Mike Tindall at 44—From rugby’s bad boy to most relatable royal

Paul Burrell defends Mike Tindall's rumoured I'm A Celeb stint

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Mike Tindall is married to the late Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest granddaughter, Zara Phillips (now Tindall); the pair have three children together — eight-year-old Mia, four-year-old Lena and one-year-old Lucas — and are considered to be some of the most relatable members of the Royal Family. While Zara, the daughter of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, was born into royalty, her husband comes from humble beginnings in the market town of Otley in Leeds. Mike rose to fame as a sports star, with highlights including his team’s success at the 2003 World Cup, but one of his early jobs saw the royal serving fish and chips from a van. Here, Express.co.uk takes a look at how the northern-born rugby lad became a much-loved royal. 

Born to social worker Linda and banker Philip, Mike had a modest upbringing compared to his royal relatives. He attended the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield, where his love for rugby grew, and worked part-time at the fish and chip van while he was studying. 

In 2006, during an interview with The Guardian, Mike described it as the worst job he has ever had, saying: “No real disasters, just a lot of rowdy northerners complaining about the size of the fish. I was paid according to how many fish we sold.”

With rugby in his blood — his dad captained Otley and his three uncles also played for the team — he began playing the sport aged seven at school before eventually joining Bath Rugby at the age of 18. 

Mike made his England debut against Ireland at Twickenham in 2000 and continued as outside centre for a number of years. During his staggering 17-year career, Mike won 75 international caps and scored 14 tries. 

In 2003, England emerged victorious in the World Cup, with Mike reinstated in the final which saw the team win. During the celebrations, Mike met his wife-to-be after her cousin Prince Harry introduced the sports-loving pair at a bar in Sydney. The rugby player’s profile rose as the royal relationship progressed. 

Zara was an accomplished equestrian, having taken after her mother and father, and when she became world eventing champion in 2006 and won the BBC sports personality of the year, Mike was there. It has been said that Mike tamed a once “wild” Zara, with Vanity Fair’s Katie Nicholl telling Channel 5 last year: “For all of Mike’s reputation for being hard-living, hard-playing, he actually was a pretty sobering influence on Zara,” adding that Mike’s success as a sportsman encouraged Zara to “take her own sporting talent seriously”. 

Mike’s own career continued to flourish with the rugby player acquiring a cult following and earning the nickname ‘The Fridge’ due to his sheer size. However, a famously injury-prone player, who has reportedly broken his nose at least eight times, he was unable to play in the 2007 World Cup due to a broken leg. 

One particularly intense incident came a year later when he was tackled and landed on the opposing player’s heel, causing him to collapse in agony and be put in intensive care. The royal broke two of his ribs, punctured his lung and lacerated his liver. It’s a trait that seemingly stems from childhood; in 2006 he revealed his earliest memory is “falling off the neck of a dinosaur at a Happy Eater near Selby and knocking myself out”.

2011 marked Mike’s final run at the tournament but his rugby performance was arguably overshadowed by misconduct off the field. During a boozy night out in Queenstown, New Zealand, Mike was photographed ‘dwarf-throwing — a pub activity which sees participants compete to throw a person with dwarfism the farthest. Since its inception in the Eighties, the activity has become highly controversial. 

He was subsequently removed from the Rugby Football Union’s elite player squad and fined £25,000. After an appeal, his suspension from the England squad was set aside and the fine was reduced to £15,000. 

Around the same time, Mike was filmed flirting with an unknown woman at a bar; a bouncer uploaded security camera footage of the incident to YouTube. Just months earlier, Mike had married Zara at Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh with 400 guests in attendance, including members of the Royal Family.

Zara seemingly shrugged off the rumours surrounding her husband. A spokesperson for the royal told the Sunday Telegraph: “This girl in the video is an old friend of Mike and Zara and has known Mike since university days. She is English but lives in Australia and was on holiday in New Zealand. Zara is very relaxed about all this and the whole thing has been blown out of all proportion.”

Mike’s father Phil also defended his son, saying: “I have no reason to believe that Mike would be doing anything wrong. We spoke to him last night, it was breakfast time for him, and he didn’t mention anything about it. He was fine. He would have told us if he was in some sort of trouble.

“It’s all just a fuss being made over nothing. We’re very proud of him and the England rugby team, we always are.”

The bouncer, who uploaded the footage, was later charged with accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose.

Mike has since opened up about his drunken night in New Zealand, when asked by the Radio Times in 2015 whether he had any regrets, Mike said: “No, not really. It’s easy to look back and say you wish it hadn’t happened. If you’d asked me do I regret going out and having a good time with the fans and all the boys — no.

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“But obviously if I had known the spin-off from it all, I wouldn’t want that. Quite a big mountain was made out of a fairly small molehill.”

Elsewhere, Mike has remained a largely solid citizen off the field, with the exception of a couple of drink-driving convictions, the second coming when he was stopped the morning after accompanying Zara to Cheltenham Festival in 2008. 

His relaxed attitude to royal life has earned him the position of one of the most relatable members of the Royal Family. Mike and Zara are regularly spotted on family days out with their three young children and, unlike other members of the Firm, the couple have never shied away from PDA, endearing them to ‘ordinary’ members of the public. 

Mike has previously called Zara the “love of his life” and said: “I’d love Zara if she worked behind a check-out at Tesco. She just happens to be Princess Anne’s daughter.”

They are raising their family in Gloucestershire’s royal estate Gatcombe Park, where the Princess Royal and her husband, Sir Timothy Laurence, also reside. 

Mike is reportedly popular with some of the young royals, having been described as the “cool uncle” and named nine-year-old Prince George’s “favourite”. During the recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations, he was spotted giving four-year-old Prince Louis the ‘I’ve got my eye on you’ sign. He later revealed the kids were on a “sugar high”, telling his rugby podcast ‘The Good, The Bad and the Rugby’: “There were a lot of sweets out back.”

He has previously said he didn’t find it difficult to fit in with the royals, telling Hello in 2010: “It’s not hard for me. The royals make it easy by being so normal. They’re a close family, no different from any other. [Princes] William and Harry are big England rugby supporters.

“They’ve become great pals. And Pete, Zara’s brother, is a fan. He used to play rugby with some of the boys so I knew him before I’d met Zara. It wasn’t such a leap for me to enter her world.”

His comments came over a decade before he reportedly branded Prince Harry a “b***end” during the Jubilee celebrations this summer. Mike was overheard criticising the Duke of Sussex’s behaviour, according to the Daily Express.

But his close relationship with the Queen seemingly lasted the test of time, with the sportsman reflecting on the weeks since the monarch’s passing during an episode of his podcast. He said: “It’s been sad, emotional but happy. In some ways amazing.

“To see the family come so close together overnight…It’s like the world has lost its grandmother in some way.”

He later admitted to a gaffe on meeting King Charles III for the first time since he inherited the throne, saying: “I almost curtseyed to the King the other day…I was just following my wife, saw her curtsey, and I, fortunately, didn’t,” adding he may have looked as though he’d “stubbed my toe or something on the floor”. 

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