A few years before she married Mike Tindall in 2011, equestrian Zara Phillips wrapped herself in a Union flag to pose for a GQ Sport magazine cover which proclaimed that ‘Britain’s Olympic Hope’ was ‘doing it for Queen and Country’.
Inside, Her Majesty’s eldest granddaughter, who would go on to win a silver medal as part of the UK eventing team at the 2012 Olympics, gave a colourful interview in which she contended that: ‘It’s far better to be known as a horse rider than a royal.’
To illustrate that claim, Zara revealed she’d recently turned down an opportunity which would have been lucrative, but also — given her station in life — most inappropriate.
Namely: she’d been approached to star in the popular ITV reality series I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here’ alongside a motley selection of soap stars, glamour models, fallen pop stars, ex-politicians and the zany children’s TV presenter Timmy Mallett.
‘I mean, really!’ she complained, snorting with derision.
Mike Tindall arriving at Brisbane airport in Australia ahead of his appearance on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
One Royal source said: ‘The King was not consulted about I’m A Celebrity, and certainly wouldn’t have approved,’ is how one royal source puts it’
Fast forward to the present day and we can but marvel at how things have turned out.
Blue-blooded Zara, 41 — who once hooted with laughter at the absurdity of being even asked to take part in this tacky charade — now finds herself married to the next star of exactly the same vulgar TV show.
How so? Yesterday, her husband, Mike, landed at Brisbane Airport in order to set up camp in the Australian outback with the likes of radio DJ Chris Moyles, Love Island star Olivia Attwood, someone from Coronation Street and a host of other celebs-for-hire.
For several weeks, the former England rugby star’s every conversation, not to mention his visits to the shower, will be filmed and broadcast to the nation. He may also be asked to eat unspeakable parts of a kangaroo, or lie in a box filled with spiders or snakes.
It’s surely the most bizarre royal TV booking since It’s A Royal Knockout, which in the 1980s saw Cliff Richard, dressed as a leek, being chased by John Travolta while Prince Andrew cheered from the side-lines.
Mike Tindall, 43, appeared to poke fun at his royal connections for a second time this week as he appeared in an advert for Amazon Prime – days after he starred in an advert for a pizza delivery company
Yet Tindall has a higher purpose: for taking part in the show, he’ll be paid a reported £150,000. Moreover, he’ll gain thousands of social media followers, plus a host of lucrative endorsement deals.
Some have already been inked in. This week, as he prepared for I’m A Celebrity, Tindall starred in striking new advertisements for not one, but two major brands: Domino’s Pizza and Amazon Prime.
In the first film, he carries a stack of pizza boxes to the home of fellow England rugby veteran James Haskell. After joking that he has ‘friends in high places’ — by which he presumably means the royal household — Tindall is teased by his sidekick, who says: ‘What do you want? A medal?’
Mike Tindall and Zara Phillips attending Royal Ascot earlier this year in June. The couple have built a fortune through lucrative brand deals including Land Rover, Rolex and Musto. Most recently, the former England rugby player was seen in a Domino’s Pizza and Amazon Prime Advertisement
During the pizza delivery commercial he delivers a takeaway to former England rugby teammate James Haskell
This, it seems, is a topical joke alluding to Tindall, who has never served in the Armed Forces, being mocked for wearing a selection of medals to the Queen’s funeral.
The second advert, to publicise Amazon’s coverage of the autumn rugby internationals, is also supposed to be a comic affair.
It sees the 44-year-old father of three punch his way out of a large cardboard box, whereupon he’s introduced as ‘Zara Tindall’s husband!’ (Again, this is supposed to be a joke, pegged to the fact that Zara, as 20th in line to the throne, is the more senior of the couple.)
Doubtless Tindall was well paid. But this work broke new ground in members of the Firm’s tricky relationship with the grubby world of commerce. And whether his in-laws approve is another question.
Neither Mike nor Zara are working royals. They do not have titles and receive no public money (though Zara benefited from a trust fund set up by the Queen Mother for her great-grandchildren), so on paper are free to make money however they choose.
That said, there are obvious reasons why monetising royal connections is fraught with danger.
Indeed, while other non-working members of the Firm such as Sarah, Duchess of York have begrudgingly been allowed to earn a shilling via commercial endorsements, they are generally encouraged to do so overseas, and never to trade directly on their royal connections.
This protocol explains the furious response two years ago to Zara’s brother Peter Phillips appearing in a Chinese TV advert for milk, in which he spoke about his upbringing at Windsor and was described in a caption as a ‘British Royal Family Member’.
Tindall is taking things a step further, which is causing some consternation in palace circles.
