My Kingdom & a Horse
She’s the Queen’s granddaughter who lives without a title and seems thoroughly down to earth. But thanks to plenty of hard work, Olympic glory finally beckons for Zara
She’s not a Princess Pushy or Princess Prissy. In fact she has no title other than Mrs Michael James Tindall. For Zara Phillips, the Queen’s eldest granddaughter, is a thoroughly modern royal. And if, as is hoped, she and her horse High Kingdom come away from this year’s London Olympic Games with a gold medal or two, it would also forever silence those who feel her success is undeserved; that her position as a member of the Royal Family has given her an easy ride.
Earlier this month, 31-year-old Zara won a place in the British equestrian team, a five-strong group that will compete at Greenwich Park from the end of next month. It’s one step nearer to fulfilling a long-held dream of competing in the Olympics.
She has made the Olympic squad twice before, in 2004 and 2008, but on both occasions, her horse, Toytown, was injured during training and she failed to compete (although the beloved chestnut horse, which was nicknamed ‘Noddy’, came out of retirement in May when Zara carried the Olympic torch in front of 30,000 people at Cheltenham racecourse).
While she already has a saddlebag full of other European and World Championship medals, as well as an MBE for her services to equestrianism, it’s not surprising the Olympics is so hugely important. For a start, her mother, Princess Anne, and father, Mark Phillips, met through their equestrian activities: he won a gold medal in the team three-day event at the Munich Olympics in 1972 (he also won a silver in 1988). Princess Anne rode in the Montreal Olympics in 1976. They married in 1973 (and divorced in 1992).
Born on 15 May 1981, Zara – a Greek name, meaning ‘bright as the dawn’, ‘blooming flower’, or ‘princess’, depending on which internet definition you believe – was the couple’s second child.
Unsurprisingly, Zara inherited a passion for horses from her parents and, of course, the Queen. Zara also seems to have inherited other traits from her mother, the Princess Royal, as Princess Anne became in 1987, who wanted her two children to live without a title – the princess believed life would be hard enough for the sovereign’s grandchildren.
The public has always approved of the Princess Royal’s no-nonsense, down-to-earth and feisty approach – at Badminton Horse Trails she once told annoying photographers to ‘Naff off’. But the first stirrings of Zara the Royal Rebel were witnessed during a post-A levels gap year when she was spotted down under bungee jumping and enjoying Sydney nightlife. She had her tongue pierced, too, and a livein lover, jockey Richard Johnson, with whom she had a reportedly tempestuous relationship.
When she married, however, it was very obviously for love – picture after picture show her holding hands with her husband, former England rugby player Mike Tindall, smiling up at him, squeezing his arm, planting a proper kiss on his cheek.
The couple had been introduced by Prince Harry during England’s Rugby World Cup-winning campaign in Australia in 2003, and married in Edinburgh in July last year. Unlike others, who all too easily throw in the towel during the ‘for worse’ sections of a marriage, Zara forgave her husband’s unseemly drunken shenanigans in a Queenstown bar during last year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Altogether, she has matured into a beautiful woman who never looks anything but immaculate, with a joie de vivre that shines from her eyes. Her fashion choices reveal a confidence, individuality and taste many other royals have failed to replicate.
There are other things we like about Zara, too. Like her mum, she quietly supports several charities – Sargent Cancer Care For Children and the Mark Davies Injured Riders Fund among them – without expecting fanfares for her efforts.
But while the public does like her, they’re perhaps not quite in love with her. Yet. Although it wouldn’t take much for the popularity pendulum to swing from those handsome Windsor boys William and Harry, to the plucky Phillips girl.
In 2006, Zara was voted BBC Sports Personality Of The Year by the British viewing public (her mother won the award in 1971). It is her equestrian accomplishments that most deserve our admiration, and Olympic gold could tip the scale. She has worked hard, she has earned it, and all the sponsorship she gets.
It would be naive to suggest Zara’s royal blood has not been an extra carrot for would-be sponsors, but I think it is insulting to suggest that massive brands such as Samsung, Rolex, Land Rover and Musto clothing would be stupid enough to attach themselves to anything but a thoroughbred.
The same goes for Trevor Hemmings, owner of High Kingdom and one of Zara’s staunchest supporters. It is equally ridiculous to imply that she only got her Olympic place because she is the Queen’s granddaughter. She’s the real thing.
And there’s another reason why we like her so much. The many intimate TV documentaries commemorating the Diamond Jubilee have shown us glimpses of a young Queen with all the humour and resolution, fire and character now expressed by her granddaughter. Zara is very like her grandmother, it seems, as well as her mother. Perhaps, too, Zara is living the kind of life Her Majesty would have enjoyed were it not for the abdication of Edward VIII and all that followed.
The Queen obviously adores Zara – indeed, some have suggested she is her favourite grandchild. Certainly, the mutual affection is plain to see in photographs of the two together. Could there be anyone more proud if Zara does win gold at the Olympics? Perhaps then she will also become our favourite royal grandchild, too
Daily tip from the lady archive
“HEAVEN forbid that we should go back to the days when beauty was under suspicion and plain girls were assumed to have angelic natures.”The Lady. With Prejudice. 28th April 1938