By royal appointment: I chat to eventer Zara Phillips

Zara-Phillips-for-Musto-2009

Zara Phillips snuggles up for British summer (copyright Musto 2009)

It’s 2009 and I’m working at London-based Sport magazine and I’m about to interview a member of the Royal family.

The two worlds of sport and royalty don’t often mix so it feels an unusual juxtaposition.

I’m off to meet Zara Phillips, the Queen’s oldest granddaughter and equestrian extraordinaire who lives in a private cottage on her mother’s Gatcome estate in the English countryside in Gloucestershire.

Her mother is the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, who competed in the same sport at the 1976 Olympic Games. Zara’s boyfriend is England rugby player Mike Tindall so it’s a sporty set up, but it’s another family member who’s desperate to beat her but we’ll get to that.

By royal appointment
I have an hour to chat with the 2006 individual eventing world champion but first I have to wait until she’s finished speaking with a journalist from a broadsheet.

We’re in Zara’s office, a separate garage-sized building away from the main house, and I can’t help but glance around at the familiar detritus dotted around.

I recall seeing a drum kit, an electric organ and other bits and bobs that clutter any home in the land.

Battle royal
The journalist is finishing up his interview with the eventer, who is only the third rider in history to hold both the European and world titles at the same time, and I’m trying not to earwig.

I’ve got my own questions and pride myself on thinking outside the box when I’m lucky enough to be able to sit down with an athlete on a one-to-one basis and don’t want to be distracted by someone else’s ideas.

It comes to my turn and I sit with Zara. I like her. She’s honest, down-to-earth, a bit brusque and fun. I ask her about sport injuries, reality TV, fashion and how her dad, Captain Mark Phillips, is doing his utmost to disrupt her career.

Zara, sport fans might be forgiven for thinking you’d put your feet up after winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2006. What’s been going on?
“Well, I was meant to be going to the Beijing [2008] Olympics but Toytown was injured. I had two younger horses which both finished in the top 20 in my first Badminton, so that was quite good – but then Burghley wasn’t so good as I had a fall on a fence my father, who’s also a course designer, built! Then we had another fall where I broke my collarbone and had to have my horse, Tsunami II, put down.”

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Zara Phillips has been riding since she was a young’un.

How is your collarbone now?
“All fixed. I had a lot of time to do rehab because I broke it at the end of the season.”

How good were you at resting? Sportspeople aren’t known for their ability to take it easy…
“I was quite good at resting! I slept a lot and ate a lot, but I did get frustrated because even though the collarbone was feeling a lot better I had no strength in it. It was dull, very dull.”

The newspapers often print photos of you all dressed up at events. How into fashion are you?
“I do like fashion. The newspapers either get me really smart or like I’ve just got off a horse – probably from falling in the mud, or sweating a lot – so it’s not that fair. There’s no normality.”

A lot of sportspeople are branching out into television – would you ever consider doing, say, Strictly Come Dancing?
[Laughs] “No. I love the show and we went to watch it, but I don’t like doing stuff that puts you more in the limelight when you’re already there – you know, extra stuff to be shot down about.”

You have an MBE which, uniquely, you received from a member of the family. Do you get more emotional with them there?
“It’s a bit weird… but it’s nice, though. It always amazes me when people go: ‘Are your parents proud?’ I’m like: ‘I hope so.’”

You’ve already said your dad is a course designer but, as a sport that takes place over three days, eventing breeds familiarity with your competitors as much as it does rivalry – does that make for an odd environment in which to compete?
“The sport’s a bit funny about people who are related – people might think my dad’s trying to build a course I can ride around, although I’m like: ‘Well that doesn’t happen, seeing as I fell off!’ It’s weird. Everyone’s very close, but they’re all still competitive. It can be a strange sport.”

Your dad also trains the US team, which means he’s training people to beat his daughter…
“I know. He’s trying to beat the Brits.”

Top-level sportspeople often compete with aches and pains. Is that the case for you?
“Yeah, I’ve got blisters at the moment.”

From your riding boots?
“No, from wearing heels the other night!”

A version of this article appeared in the now defunct Sport magazine on September 4 2009.

Zara Phillips is still an ambassador for Musto. The photos used in this article are from the clothing range in 2009. Click below to see the 2017 collection.

The 2017 Burghley Horse Trials takes place Thurs 31 Aug – Sun 3 Sept 2017. Click here for the live Facebook stream.



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Author: Jo Gunston

Roving blogging superfan shares behind the scenes stories of her sports life and the best of those from like-minded souls.

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