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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.