‘The King was not consulted about I’m A Celebrity, and certainly wouldn’t have approved,’ is how one royal source puts it.
It is not the first time Mike Tindall and Zara Phillips have made lucrative deals with brands. Here Zara is pictured on an advertisement for Rolex
Mike Tindall could be joined by his wife, the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, who is expected to jet out to Australia to support her husband as he appears on I’m a Celebrity. The couple are pictured in June at Wimbledon
Zara and Mike paid their respects after the service and procession for the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II into Westminster Hall last month
‘As for these adverts, it’s pretty undignified. The Queen was Zara’s grandmother and the King is her uncle, and the timing is ugly, because it looks like being part of the funeral has raised their profile and helped drum up business.
‘This stuff is absolutely not what the Palace wants, but these people seem determined to push and push in search of more money.’
How the couple have built a fortune through lucrative brand partnerships
DOMINO’S: Estimated £300k
AMAZON PRIME: Estimated £150k
I’M A CELEBRITY… GET ME OUT OF HERE: Estimated £150k
PUREIS CBD: Estimated £50k
LAND ROVER: Estimated £200K
ICANDY PUSHCHAIR: Estimated £100K PLUS
MAGIC MILLIONS: Estimated £125K
MUSTO: Estimated £500K
CALLEJA JEWELLERY: Estimated £80K
ROLEX: Estimated £100K
VST ENTERPRISES: Estimated £200K
CBD oil: Estimated £50k
Causing extra concern, I gather, is the fact Tindall hosts a podcast, with the aforementioned James Haskell. Though ostensibly about rugby, recent episodes have seen him share insights into royal life.
In one, he revealed the existence of family WhatsApp groups where they ‘set up get-togethers’. Around the time of the Platinum Jubilee, he disclosed that younger royals were on a ‘sugar high’ during celebrations, because ‘there were a lot of sweets out back’.
And shortly after the Queen’s death, he said Her Majesty had approved plans for a plane that had repatriated the bodies of British soldiers to transport her coffin, with the words: ‘If it’s good enough for my boys, it’s good enough for me.’
He’s also claimed that the Prince of Wales, whom he calls ‘Willy’, is a quick runner, while the Princess of Wales has so much stamina during family games of touch rugby that she’s nicknamed ‘engine’.
Some might view this content as harmless, or even charming. And there is an argument that the World Cup-winning rugby player, who grew up in a former pit village near Leeds, is doing his bit to demystify the royals and make the institution appear more down to earth.
But the fear is that the Queen’s death will embolden peripheral family members to exploit opportunities from which they would previously have shied away. Of course, the Tindalls have to earn a living. During an interview with The Times last year, Mike explained his income from after-dinner speaking (for which he charges between £2,500 and £5,000, according to the After Dinner World agency) ground to a halt during the pandemic.
‘You always worry about money,’ he said, adding that after he’d retired from rugby in 2014: ‘I was very fortunate that I had a couple of ambassadorial roles so there’s money coming in, but sponsorships won’t last for ever.
‘You’ve got to plan and now with a third [child] on the way and what’s coming down the line in terms of school fees to pay.’
Be that as it may, the sheer number of commercial deals both he and Zara have signed in recent years is bewildering. And the nature of some of the organisations and people they’ve chosen to go into business with seems at best questionable.
Mike Tindall (pictured in Brisbane Airport) has commented on whether he asked permission from the Royal Household before agreeing to take part in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here
World Champion equestrian Zara Phillips, with a Land Rover Discovery at the Hurlingham Club in London. The Royal made an estimated £200,000 from her brand deal with the car company
Take Manchester-based VST Enterprises, a tech firm run by entrepreneur Louis-James Davis. According to Companies House, he is a director of at least 28 dissolved companies.
In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Zara and Mike were unveiled as ‘global ambassadors’ for the firm on a reported £200,000 deal. Their job was to promote a ‘digital health passport’ the firm claimed would allow sport to return safely in the wake of Covid-19.
‘This ground-breaking cyber-technology could really have a positive impact,’ said Zara, when the deal was announced.
There was, however, a problem: VST’s ‘passport’ centred on an antibody test that was not approved for screening infection. This sparked a complaint to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency by Jon Deeks, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, who said the firm’s advert, starring the Tindalls, was ‘mis-selling’ its product.
‘This could do harm, with people getting into sporting events with negative results while they are infectious,’ he added.
Zara posing for Musto’s autumn/winter campaign. It’s estimated that the Royal made an estimated £500,000 through her partnership with the brand
VST, which seems to have chewed through around £10 million of investors’ cash, soon crashed. It’s currently in administration, with creditors, including the Tindalls, owed millions.
