time since the lockdown. 

The Countess of Wessex pets the dog of Jamie Sturt during her visit to The Half Moon public house in Windlesham. Credit: PA

The Countess of Wessex sanitised her hands and signed the contact tracing register as she arrived - but turned down the offer of a gin and tonic from a customer.

 "I am driving", she said to a member of the local Women’s Institute, before adding: "Otherwise I would have joined you."

It’s understood the Earl of Wessex does drink here from time to time and even though Sophie hadn’t visited previously, she did recognise one of the customers eating lunch.

"I don’t recognise you not in lycra," she laughed.

The pair go to the same local gym.

The Countess of Wessex speaks to employees during her visit to The Half Moon public house in Windlesham. Credit: PA

Sophie explained to some customers how she had become a "Zoom aficionado" during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Can you imagine what this would have been like 15-20 years ago – on the telephone?" She joked with some customers drinking their beer and cider.

Although she revealed her father had needed some help. "Don’t stab it, just touch it!", Sophie said she had to tell him. 

Video calls had, she said: "Made the world of difference".

And it had also been the same for her and Prince Edward’s two children Lady Louise and Viscount Severn.

She said Lousie and James were on video calls a lot but added: "It’s the one time you don’t worry about them being online talking to their friends because that’s the only way to keep in touch."

The Countess of Wessex speaks to members of the Bagshot Women's Institute during her visit to The Half Moon public house in Windlesham. Credit: PA

Louise, who is in Year 11, has had her GCSE exams cancelled and her mum spoke about her nerves ahead of the result in August: "We are all going to be on tenterhooks."

The Wessexes have been volunteering in the area around their home at Bagshot in Surrey and having to wear face masks.

The Half Moon landlord said the royal visit showed that it is “safe to come back to pubs".

Reacting to the chancellor’s VAT cut for his industry – and Rishi Sunak’s offer to pay half the cost of meals out in August – landlord Conrad Sturt said: "What a great thing to happen.

"That hopefully will bring people out provided they feel safe."

He added: "The cut in VAT might allow us to reduce prices a little bit."

"Bring it on!"