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07.29.11

The Other Royal Wedding

When Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter, marries Mike Tindall in Edinburgh on Saturday, the ceremony will be—by royal standards—a modest affair.

The queen will be sitting at the front, and there will be plenty of royals elsewhere in the church. One of the happy pair at the altar will have royal blood in her veins; the other comes from middle-class stock. Wedding guests will gather afterward at a nearby royal palace, and there’ll be police marksmen in place to cover the event.

But that’s where the similarities to this year’s big royal wedding end. Forget the media hoo-ha that surrounded the nuptials of William and Kate. When the queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips marries her longstanding boyfriend, Mike Tindall, in Edinburgh on Saturday, the occasion will be as private and low-key as any part-royal couple can reasonably expect.

There’ll be no gaping worldwide television audience of billions, no foreign dignitaries invited for reasons of protocol, no swooning crowds outside. Instead, there’ll be just 300 friends and family at the 17th Canongate Kirk in the ancient center of Edinburgh, the queen’s usual place of worship when she’s in the city.

Sure, the couple hasn’t forsworn all the advantages that go with royalty. The pre-wedding party for 150 guests was held on the royal yacht Britannia, decommissioned in 1997 and now a tourist attraction moored in Leith, the port of Edinburgh. The reception will be held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the queen’s official residence in Scotland.

But they’ve opted for an occasion in line with a lifestyle that has more to do with their sporting careers than her lineage. Phillips is a world-class horsewoman who’s collected a clutch of eventing trophies, echoing the success of her mother, Princess Anne, and her father, Mark Phillips, both leading figures in the equestrian world.

Although 13th in line to the throne, Zara has had little to do with the razzmatazz of royalty and shuns publicity. The 30-year-old’s best-known ex is the jockey Richard Johnson. She has no royal title and no income from the royal coffers. According to media tittle-tattle, Buckingham Palace nixed her plan to raise £500,000 by giving wedding-picture rights to the celebrity magazine Hello!

Her fiancé is a 32-year-old star player on England’s Rugby World Cup team who has broken his nose eight times on the rugby pitch and is nicknamed Fridge for his bulk. His father is a former bank official now employed as a finance officer in a prison. His mother is a social worker.

If their backgrounds are very different, the pair are united by sport. Together for eight years, they met for the first time in a bar in Sydney, Australia, during the 2003 Rugby World Cup tournament. There’ll be no honeymoon after the wedding because Tindall is training for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and Phillips will be competing in the Gatcombe Park international horse trials next month.

Not for Tindall the grand gesture on a Kenyan hillside in the manner of Prince William. He proposed to Phillips last Christmas while watching television on the sofa.

Famously feisty by reputation, Phillips apparently eschews the grand manner. In a recent press interview, Tindall’s mother, Linda, said, “When we met Zara we noticed she is just so nice and ordinary. Many a time Mike has said that if she worked at [the supermarket] Tesco it would not matter. It’s about her and the sort of person she is.”

Accounts of the engagement are reassuringly ordinary, too. Not for Tindall the grand gesture on a Kenyan hillside in the manner of Prince William. He proposed to Phillips last Christmas while watching television on the sofa. News of the engagement was broadcast on Twitter and appeared on the Buckingham Palace Facebook page. But for a British public sated with royal pomp back in April, ordinary is quite good enough.