It was November 14, 1973, and a happy British couple were exchanging their vows to officially become husband and wife. The extravagant wedding ceremony was taking place at Westminster Abbey, and as the storied venue they were getting hitched in might suggest, the bride and groom were no ordinary Joes. Yes, the ecstatic pair getting hitched on that day were Army Captain Mark Phillips and Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. But little did the blissful couple know that years into the marriage, the groom would harbor a dark secret, one which would spark a major royal scandal.
Yes, years after the Princess and Phillips married on that memorable November day in 1973, problems began to surface in their marriage. By the mid-1980s those problems would give rise to a scandal that would shake the British royal family to its very core. In 1991 the shocking transgression would become public knowledge after an unwelcome confession.
The shockwaves from the scandal that emerged during the Princess and Phillip’s marriage are still being felt today. Indeed, a new development in 2017 further complicated matters and reminded people of the shameful events that had occurred decades earlier. But before getting into the details, we should first properly introduce the main protagonists in this remarkable real-life drama.
Anne, the Princess Royal was born Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise in London on August 15, 1950. She was the second born of the United Kingdom’s future Queen, Princess Elizabeth Windsor and her husband Prince Phillip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh. Her birth was marked by a Royal Salute in Hyde Park. She immediately became a princess, and by 1952 (when her mother ascended the throne upon George VI’s death) she was second in line of succession behind her elder brother Charles. She would, however, drop down the pecking order when her second brother Prince Andrew was born in 1960.
Obviously then, given her illustrious family tree, the princess was not born into poverty. Indeed, her early childhood years were spent playing in the gardens of luxurious royal residences such as the Royal Lodge in Windsor and Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She would begin her education at Buckingham Palace under the tutelage of governess Catherine Peeble, and Anne also spent time as a Girl Guide in the Kingfisher Patrol of the First Buckingham Palace Company, which was set up especially for her.
When she reached her teenage years though, Anne moved on from home-schooling to attend the all-girl boarding school Benenden. She would leave the prestigious Kent establishment with six GCE O-Levels and two A-Levels in 1968. The princess began to take on official public engagements both at home and abroad in her role as a royal, traveling to New Zealand and Australia in 1970 with her parents.
Anne was now an adult, and promptly started doing the things that adults do, such as dating. One of her first boyfriends was an army officer named Andrew Parker Bowles. The romance didn’t last, but the friendship did. Parker Bowles would go on to marry a woman named Camilla, with whom he would have two children, Laura and Tom. In a strange twist of fate, in the years to come Parker Bowles’s ex-wife Camilla would begin a relationship with Anne’s elder brother Charles.
From an early age, Princess Anne developed a deep love of horses and horse riding. But the pursuit would become much more than an enjoyable pastime for her. In actual fact, the Queen’s daughter would become a hugely talented equestrian who would go on to compete for Olympic gold. But firstly – and most significantly for this story – it would help her find love with her first husband.
That’s because she would meet a certain Mark Phillips via her equestrian career. The future Army captain and Olympian with whom she would fall in love was born on September 22, 1948 in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. He was the only son of Major Peter William Garside Phillips and Anne Patricia Phillips, who also had a daughter named Sarah Anne Staples.
Phillips was educated at Stouts Hill Preparatory School in Gloucestershire before moving on to Marlborough College boarding school in Wiltshire. Like his father and grandfather, the young Englishman would pursue a military career, receiving an education at the Royal Military College in Sandhurst. Like Princess Anne, he too developed a keenness for equestrianism from a young age and in the 1960s he began seriously competing in the sport.
Yes, Phillips’ talent for the sport had taken him as far as the Olympic Games by 1968, where he made the reserve squad of the British equestrian team competing in Mexico City. Then, a year later he passed his military training at Sandhurst and entered The Queen’s Dragoon Guards as a Second Lieutenant. As it transpired, 1970 brought more equestrian success when a British team of which he was a part emerged victorious in the World Championships in Chicago, U.S.A..
In 1971 Phillips progressed further in his military career, reaching the rank of lieutenant. His equestrian career was similarly flourishing, and in that same year he was part of a team that achieved European title success. Phillips also triumphed in the 1971 Badminton Horse Trials as a solo rider, a feat he repeated a year later with the horse Great Ovation. But it was at the 1972 Olympic Games that his life would change dramatically.
Not only would Phillips achieve Olympic gold for Great Britain in equestrian eventing, he would also find love with Princess Anne at the Munich Games. Yes, the pair of horse-lovers, who had reportedly met years earlier at a party, soon discovered they had a great deal in common and evidently a mutual attraction. The princess, after all, was herself very close to Olympic participation, winning the 1971 European Championships solo event and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award for that year. They started dating, and from there, things moved pretty quickly.
The princess revealed her engagement to the world on May 29, 1973. Gossip at the time suggested that Phillips had proposed to her about six weeks before the notoriously private Anne publicly revealed the news. Phillips got down on one knee with a sapphire and diamond ring designed by prestigious London jeweller The House of Garrard. A wedding date was set just under six months on from the couple’s official announcement.
