``I want to try to give back´´
SHE IS THE QUEEN’S SECOND ELDEST GRANDCHILD, BUT ZARA PHILLIPS AND HER HUSBAND HAVE FORGED A LIFE FREE OF PALACE CONSTRAINTS
It’s the end of a casual dinner in a bistro in Paris’s fashionable Saint-germain district and Zara Phillips and husband Mike Tindall want the evening to continue. “Karaoke, anyone?” they ask, keen to recruit fellow guests to join their midnight cause.
The pair persuades a few, and as they disperse out onto the Rue de Lille, they lead the search for the nearest venue to test their vocals.
This is the real Zara Phillips. A fun, no-nonsense, down-to-earth woman with an intelligent world view, an infectious appetite for humour and a sharp, dry wit.
It’s the same woman who warmed the hearts of fellow travellers at Coolangatta Airport last January when, dressed in shorts and T-shirt, she made her way with Tindall through the regular security checkpoint, grappling with an energetic two-year-old and an awkward array of hand luggage.
No airs, no graces, no entourage. Real people, real royalty.
Phillips, 35, is the Queen’s second eldest grandchild, and 16th in line to the throne, but very much her own woman despite her lineage. Unlike her cousins Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, she is not deemed an “official” royal, for she and her older brother Peter have no royal titles – a conscious decision made by their parents, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips. While this means they receive no state income, the decision has allowed them to live relatively free of palace constraints, making their own choices and following their own paths.
Phillips’s success is independent of her royal connections and attributed to her commitment to hard work and her enduring passion for all things equestrian.as an Olympian, she’s enjoyed the highs of medal victory, winning silver at the London Games in 2012 in the demanding discipline of eventing, and the lows of not being selected, missing out on inclusion in the British equestrian team for the Rio Olympics.
Since London she’s also become a mother to daughter Mia, in 2014, and just last week announced she’s expecting a second child, due in April 2017.
“Mike and I are over the moon to be welcoming another little one into the family,” Phillips tells Stellar exclusively of the baby news. “So far, things seem to be on track. I feel great and Mia was such a good baby – we have got our fingers crossed for the second time around.”
BEFORE THE BISTRO and the karaoke, Phillips’s work ethic was on full display. Twenty-four hours earlier, she and the
former English rugby union captain had travelled from their home in Gloucestershire, on the outskirts of London (and royal life), to Paris to join Australian businesswoman Katie Page for the launch of her 2017 Magic Millions carnival; a schedule which began with a lengthy, early morning, magazine photo shoot, followed by an afternoon of more photos and a round of television interviews at the Polo de Paris club.
Phillips has been an official ambassador for Magic Millions since Page offered her the role in 2012, having being impressed by the businesswoman’s infectious energy and drive. “[Katie] has small goals that are way bigger than anyone else’s and she definitely hits them every time – if not more – so you can’t not want to be involved with someone like that,” she says.
For the past five years, Phillips has travelled to the Gold Coast each January for the week-long event, which incorporates globally recognised yearling sales and Australia’s richest race meeting. Until last year, it was an annual calendar highlight she enjoyed sans husband.
Then Tindall came to the Gold Coast with daughter Mia and he, too, was hooked. “Until Zara and I got together, I was never into racing in any way;
I watched the Grand National [horse race in the UK] and that was about it. Now I’m part of a horse-owner syndicate and go to pretty much every race there is. To come to Australia once a year in summer for this race is even better. This is the country I always loved touring the most – I love the people and the laid-back lifestyle. And the sun.”
For the first time, husband and wife will together serve in an official capacity in 2017 (she as the Magic Millions Racing Women Patron; he as ambassador for the carnival), having both just signed a new five-year contract. It further cements the bond between the British couple and Australia’s most famous retail and horse couple, Page and husband Gerry Harvey, who, courtesy of 1400 thoroughbreds and five horse studs, are among the biggest horse owners in the world.
“It’s a huge honour to be asked back to help drive it further for another five years and watch where it will go,” says Phillips.
Tindall shares a similar admiration for what Page represents as an entrepreneur and corporate leader. “[Katie] sets the bar in terms of what girls should aspire to, and is what girls should aim to be. She shows how you can take your passions and turn them into business. When you meet her, you see that when she believes in something, and when she believes in someone, she will go to extremes to help them succeed. It’s something to admire.”