Then there was UFX, a financial trading service that counted Tindall as a brand ambassador. After signing an endorsement deal in 2017, he stated: ‘I’m more than happy to recommend them to friends and family alike.’
However, it emerged that the Cypriot firm’s parent company had been fined on several occasions for breaching securities law, and was being pursued by disgruntled clients who claimed it had financially ruined them.
One, Jon Goddard, told The Times in 2020 that he’d become a customer of the firm after seeing an advert on Facebook.
‘There were some quite famous faces on there, Mike Tindall in particular, that gave it a large amount of credibility,’ he said.
Mike Tindall and Zara Tindall watch the racing from the royal box as they attend The Epsom Derby at Epsom Racecourse in June this year
In the end, Goddard lost his £89,000 life savings. When he complained, the firm repaid half of the cash. It pulled out of the UK in 2020
In another deal, in 2017 Zara signed up to advise Hong Kong businessman Johnny Hon for around £100,000 a year.
Her exact duties were unclear, though it soon emerged that Hon ran a £40,000-a-year networking club, whose members were able to meet serving royals and could even enjoy a Christmas dinner with Prince Philip.
When journalists from the Mail questioned the arrangement, Zara’s legal representative said it was ‘wholly untrue’ she was a non-executive director of one of Hon’s firms. But a few months later, documents emerged proving that she held that exact role. It remains unclear why they had issued the false denial. A charitable way to interpret these PR disasters is that the couple hold so many endorsement deals it’s impossible to keep a close eye on all of them.
To finance her equestrian career, Zara has no fewer than 13 official sponsors, including makers of saddles, jodhpurs, horse feed, helmets and tractors, along with Musto, the clothing firm that recently filmed an advert in a field near the Tindalls’ Gloucestershire home, on Princess Anne’s 700-acre Gatcombe estate. ‘The cut is flattering for women — you feel very feminine in them, while being functional,’ Zara says on the firm’s blurb.
The couple pictured together in 2004 after leaving The Badminton Horse Trails in Gloucestershire. The pair married in 2011
She modelled Musto’s new range in Hello! magazine this month. The celebrity glossy has been a generous paymaster over the years, photographing her with (then) boyfriend, jockey Richard Johnson, in 2001, for a reported £125,000 and paying another £150,000 for pictures of Mia, her first child, in 2014.
Only a reported intervention from the Palace — amid outrage over brother Peter’s decision to sell pictures of his wedding to Autumn Kelly — stopped Zara flogging the rights to her own 2011 nuptials.
Elsewhere, she has a tie-in with Rolex (they call her a ‘testimonee’ and give her cash, plus free watches) and, ironically, since Mike has two drink-driving convictions and she was banned for speeding in 2020, an endorsement deal with Land Rover.
Zara is also an ‘ambassador’ for Magic Millions, a horse event in Australia, along with iCandy, makers of a £1,500 pram that was ‘modelled’ by Lena, the Tindalls’ middle child (there is also 18-month-old son Lucas) and Calleija, a jewellery firm which sells a ‘Zara Phillips collection’.
Mike Tindall pictured with his wife Zara on their wedding day. Zara could jet out to Australia to join her husband down under when contestants start getting kicked out of the reality show
The equestrian-inspired pieces include an £11,000 diamond ring that looks vaguely like a saddle, and the Coronet Suite range. This is said to have been named after the band on top of a horse’s hoof, but, conveniently, a coronet also has royal connotations.
This year, Zara was also made a golf academy ‘cadet’ by Slingsby Gin, sponsors of the PGA championship, as part of a drive to get more women into golf. On a more exotic note, Mike signed up as a celebrity ambassador for a firm called Pureis CBD, which flogs medicinal marijuana supplements.
In short, the Tindalls now have more sponsors than your average Premier League football club. Cynics mutter that it’s a only matter of time before they cut a deal with a cryptocurrency firm or questionable Asian gambling outfit.
Indeed, earlier in her career, Zara had a sponsorship deal with betting firm Cantor Index (and allowed her image to be used in an online equestrian game called Howrse).
The question, of course, is whether this bewildering array of companies would still be opening their chequebooks so widely if Mike was just an ordinary, former England rugby player. Or if Zara’s only claim to fame was being an equestrian who last competed at an Olympics more than ten years ago.
It seems unlikely. For as I’m A Celebrity will surely reveal, the Tindall family — and, by extension, their royal stardust — is now well and truly for sale.
Amazon and Domino’s probably won’t be the only free-spending advertisers who fancy a piece of — or ‘pizza’ — that action.