Our World

In the Press: A Right Royal Sport Cover Story

In the November issue of Country & Town House Magazine there’s a cover story on MUSTO ambassador Zara Phillips called ‘A Right Royal Sport’ which includes photos of her modelling our ZP176 range.

Zara Phillips is one of our hottest hopefuls for the 2012 Olympics.  She has also recently launched a new clothing range in collaboration with sporting brand, MUSTO.  Alice Rose gets a rare 20 minutes on the phone with the Queen’s granddaughter.  Portraits by Steve Read.’

‘Zara Phillips is on duty at a trade show at the NEC in Birmingham, plugging her new clothing range with her sponsor MUSTO – of which much (much) more later.  I’m at my desk in London, and have 20 precious minutes on the phone with her.  It’s a bit like Supermarket Sweep, that Nineties gameshow in which contestants had 60 seconds to cram their trolleys with loot.  The clock is ticking – where to start with all the questions?’

‘There is so much I would like to know about Zara.  As a nation, we are fascinated by her: ‘Is Zara Becoming a Royal WAG?’ demands the Daily Mail; ‘How To Get a Plunging Cleavage like Zara’s’ advises The Sun.  We are alternately captivated and dismayed by her clothing choices.  We love that she’s attached to another sporting hero (in case you’ve been down a rabbit hole for the last seven years, she’s living with Mike Tindall, one of England’s 2003 rugby world cup-winning heroes).  We loved the tongue-stud, the ill-fated romance with the jockey whose name we forget, the run-ins with the paparazzi, the fact that she is, at times, so royally unroyal.  And we love that she is very, very good at her dangerous sport, and that she brings us glory on the world stage.  We voted her Sports Personality of the Year in 2006, for goodness sake, and winced at her off-the-cuff acceptance speech, in which the word ‘amazing’ featured countless times.  And as the London Olympics approach, we are pinning more than her fair share of our hopes on her shoulders.

So we know she’s tough, she’s rebellious, she’s a hard-working professional.  But what’s going on with her and Mike?  Does she call the Queen ‘Granny’?  Does she understand the off-side rule?  And does she secretly hanker after the royal title that her parents turned down on her behalf at birth?  (I know I would.)’

‘Let’s start with an easy one, I think, and ask her to tell me about her work with MUSTO.  In case you’re not a sailing, riding, shooting, outdoorsy type, MUSTO is a great great British brand, founded by Olympic medal-winning sailor Keith Musto in 1965, and a stalwart supporter of our Olympic sailing and three day eventing teams.  Zara has teamed up with them to design a seven-piece ‘capsule collection’ of jackets, fleeces and sweatshirts, all featuring her eventing number, 176.  Before talking to her, I google ‘Zara Phillips MUSTO’ and find a behind-the-scenes video of her promotional shoot for the range, filmed on a beach in Devon: Zara clambering up a sand-dune with a ginormous stallion, then slithering down again with said horse perilously close to her heels; Zara and horse cantering through the waves; Zara sitting in a cave having her hair faffed with; Zara and horse peering into the camera lens through their respective fringes (‘Who’s in charge of making the horse look at me?’ bleats the photographer).  Easy to mock, but she looks like a model with a capital M, with a floppy, eye-sweeping fringe that really suits her, and cheekbones you could crack walnuts on.  Good for her, and good for MUSTO, who must be thrilled to have recruited not only a big name but a consummate professional to their cause.’

‘So, I say, the clothes look very you.  ‘That’s good,’ she laughs.  How much input did she have into the design of the collection?  ‘It’s a collaboration between us,’ she says.  ‘They’re all styled on the jackets that I’ve selected to wear from their collections over the years.’  She then goes into a polished riff about how waterproof and warm and hard-wearing the clothes are – ‘That’s what MUSTO’s all about really’.  (You have to imagine all this said in Zara’s low, slightly nasal tones, punctuated with lots of ‘you know’s and glottal stops.)

