It was not the traditional way of delivering news of an imminent royal baby. But then again, Zara and Mike Tindall have never exactly been sticklers for protocol. So when the former England rugby player announced on a blokeish podcast that his wife was expecting another child, no one behind palace gates batted an eyelid.
Joking that they would have to name the newborn “Covy or Covina”, Mike, 42, made no secret of the couple’s anxiety over the pregnancy, having suffered two miscarriages between the birth of their eldest daughter Mia, who turns 7 next month, and their youngest daughter, Lena, 2.
“Had a little scan last week, third Tindall on its way,” he told The Good, The Bad & The Rugby podcast. “Z is very good… obviously always careful because of things that have happened in the past. But so far, so good. Fingers crossed, I’d like a boy this time. I’ve got two girls, I would like a boy. I will love it whether it’s a boy or a girl, but please be a boy!”
The irreverent podcast, which also stars Tindall’s fellow England international James Haskell and Sky Sports presenter Alex Payne, attracts 150,000 listeners a week and has reinvented Tindall as one of the sport’s national treasures. Revealing that he always has to fit the weekly recording around his “girls”, he added: “We haven’t told Mia yet because we knew she’d tell everyone at school but now we’ve had the scan. She’s been requesting another sister or brother so hopefully we’ve filled that role for her. Lena is two and a half now, she wants something else to dress up.”
The informality of the announcement was entirely in keeping with Zara, 39, and Mike’s reputation as the royal family’s most relatable couple. Married for almost a decade and with a third child now on the way, they have happily settled into country life on the Princess Royal’s Gatcombe estate in Gloucestershire, where insiders describe their home, Aston Farm, as “Cotswolds casual”. They have two dogs – a labrador and a boxer – and their children attend the local school.
“It’s very Country Life,” said one friend. “There’s muddy boots at the door, the kids are playing and running around, they are all in and out in wellies. They love living so close to their family.”
As well as living next door to Zara’s mother and her second husband Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, Zara’s brother Peter Phillips, his estranged wife Autumn and their daughters Savannah, 9, and Isla, 8, live 182m away on the estate in Minchinhampton. Peter and Autumn announced their separation in February but stayed living together for the sake of the children. Their close proximity to the Tindalls means the four cousins are “thick as thieves”, according to those familiar with the setup.
During an ITV documentary to mark her 70th birthday in August, Princess Anne revealed how her grandchildren were having to be home-schooled during the first coronavirus lockdown like “everybody else”. She was filmed with a framed picture of Zara and Mike on their wedding day at Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirk in the background. Zara joked on the programme about how the couple quite liked leaving the girls with “Granny”, saying: “Yeah, we quite like leaving them on Sundays. We say: ‘I’ll pick them up later. See you then!'”
Anne’s decision that neither of her children should have royal titles when they were born has left both free to pursue their own careers – and lead relatively “normal” lives. Peter runs an events business while Zara has carved out a successful career in equestrianism, winning the eventing European and World championships and a silver Olympic medal at London 2012. She was out riding on Friday at four months pregnant, although it is thought she will take a break from the saddle in her third trimester.
Yet, at times, the siblings’ need to earn a crust has landed them in hot water, such as when Peter appeared in a Chinese milk advert, or when the Tindalls recently promoted a coronavirus “passport” app that was referred to the advertising regulator over concerns it may be at odds with health guidance.
There have also been controversies in their private lives, such as when Mike was thrown out of England’s elite player squad and fined £25,000 by the Rugby Football Union during the 2011 World Cup after a raucous night out in New Zealand. It was alleged that Mike was seen flirting with “a gorgeous blonde” while enjoying a “dwarf-throwing contest” in the Altitude Bar in Queenstown. Yet in typically understated style, Zara still welcomed him home, telling friends at the time that he had “behaved like an idiot”.
According to one source who knows the couple well, their marriage is now stronger than ever. “They’re a great couple because they’re great friends and love being in each other’s company. They are openly very affectionate towards each other but there’s always a bit of rib tickling between them, too.
“Zara is very playful and cheeky. She’s a very genuine, sincere person. She doesn’t have any of the trappings of being associated with the royal family. There’s no airs and graces or standing on ceremony. People get on with her because she’s very normal.
“Mike’s great qualities are that he’s a very typical straight-talking Yorkshireman. Whatever they do is pretty effortless – there’s no masterplan, like, let’s become a great advert for the Royal family. They are just themselves. People find them incredibly relatable.”
The pandemic has been particularly difficult for Mike’s family because his father Phil, who lives with wife Linda near Otley in Yorkshire, has been suffering from Parkinson’s for nearly 20 years. Speaking about the debilitating condition last year with characteristic frankness, Mike said of the former rugby-playing bank manager: “I knew what he was as a dad. He taught me to play rugby, he taught me to tackle… he’s still that guy who wants to be playing with Mia and Lena but he has limitations. But Mia’s good with him, she takes a little bit of fun out of him in a nice way, taking his walking stick and saying, ‘look, I am Grandad’.”
Mike, a keen golfer, hosts a golf day every year to raise money for the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. In 2018 Zara spoke equally candidly about having suffered two miscarriages – the first, in 2016, after having announced her pregnancy the previous month. “For me, the worst bit was that we had to tell everyone; everyone knew,” she said. “I had to go through having the baby because it was so far along… In our case, it was something that was really rare; it was nature saying, ‘This one’s not right’.” She revealed she had then suffered a second miscarriage “really early on”, before eventually becoming pregnant with her daughter Lena, who was born that June.
“I think you need to go through a period where you don’t talk about it because it’s too raw,” she says. “But, as with everything, time’s a great healer.” She praised her “concerned” husband and “protective” brother, adding: “It was a time when my family came to the fore and I needed them.”
The friend added: “The delight for all of us who know them is that they’ve got such wonderful news after the sad news they had. That was a very painful and reflective period for them both.”
As former professional athletes, the couple have a lot in common, but also share a love of horse racing with the Queen. Mike caused great amusement at Royal Ascot in 2019 when took his top hat off in front of the 94-year-old monarch to reveal a tiny top hat inside it. Footage of the moment showed HM giggling at the stunt. Zara was less than impressed when Mike bought a racehorse at an auction for £12,000 following a boozy dinner, apparently describing it as a “knackered nag”. But Mike had the last laugh when the 40-1 outsider finished third in the 2015 Grand National, netting him £105,500 in winnings.
“I think their secret is they are always there to support one another in everything they do,” added the friend. “Z initially wrote the horse off and called him an idiot for buying it, but of course she helped him with it all. It’s the same at home – they share the burden of the childcare. They’re very much on an equal footing.”
If the royals want to modernise and appear more relatable, they clearly need look no further than Mr and Mrs Tindall.
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