30 JULY 2007

The announcement of Peter Phillips' forthcoming marriage to Autumn Kelly may have come as a surprise to some royal watchers who were expecting wedding bells to ring first for his sister Zara Phillips. Keen equestrian Zara has been involved in a serious relationship with England rugby star Mike Tindall for the last two years. Despite the pair seeming perfectly suited, friends say that for now her sporting career must come first.

Apart from issues of royal protocol - it is rare for two royal marriages to occur close to each other - Princess Anne's daughter is thought to be putting all her energies into training for the 2008 Olympics. "Zara really loves Mike and wants the two of them to be together for ever," a source told the Daily Mail. "But at the moment she is just too focused on her eventing to think about marriage.

Despite her lack of title - a decision made by her parents to try and ensure a more normal upbringing - Princess Anne's 26-year-old daughter is one of the royal family's most high profile and popular members, who enjoys a particularly close relationship with her grandmother the Queen.

According to a new biography by Brian Hoey entitled Zara Phillips: A Revealing Portrait Of A Royal World Champion, she is one of only three people able to call the monarch at any time.

"In Palace circles it is said that Her Majesty has given strict instructions that only three people are allowed to be connected to her at any time. One is her racing manager, the others are her grandson William - and Zara," he reveals. Mr Hoey, who is Princess Anne's official biographer, adds that the close bond between the two developed while Zara was away at boarding school.

She "used to write to her when she was away at school, and the Queen always replied to her in her own hand. And she still does when they correspond," he says. "Zara has a special feeling for her grandmother, they share the same interests, mainly horses, and the Queen is kept fully informed of everything Zara is doing. In Zara's eyes, Granny can do no wrong and the feeling is reciprocated."

Photo: ©
The Queen's granddaughter is apparently putting her own marriage plans with boyfriend Mike on hold in order to concentrate on training for the 2008 Games Photo: © Getty ImagesClick on photo to enlarge
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