Those six months soon passed, and as previously mentioned, the princess and Phillips tied the knot in November 1973 at London’s Westminster Abbey. The historic church was the same venue where Anne’s parents had wed 26 years prior. The royal nuptials were beamed around the world on television, with approximately 500 million people tuning in to watch them unfold. Evidently it was another major royal event that many people weren’t prepared to miss.
The 23-year-old princess made quite the entrance to Westminster Abbey, approaching the church in a horse-led carriage with her doting father alongside her. The bride wore a demure wedding dress designed by Maureen Baker that was embellished with Tudor-style silk and medieval sleeves, and she sported her hair in a beehive with her grandmother’s tiara and a veil as further decoration. Phillips, meanwhile, donned his scarlet, gold and blue regimental uniform.
Thousands of well-wishers may have lined the streets of London on a day that was declared a national holiday, but those who attended the ceremony were from the top echelons of society. Alongside the princess’s parents Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II were Anne’s grandmother the Queen Mother, her mother’s sister Princess Margaret and her brothers Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward – the latter serving as the page boy for the nuptials. Representatives from royal families from around the globe also attended, including Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja, the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix, Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Greece’s King Constantine II.
The princess and Phillip’s wedding was unusual for one major reason. Military man Phillips was a commoner, and the couple’s union became only the second occasion in over 200 years that a British royal had wed a person with such a lack of social status. The other occasion was when King George VI had tied the knot with Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923. It is widely believed that Queen Elizabeth II proposed making Phillips an earl, but the commoner – presumably politely – turned it down.
After the formalities of the wedding were completed, the happy couple made their way to Buckingham Palace. The princess and her husband waved to the public from the balcony, as is the long-standing convention. They stayed the night in England’s capital before jetting off to Barbados for their honeymoon. The loved-up pair would enjoy an 18-day cruise on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.
On the first day of 1974, Lieutenant Phillips would be appointed by his mother-in-law The Queen as her personal aide-de-camp. It would be quite the honor for the Acting Captain, who fascinatingly was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who had fulfilled the role under Elizabeth II’s father George VI for three years. But 1974 would also bring the first major test of the newlyweds’ marriage, after a shocking event occurred in March of that year.
Indeed, on March 20, 1974, as the royal couple were making their way back to Buckingham Palace in a chauffeur-driven car, a disturbed individual named Ian Ball blocked their route on Pall Mall with his own vehicle, and exited it armed with a handgun. The criminal approached the Rolls-Royce in which the princess sat and demanded she come with him so he could collect £2 million in ransom. “Not bloody likely,” she reportedly replied.
The horrific kidnapping attempt saw four people shot and injured, including the princess’s bodyguard James Beaton, before Ball was finally wrestled to the ground and arrested. Princess Anne was shaken but thankfully unhurt, and visited the victims as they recovered in hospital. To this day, the attempted abduction of the princess is the nearest a member of the British Royal Family has come to being kidnapped.
Mercifully, the rest of 1974 and the next few years was much smoother for the couple. Phillips repeated his previous success at the Badminton Horse Trials, this time on Queen Elizabeth II’s horse Columbus. In 1976 the couple moved into the stately Gatcombe Park estate in Gloucestershire, which Her Majesty had purchased for them from politician R.A. Butler. It was soon time for the princess and Phillips to start a family.
The royal couple were duly blessed with a son on November 15, 1977, whom they named Peter Mark Phillips; he was the Queen’s first grandchild. The following year Phillips would retire from active service in the Army. Princess Anne would give birth to the couple’s second child, a daughter named Zara, on May 15, 1981. From the outside, everything seemed to be going perfectly for the pair in the early 1980s.
But trouble was on the horizon for the princess and her husband by the mid-1980s. Strains in the relationship emerged and husband and wife were growing increasingly apart. Princess Anne and Phillips were rarely seen together in public, with the Queen’s daughter throwing herself into her public engagements and the couple even staying in separate Los Angeles hotels during the 1984 Olympics. It would all culminate in a sordid affair that sent shockwaves through the royal family and beyond.
That situation, however, would not become public knowledge until 1991. By that time Anne – who had been bestowed with the title of The Princess Royal in 1987 – and Phillips had already taken the decision to separate in August 1989 after 15 years of marriage. The public statement at the time said that there were “no plans for divorce proceedings.” However, what was to follow just two years later would change that.
Astonishingly, in 1991 Phillips was summoned to court to take a DNA test. The test was part of a paternity suit that had been filed, and would seek to determine whether the former Army captain was the father of a young child or not. The findings of the test and the details that emerged afterwards would cause a public commotion and huge embarrassment for the entire royal family.