As for he and Harvey, well, some say they’re “a lethal combination”, something which amuses him greatly. “Gerry has his own ways of doing things and wears his heart on his sleeve; I quite like that,” says Tindall. “And yes, we have a similar sense of humour. I like the Aussie sense of humour, full stop. It’s all about giving people a hard time.”
The Harveys once owned the Magic Millions in partnership with mates John Singleton and Rob Ferguson, but retained full ownership in 2011, after buying the others out. For the following year’s event, Page set about making her big dreams a reality. Signing Phillips was a transformational investment and not without its risks, but she was adamant it would always work. “I can’t do without Zara, she is such an important part of it,” says Page, while she watches on during the photo shoot.
A mutual bond has developed, thanks to a shared vision for the event and a healthy disregard for the pretension and posturing which typifies some racing carnivals. Like Page and Harvey themselves, the Magic Millions is stylish and understated.
However, also like its owners, it has its serious sides: firstly, the business of its yearling sales, which last year grossed $130 million; and secondly, the real purpose of promoting women in the horseracing industry.
And therein lies the other reason for Phillips’s commitment to the carnival. As the Magic Millions Racing Women Patron, she lends her name to a program designed to highlight and promote women involved in the thoroughbredracing and horse-breeding industry.
“I’ve always been involved in horses and in a sport where men and women are equal,” says Phillips. “It has always been natural for me to compete against the guys.
“I see my role [as] to try to lead by example, in what I’ve done. I want to try to give back and encourage women to do the same thing.”
To prove she walks the talk, three years ago Phillips put her money into the cause, joining an all-female syndicate with Page, celebrity food stylist Donna Hay, Singleton’s partner Venessa Merrin, Coolmore Stud’s Sophie Magnier and Segenhoe Stud’s Suzanne Grosvenor to purchase a $460,000 two-year-old colt, Meadow Lane, trained by Gai Waterhouse.
She is also keen to call out the gender disparity for women in other sports, an issue which is now very much on the public radar, courtesy of the unavoidable glare of social media.
“Now everyone is finding out about [such inequality] and thinking, hang on a minute, that’s not right. It’s about making it known and doing something about it.”
In addition to her official duties, Phillips was due to compete this year in the inaugural Magic Millions polo tournament. However, she’s now moved to a commentator role due to her pregnancy. In the UK, she is a regular participant on the polo circuit. She’s also often on the sidelines, watching relatives Prince William and Prince Harry play in various charity tournaments. In many ways, she considers it a better spectator sport than racing and was excited about the opportunity to compete on the Gold Coast.
“Polo is a fantastic game, I absolutely love it,” she says. “It’s a mixture [of] hand-eye coordination and being able to ride a horse at speed. It’s fast, full of adrenalin and, as a spectator, you can get right up close to the action.”
It’s also, as Tindall chimes in, a very social sport. “There’s Pimm’s. And champagne. And rosé,” he chuckles, adding that he wouldn’t mind playing because, although he doesn’t have any idea about polo, “if it’s about going shoulder to shoulder, I should win.”
Phillips laughs, but makes it clear he won’t be getting a game. “He’s going to take all the rules out of it,” she retorts.
Being ambassadors together means the couple will enjoy the rare opportunity to work and travel side by side. “This is our last Christmas and trip to Australia as a family of three, so we are going to make the most of our time there,” says Phillips. “The Gold Coast is the perfect place to spend some time with Mia – when we aren’t at the sales or racecourse, we will be making the most of the amazing beaches and showing Mia a bit of Australia.”
Both also have more time for it – Tindall no longer has rugby union responsibilities and Phillips’s equestrian commitments have lessened.
They laugh at the question as to who works harder, and Tindall diplomatically offers his wife as the real toiler in their family. She says that life with fewer horses and no rugby gives her time to do the two jobs that matter most to her.
“It’s different now; I have less horses in terms of quantity, but the quality is better,” she says. “It means then I can look after Mia – I want to be able to do both jobs properly.” The Pacific Fair Magic Millions Polo tournament is on January 8, 2017; the Jeep Magic Millions Raceday is on January 14, 2017. Visit magicmillions.com.au.
“I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INVOLVED IN A SPORT WHERE MEN AND WOMEN ARE EQUAL. I SEE MY ROLE AS TO TRY TO LEAD BY EXAMPLE”