We move onto another safe subject: her horses, and in particular Toytown, who became a national hero when he and Zara won the European Championships together in 2005, followed by the World Championships in 2006.  Toytown has his own internet fan page on which little girls called things like ‘horseymad’ post comments like ‘i’m a huge fan on zara i look upto her quite a lot’ (sic).  Poor old Toytown missed the Athens and Beijing Olympics because of damaged tendons – how is he now?  ‘He’s all right – he’s just wandering along quietly at the moment.’

It’s unlikely that Toytown will be fit to defend their world title in Kentucky in September, and Zara’s main preoccupation is building another winning partnership.  ‘I’ve got some nice young horses which I think have the potential to go to the top,’ she says, ‘but you know horses…  Eventing is like any sport, it’s got massive highs and massive lows.  Unfortunately you have to learn to deal with them and try to work past them and do better next time.  I had a unique partnership with Toytown and now we’ve just got to try and find more horses like him.’

She is phlegmatic about the pressure of carrying the nation’s hopes at the London Olympics (‘It’s nice to be thought of like that but, you know…’).  The three day eventing is taking place in Greenwich Park – Zara has been critical in the past about the lack of ‘legacy factor’ in this choice of venue, because everything will be dismantled and removed after the event, but she’s looking forward to the Olympics as a whole.  ‘Yeah, I think it’ll be great – everyone wants to get there.  That’s what we’ve got to try and do now, produce the horses that we can get selected on and get to the Olympics.’  Her father, Mark Phillips, coaches the American team, which must cause some fairly hot family rivalry?  ‘It all depends on what kind of mood the horse is in, if it happens on the day,’ she says, neatly avoiding the question.  ‘A lot of luck is very helpful when you’re working with horses.’

She’s never struck me as a particularly girly girl, and I wonder how she puts up with all the faffing around involved in photoshoots for the likes of MUSTO?  ‘When you’re out on the horses and working them, you don’t look very good – you look hot and sweaty.  It is nice to stop and dress up and look girly.’  She’s growing out the floppy fringe because ‘it’s a pain – it’s fine when I’m in off-season and can style it properly, but when it’s under a hat the whole time it’s, you know kind of – it gets put on hold a little bit.’  Does she have a lot of manicures to get the stableyard out from under her nails?  ‘No, I wear good gloves, MUSTO gloves.’  Of course she does.  ‘I’m lucky with MUSTO – they know where I’m coming from, so it works well.’

She and Mike have recently bought a house in the centre of Cheltenham – the tabloid press delights in telling us that the house cost £800,000, and that the couple have spent another £250,000 doing it up (‘Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall set up make a splash with £6,000 bath for two’, reports the Daily Mail).  I can’t see Zara spending time choosing designer baths, somehow.  What’s her perfect night out?  ‘I don’t know.  I love good food, going out for dinner.  We have a good local pub which is just round the corner luckily.’  Does she do the cooking at home?  ‘Yes, I do,’ she says, rather reluctantly.  ‘Do you want to know more about MUSTO?’

Point taken.  I wonder how to construct a question combining MUSTO and something a tad more personal.  I end up asking (rather lamely) whether these clothes are the sort of thing she might wear on the touchline to watch Mike play rugby.  Her short answer is yes, she would.  And no, she doesn’t watch through her fingers: ‘I know he’s good at what he does – we both try and be good at what we do in our fields.  All you’ve got to do is support.  He’s a good person to have on the field, a good influence on everyone.’  Does she understand the offside rule?  ‘Er, sort of, yeah.’

In a newspaper column last year, one of Mike’s world cup-winning teammates wrote that Mike will propose to Zara after the Olympics if she brings home a gold medal.  Said teammate had a delightful habit of climbing through my bedroom window at university, late at night, and passing out in my narrow single bed – I tell Zara this and she roars with laughter.  ‘That’s hilarious.  He’s a good man, he’s a very good man.’  But does that mean the engagement story is true?  Sadly, I’m not brave enough to ask, and she’s certainly not going to tell me.  No scoop for Country and Town House this time, I’m afraid.  My 20 minutes are up – there’s a queue of other journalists waiting to talk to Zara at the NEC, and she’s off to a show-jumping competition at 6.30 tomorrow morning.  ‘Keep plugging that MUSTO name,’ I say.  ‘Yes,’ she says with a slightly weary laugh.’

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