The DNA test confirmed that Phillips was indeed the father of a young girl. Her name was Felicity, and she was the product of a 1984 tryst the former aide-de-camp to the Queen had with a New Zealander named Heather Tonkin. Of course, in 1984 there was the small matter of Phillips having been wedded to Her Majesty’s daughter, Anne at the time. It was a matter of great shame for the noted equestrian.
For her part, Tonkin spoke to the media in 1991 about why she went public with the affair and subsequently a paternity case. She said: “I am doing what I am doing for my child. I hope and pray Mark will do the right thing and make a proper and legally binding settlement on her. I wish I could wake up one morning in the knowledge that the record had been put straight and I don’t have to worry any more.”
Eventually, sordid details about the affair began to seep into the public domain, which was most unwelcome for a monarchy that was already attracting negative attention due to the marital troubles of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. It transpired Phillips had met the red-haired Kiwi Tonkin at a riding clinic in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. The two of them had become close, and when Phillips returned the following year to Auckland, the chemistry between them evidently reached boiling point.
Phillips invited Tonkin back to the hotel in which he was staying. To ensure the red-haired temptress knew which room he was in, the British cad left his riding boots in the hallway outside his door. But it is how he reacted to news of the pregnancy that is arguably the most shocking aspect of the whole sorry episode.
That’s because when Phillips was informed of the unplanned pregnancy by Tonkin, he attempted to persuade her to have an abortion. Understandably, Tonkin rejected his rather callous request, and gave birth to the girl she nicknamed Bunny. This meant that Phillips had a responsibility to put his hands in his pockets and contribute financially.
Phillips, though was determined to keep the whole saga quiet. An aide of his threatened Tonkin that her daughter’s life would be “ruined” should she attempt to put Phillips’ name on the birth certificate. Under the nose of his unsuspecting wife Anne, Phillips began to annually send £6,000 (about $8,000) to Tonkin to fulfil his obligations to the child. The payments were mischievously masked as “equestrian consultancy.” The former military man was being as careful as possible to cover his tracks.
Shockingly Tonkin, under pressure from the aide of Phillips, initially made the tear-jerking decision to bring up Felicity believing her father was dead. This solemn lie continued until Felicity was eight, and only when the child brought home a school assignment on her family tree did the Kiwi summon up the courage to disclose the grim reality. Soon, Tonkin’s patience would be pushed too far.
When the money being sent became insufficient, and Phillips’ aide aggressively rebuffed her attempts to get his name on Felicity’s birth certificate, she acted: taking her lawyer’s advice, she recorded conversations with the aide and pushed forward with the paternity test. It would have huge repercussions for Phillips and indeed the whole royal family. The 1991 revelations from Tonkin that resulted soon moved The Princess Royal from her initial position of separation but no divorce to actively seeking an end to their marriage, and Phillips was booted out of Gatcombe Park. The Queen’s only daughter had suffered a very public humiliation.
In fairness to Phillips, the Princess Royal was not entirely blameless for the failure of their marriage. Indeed, it was admitted by Buckingham Palace in 1989 that she had been receiving letters while they were still married from a 34-year-old Royal Navy commander named Timothy Laurence. Royal representatives took action to defuse the situation when British tabloid newspaper The Sun somehow got hold of four of the letters and informed readers of their existence, without saying who they were from or revealing their contents.
Given what happened three years later, the whole episode would appear to have been a case of no smoke without fire. That’s because in December 1992, just months after being granted a divorce from Phillips in April of that year, the Princess Royal would wed Laurence in a low-key Scottish ceremony. The couple presumably tied the knot there due to Church of England remarriage laws, and they have been together ever since. They have no children. The princess’s divorce from Phillips meant she was only the second royal to get a divorce in the 20th century, following her aunt Princess Margaret, who ditched her husband Lord Snowdon.
Phillips, meanwhile, found love yet again through a shared interest in horses, this time with former Olympic dressage rider Sandy Pflueger. The couple married in 1997 and had a daughter together in October of that year. However, old habits die hard, and in October 2012 the 63-year-old Phillips left his wife after having an extramarital affair with (you’ve guessed it) an equestrian, this one 30 years his junior. Regarding his affair Phillips, who by now was in charge of the U.S. eventing equestrian team, coldly retorted to Country Life Magazine: “I’m not out to win a popularity contest.”
In 2017 there was yet another twist to the long-running saga, when Phillips’ love child Felicity Tonkin, by now married to polo player Tristan Wade, gave birth to a son of her own. The child, who they named James, was first cousin to Phillips’ daughter Zara’s girls Mia and Leah Tindall. But if she thought that would bring her absent father into her life she would be mistaken.
No, equine vet Felicity has never met her biological father, who according to a royal source, has essentially been “in denial” with regard to his unwanted daughter ever since he found out Tonkin was pregnant. Likewise, Felicity has never met her half-brother Peter or half-sister Zara, despite sharing the same father and a profound interest in horses. She is still, it seems, very much the black sheep of the family. Nonetheless, Felicity and her partner seem determined that their boy should grow up with the love and affection of a doting father figure that she has been so cruelly denied.