LONDON — There’s another royal bride headed for the altar — and she’s no Kate Middleton.
Blonde, bold and at times brash, 29-year-old Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest granddaughter, is one of Britain’s most accomplished and colorful royals.
Buckingham Palace said Tuesday that Phillips, a medal-winning equestrian, and her longtime, live-in boyfriend, Mike Tindall, were engaged. Tindall, 32, a professional rugby player and a member of the top squad within England’s Rugby Union, proposed on Monday night with a diamond and platinum ring at the couple’s Georgian-era house in Gloucestershire, England.
The bride-to-be is the youngest child of Princess Anne and ex-husband Captain Mark Phillips, and is 12th in line to the throne. Phillips said in a statement she was “shocked” but “very happy,” and the groom said he was “excited about the next stage of our lives together.” A Buckingham Palace spokesman added: “The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are delighted.”
Although a date hasn’t been set, this wedding will undoubtedly be worlds away from the April 29 extravaganza for Prince William and Middleton — for a variety of reasons.
Phillips and Tindall are athletes devoted to their respective sports. She is gunning for a place on Team GB, as the British team is known, in the 2012 Olympic Games, and is famous for her determination.
“She’s a very hardworking, disciplined girl and has the guts and stamina of her mother and her father, who was, in a sense, the Mike Tindall of his day,” said Hugo Vickers, the veteran royal historian and author.
Princess Anne, also an award-winning equestrian, took part in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, and Mark Phillips, a high-profile figure in the British equestrian world, won a gold medal at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich.
“It’s a sporting union — and why not?” Vickers said.
London’s Evening Standard newspaper speculated that the wedding might take place at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where Phillips’ older brother, Peter, married his Canadian-born wife, Autumn, in 2008.
Tindall, who was recently named captain of his team, Gloucester, is a middle-class Yorkshireman with zero royal connections beyond his fiancée. He is the son of a retired banker and rugby playing father, and his mother is a social worker. At the age of 18, he passed up a place at Durham University to play professional rugby for the Bath team.
Although they are both gregarious types, Phillips and Tindall aren’t exactly regulars on the London or the international social circuit. After all, who has time or energy to stumble out of clubs at 3 a.m. when the horses need to be exercised first thing?
“We get up around 6:30 a.m. She goes to the stables; I drive 25 miles to my 9 o’clock training session,” the mild-manned Tindall told the Telegraph newspaper in 2007. “We’re both back at 1 o’clock, so we can hang out together with the dogs in the afternoon. We keep to ourselves and nobody bothers us when we go out locally.”
Phillips’ cozy, secure life — until recently the couple lived in a cottage on Princess Anne’s Gatcombe Estate — marks a change from her past as the royal family’s wild, in-your-face kid.
Phillips, who does not have an official title because Princess Anne wanted her children to have as normal a life as possible, first revealed her rebellious streak in 1998 when she showed up at Prince Charles’ 50th birthday party sporting a tongue stud. Two years later, she was snapped at the 100th birthday of her maternal great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, wearing a similar accessory.
She also carried on very public, sometimes tempestuous romances with several boyfriends, most of them professional sportsmen. In 1999, when she was still at boarding school in Scotland, Phillips was regularly zipping over to Monte Carlo to visit the then Formula One racing ace David Coulthard.
Over the years — during which she qualified as a physiotherapist at England’s Exeter University — other love interests have included jockey Henry Oliver, New Zealand rugby star Caleb Ralph and polo player Mark Tomlinson.
The relationship that grabbed the most headlines, however, was an up-and-down three-year affair with jump jockey Richard Johnson, with whom she lived openly at his Cotswolds home. After Johnson won a hurdle competition at the Cheltenham Festival, she was snapped by photographers grabbing his neck with vigor and planting a big kiss on his mouth. Not surprisingly, it was big news for the tabloids. Still, Phillips has always remained close to her family. She is said to be a favorite grandchild of the queen, and is a lifelong friend of Prince William, who is a year younger than she is.
“She’s always done what she’s wanted, and has never been at any pains to fit in,” said Peter York, a British social commentator, author and broadcaster. “She’s sporty and cool-looking and has always dated very hunky men who were neither sparkling intellectuals nor particularly posh.”
Unlike her sporty, independent-minded mother, Princess Anne, Phillips has never been criticized for her behavior. “It’s a sign of the times,” York said. “Her mother was often criticized for not being the sweetly charming and doe-eyed royal.”
In her wilder years, Phillips’ style was more about brass than class, with low-cut or slit-to-the-thigh dresses that were less than regal. By 2003, when she met Tindall in Sydney, Australia, that phase was coming to an end. In September of that year, WWD spotted her in the fourth row of the Betty Jackson runway show during London Fashion Week.
“I wear Betty Jackson, and I’m just here for a day out with a friend,” Phillips told WWD as she waited to watch the show of the British designer known for her tasteful, decidedly safe collections. Phillips has also worn Vivienne Westwood, Amanda Wakeley, Moschino and Dolce & Gabbana, although these days she’s more of a jeans or jodhpurs type.
And while designer duds may not be a top priority, Phillips collaborates with Musto, the British active wear firm, on a collection of equestrian clothing. She started off modeling for Musto, but has most recently created a capsule collection that includes a splash-proof training jacket, a funnel-neck gilet and fleece tops. The Zara Phillips Collection launched this year. Nigel Musto, managing director of the firm, told WWD that Phillips was “heavily involved with the product designs right from the start of the project.”
Because she does not undertake official royal duties like her mother or her uncle, Prince Charles, Phillips needs to make her own money. Her equestrian sport, known as eventing, is a combination of dressage, show-jumping and cross-country riding. It is thought to cost about $1 million annually.
In 2003, Phillips became the first British royal to seal a sponsorship deal, with Cantor Index, the spread-betting firm. Three years later, she became the face of Land Rover in the U.K., becoming the first high-ranking royal to appear in a sponsored ad campaign. Shot by Mary McCartney, the Land Rover campaign featured Phillips posing regally in a white Cavalli gown, the hem of which was splattered with mud. Another sponsor is Aretmis, the British financial advisers.
Since 2003, when she began taking her sport more seriously, Phillips has gone from strength to strength. She is a European and world equestrian champion, and was chosen to compete on Britain’s Olympic teams in 2004 and 2008. She had terrible luck, though, and had to pull out of both events after her beloved horse Toytown was injured.
In 2006, Phillips was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and the next year she received an accolade from the queen: a Member of the Order of the British Empire medal for her services to the sport.
Asked whether the timing of this latest royal announcement would detract from the big April wedding, Vickers said absolutely not. “It will never eclipse the royal wedding — it will all be part of the fun,” he said.