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Zara Tindall's driving ambitions

Jeremy Taylor / 03 October 2019

Champion horse rider Zara Tindall reveals how hard she's working to win a place in Team GB Eventing at the next Olympics, while still finding time to indulge her other passion, driving, from Land Rovers to one of Top Gear’s Reasonably Fast Cars

Zara Tindall relaxing in the back of a Land Rover with her dogs
Zara Tindall's twin passions are driving and horse riding. Photography: Alun Callender

Zara Tindall was the first ever royal guest to appear on the BBC’s Top Gear and proved she enjoys driving a car as much as riding a horse.

The Queen’s granddaughter was a hit with viewers as she raced head to head with her husband, the ex-rugby player Mike Tindall.

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More used to being behind the wheel of a Land Rover, the mother of two finished just one second behind Tindall, hurtling off the track several times during the warm-up laps in a Toyota GT86. The equestrian rider, who is a former world champion eventer and won silver at the London 2012 Olympics, later admitted she was thrilled to be competing in the Reasonably Fast Car part of the hit show.

‘I loved it, although I think Mike cheated because he came on my training lap, which meant he knew more about the circuit when it came to his turn. He’s also done some racing driving before and when we go anywhere these days he’s always behind the wheel. I’m usually the one looking after our daughters on the back seat.’

Mike makes the Queen giggle

Earlier this summer, Mike made the headlines when he gave the Queen a fit of the giggles at Royal Ascot. Even Zara, touted as ‘the Queen’s favourite granddaughter’, was caught out when her husband presented Her Majesty with a mini top hat during a formal line-up.

‘His hat trick made my granny laugh,’ recalls Zara, 38. ‘We’d been given little top hats with chocolates in them at lunchtime. Mike wanted to bring his home for our daughter Mia but had nowhere to keep it. So he put it on his head, inside his own top hat. ‘I don’t know what inspired him to reveal it in front of Granny but it certainly made her smile. He’s not usually a practical joker.’

While the media forensically explores the daily comings and goings of Meghan, Harry, Will and Kate, by comparison Zara and Mike live a life of relative obscurity, on a farm in Gatcombe Park, Zara’s mother The Princess Royal’s estate in Gloucestershire.

That doesn’t mean the couple aren’t still regulars around the parish. Zara cycles to and from the nearby village with five-year-old Mia on the back; Mike rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle around the country lanes. They like cakes from the local farm shop and buy some of their clothes in nearby Cirencester.

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Horses and horsepower

There are ten horses in the Tindall stables and a similar number of vehicles. Among them is Mike’s Jaguar F-Type sports car and several Land Rovers. The most expensive is an HGV horsebox worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. ‘I drive to and from events – it’s a huge investment,’ says Zara, who has an HGV licence.

Zara has been driving Land Rovers since she was a teenager. ‘My parents taught me to drive but my brother and I also had a go-kart on the estate when we were children. I loved the excitement of speed. I had a few lessons before I sat the test and it was probably the only exam I passed first time.’

Her first car was a Mini Metro in British racing green, while her favourite motor was an Audi S3 hot hatchback Mike gave her as a present.

Looking tanned and healthy, Zara is showing me around her sprawling property on the Gatcombe Park Estate in a Land Rover Discovery. The farm has been home for the past four years. Her brother, Peter Phillips, lives nearby and her father, Mark, still farms the land.

After taking time out from competitive horse-riding for the birth of her second daughter, Lena, 15 months ago, Zara returned to the saddle earlier this year.

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Olympic ambitions

Now focused on winning a place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic GB Eventing team, Zara is battling to regain her place against a posse of excellent British riders. ‘I’ve found it easier to come back after Lena’s birth. My body was in shock when Mia was born – once you have been really, really fit it takes you by surprise when you lose it. I had to work out how to get it all back again.

‘Unfortunately for women, everything changes after they have had children – you can get away with a lot more when you are younger. Fitness is the key to everything because if you aren’t strong enough on a horse it will affect your confidence. Between now and the season end in October, I will be making sure I am as physically ready as possible to get a ride at the Tokyo games.’

While training is her number-one priority, Zara says she tries to be around as much as possible over the school holidays. ‘It’s a juggling process, like it is for any mum. The girls have both been on a horse now. Lena has been put on a pony and she seems to like it. She can’t speak yet but there are a lot of smiles and giggles. Mia isn’t too bothered!’

The stereotypical image of rugby players and motorcyclists might suggest her husband has a tattoo or two. Zara made the headlines herself when she displayed a pierced tongue in her teens. ‘He absolutely hasn’t got a tattoo! I’d also rather one of my daughters came home with a piercing than a tattoo because at least a stud can be removed. I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if they did though.’

With Mike involved in commentary duties for the Rugby World Cup starting this month in Japan, Zara will be cooking all the meals at home. ‘Mike cooks for himself if I’m not around – he’s a lot better than he used to be. If he follows a recipe he’s very OCD about it.’

Is there space in Zara’s busy schedule to indulge in some shopping? ‘I don’t really like it. I’m more of an online shopper and I try to borrow hats whenever I can.

‘I don’t have 100 pairs of shoes yet, but I’m heading that way. Let’s hope my daughters don’t turn out the same way.’

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.