Mike Tindall - Biography
"I'd love Zara if she worked behind a check-out at Tesco," says Mike Tindall. "She just happens to be Princess Anne's daughter."
Mike's wedding to Zara Phillips
It's a comment that's typical of the rugby star, known in his professional and personal circles for his down to earth nature and lack of airs and graces. And you know he means every word. He happily admits he's head over heels with Zara, with whom he lives on her mother's Gatcombe Park estate in Gloucestershire.
"I've never been in love before," he says. "But Zara is the love of my life. No doubt."
Mike James Tindall was born in Otley, Leeds in 1978, the son of Philip - a banker - and Linda, a social worker. He was educated at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar school in Wakefield, and worked in a fish and chip van to earn money while he was studying.
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.
When he turned 18 he was snapped up by England Schools and went on a seven week tour of Australia. Returning exhilarated and exhausted he decided to defer his place to study at Durham University for a year to take up the offer of a place in Bath's rugby squad. He never did make it to Durham.
His career took off and two years later he proudly made his debut in the England team, soon becoming a regular fixture at both club and international level.
Mike's busy schedule didn't leave much time for girls, but one in particular was worth the effort – Zara Phillips.
There was an instant attraction when the pair met in Sydney on November 22, 2003 - the night England beat Australia and won the rugby World Cup.
His teammate Austin Healey did some matchmaking and the pair swapped numbers, with Zara inviting him to the North Cotswolds Hunt Dance.
Of that night, Mike has said: "I just really liked her. It wasn't love at first sight - I wasn't looking for romance. But, naturally, I wasn't unmoved by her. She is a stunning woman. There was something there."
Zara had recently come out of a tempestuous relationship with jockey Richard Johnson and she had also been linked to New Zealand All Blacks' Caleb Ralph. But it was in Mike she found what she was looking for.
The pair soon developed a deep bond and despite claiming they were just "mates", it was clear they were an item in January 2004 when they were pictured outside the Met Bar in London, laughing and joking.
Soon after that, the 6ft 2in sports star moved in with Zara, and the pair became inseparable. Not only that, commentators began to notice a change in the Queen's granddaughter.
Her famed 'wild streak' seemed to be subsiding. And perhaps spurred on by Mike's career successes, she began to take her Eventing training seriously – hitting the stables at 7.30am each morning.
Mike has said that one of the good things about their relationship is: "That we understand the needs of a sportsperson at the highest level… we understand each other's highs and lows in sports."
And indeed they've been there for each other in the good and bad times. Zara looked on proudly as her man received his MBE from the Queen in 2007, but she was also there to support him after a serious sports injury left him in intensive care a year later.
Similarly, Mike is delighted to share in Zara's career triumphs – like when she was crowned both European and World champion in 2006. But he is just as happy to offer a conciliatory kiss on days when things don't go so well.
What Mike really brings to Zara's life is balance. She is fire and he is ice. He explains: "If something goes wrong – say a parcel doesn't turn up – I don't get angry. Even when I broke my leg, and couldn't play in the last World Cup, I accepted it."
"Zara isn't like that. She's not scared of saying how she feels. But I wouldn't want a doormat. What man would?"
Before long Mike was very much a part of the family. But despite their very different backgrounds, he didn't find it difficult to fit in with the royals, he said.
"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."
In all respects, the pair seemed perfect for each other. And though questions about when Mike would propose were swept aside, the couple always said it was a question of "when" not "if" they would marry.
The rugby player even said he would gladly be a house husband, and would "quite happily not work, learn to cook and stay at home with the kids".
He added: "I am a traditional bloke, but I'll be a good dad. I'll get stuck in, get up in the middle of the night and change nappies. I love children."
After seven years together came the news royal watchers were waiting for. On December 21, 2010 Mike and Zara announced their intention to wed.