LONDON – Britain will celebrate its second royal wedding of the season Saturday, with equestrian star Zara Phillips – eldest granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II – taking centre stage as she marries England rugby stalwart Mike Tindall.
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A regal supporting cast is expected as the queen leads her extended brood to Edinburgh, Scotland for the private festivities. Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are expected, along with Prince Harry (still single) and bright lights from Britain’s sports and show business worlds.
The nuptials of Phillips, 30, and Tindall, 32, are expected to be far more low-key than William’s wedding in late April, which was watched live on television throughout much of the world. Phillips – who does not carry a royal title – and Tindall prefer to stay out of the limelight when they are not competing, and the wedding has been organized to reflect their desires.
“It’s the complete opposite end of the royal wedding spectrum,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine. “William and Zara are both the queen’s grandchildren: He’s got the title, he’s going to be the monarch, but Zara thinks of herself more as a sportswoman than as a royal.”
He said Phillips and her fiance go about their daily lives “like regular people” without police protection and are generally left alone even by people who recognize them. They have come to enjoy their privacy, and have taken steps to make sure there is no live television coverage of the wedding, with only very limited press coverage, Little said.
The couple seem very different from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Phillips is a casual, understated and sporty woman who doesn’t mind drinking beer from a bottle in public from time to time; Tindall is a powerful standout in rugby, the quintessential (and sometimes brutal) English sport.
Phillips has a lovely, unlined face, while Tindall’s visage reflects the rigours of his sport.
The publicity-shy Phillips seems to have used William’s wedding as a cover for her own, hoping the tremendous attention paid to his choice of bride would shield her from an intense publicity buildup surrounding her own plans to marry Tindall, her longtime boyfriend.
She and Tindall announced their engagement shortly after William and Middleton’s announcement generated worldwide headlines, and she scheduled her wedding after William’s, choosing Edinburgh over London, which is a huge media hub.
While the couple is seeking privacy in the days before the wedding – which will include a cocktail party Friday night aboard the former royal yacht Britannia, which has been hired for the occasion – London’s tabloids have been tailing the couple whenever possible, seeking out crucial details, such as who is doing Phillips’ nails.
On Friday, the couple, both dressed casually in jeans, arrived at Edinburgh church Canongate Kirk for a final rehearsal. They smiled at the crowds of well-wishers gathered across the road, who cheered them as they disappeared inside the church.
Most of the outside world may not be mesmerized, but the wedding is a major event in the royal family’s life, in part because of the close ties between the queen and Phillips, who is her eldest granddaughter.
Phillips – a world class equestrian who hopes to compete in the London Olympics next summer – is the daughter of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, her first husband.
They made the fateful choice not to accept royal titles for their two children, Zara and her older brother Peter. That decision has enabled the two children to enjoy more freedom than their cousins. They have generally received less scrutiny and have fewer royal duties – that means less time spent at routine events like opening hospital wards or christening lifeboats.
Phillips, like her mother, Princess Anne, has become a top equestrian, winning numerous medals and several “Sportswoman of the Year” awards. Riding is her passion, and she excels at it.
Tindall, his burly physique ideal for rugby, has been a topflight England player and occasional team captain though recently hobbled by injuries.
The couple has never been much for pomp and circumstance, generally preferring jeans and a sweater to haute couture. They used a casual outdoorsy photo for their engagement picture, a far cry from the formal portrait shot by Mario Testino that William and Middleton used.
Phillips has not tried to be fashion trendsetter, although she has occasionally worn wacky and revealing outfits (sometimes set off with a Trilby hat) and she did have her tongue pierced, which is not typical protocol for senior royals.
She has sometimes taken a devil-may-care attitude toward fashion, refusing to treat every night out as a chance to showcase a new outfit. And she drew heavy criticism once for wearing a low cut dress even though her tan lines were clearly visible – a fashion faux pas that seemed to interest her not at all.
Fashion experts do not expect Phillips, with her curvier figure, to wear a skintight lace concoction like the McQueen gown that Middleton wore when she married William at Westminster Abbey in late April.
“I think it will be a very classic, very traditional English wedding gown,” said Arabella Dupont, executive retail editor at Brides magazine.
Press attention has focused on Stewart Parvin, who holds a royal warrant from the queen, as the likely designer. Dupont said others who may have received the coveted assignment are Bruce Oldfield and Paul Costelloe.
There is no public viewing area for the wedding, but police in Edinburgh are anticipating that several thousand people will try to throng the narrow streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of the newlyweds – and of the glamorous Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Paparazzi are likely to focus on Middleton and what she is wearing, but Dupont doesn’t believe Middleton will try to upstage the bride.
“She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl to do that,” Dupont said. “The bride should be the centre of attention and all eyes should be on her.