When the Burghley set, Pony Club and hordes of honking Sloanes crammed into south London with half the Firm
23:24 GMT, 30 July 2012
The strangely elusive ‘Olympic family’ failed to turn up again yesterday, leaving a familiar swathe of empty places in the huge equestrian arena at Greenwich Park.
So another family turned up and pinched their seats. And who was going to stop them
The Windsors were out in force to support an Olympian of their own at the cross-country phase of the eventing competition.
Family support: The Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Cambridge, Duke of Cambridge, LOCOG Chairman Lord Sebastian Coe, Prince Harry, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice watch the Cross Country Phase of The Eventing
Going for gold: Great Britain's Zara Phillips riding High Kingdom competes in the cross country phase of the eventing competition
Spectacular: The equestrian cross country event in Greenwich Park took place against the stunning backdrop of the city of London skyline
Zara and High Kingdom jump for glory
Tender: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge share a joke whilst at the cross country
Sharing a joke: LOCOG Chairman Lord Sebastian Coe makes the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge laugh
And Zara Phillips repaid the enthusiasm of her family, the selectors and a delirious 50,000-strong home crowd with a faultless and gutsy performance which helped lift the British team into second place – with one day to go – and raised her own position from 24th to tenth.
Not only was hers the fastest British time of the day but it was achieved on a treacherously slippery course which saw several riders unseated – and one taken to hospital.
At the finish, the Queen’s granddaughter punched the air like a Derby winner, as well she might.
As she later exclaimed on Twitter: ‘The crowd was unbelievable and the best thing is that it is my wedding anniversary today!’
Afterwards, she handed all the credit to her horse, the aptly-named High Kingdom (even if he is known to all and sundry as Trev). ‘He’s such a dude,’ she beamed.
But the fact that Trev had pulled it off with such style and speed– despite losing a front shoe somewhere along the way – was testament to some tungsten nerves in the saddle. There is now a very good prospect of British medals later today when the showjumping phase brings the eventing to a close.
Zara looks confident as she rides High Kingdom
A sea of spectators gathers on the hillside of the event
Deserted: Countless rows of seats were left empty at the cross country competition in Greenwich Park today – provoking yet more outrage from fans unable to get a ticket for the event
Scandal: The Olympic organisers are likely to be embarrassed after yet another event, the equestrian cross country, took place in front of swathes of empty seats
Zara Philips competing in the Olympic Cross Country this afternoon
It is always the cross-country part of the competition which pulls the biggest crowds and loudest gasps of fear and admiration.
Just an hour before Zara’s scheduled start time, Canadian rider Hawley Bennett-Awad fell off at the third fence and the competition was delayed for a nerve-jangling 20 minutes while she was transferred to an ambulance.
So there were butterflies as well as smiles in the main arena grandstand where a bumper royal turnout had assembled.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, once again, were loyally sporting Team GB shirts (hers beneath a stylish blazer), as was Prince Harry. Also showing cousinly solidarity were Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, along with the Duchess of Cornwall.
As if the crowds did not have enough to gawp at already, the royals were accompanied by Games chief Lord Sebastian Coe and Britain’s greatest Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave.
Zara’s husband, rugby player Mike Tindall, preferred to watch from the start-finish point where her parents, the Princess Royal and Mark Phillips, were also monitoring her progress.
Earlier, I spotted Prince and Princess Michael of Kent walking the course where thousands of over-excited supporters had been gently roasting in the sun for hours before the star attraction appeared.
Zara looked slightly unsteady and nervous and she rode High Kingdom
Britain's Zara Phillips riding High Kingdom
Zara and her horse make a splash today
‘Can you please keep the noise down’ pleaded a steward as Zara rode out from the stable area at teatime. Some hope.
They were roaring her on before she had even crossed the start line.
There were concerns that the exuberance might spook the 11-year-old thoroughbred but Trev took it all in his – very considerable – stride.
Much as Zara may shrug off the royal connection when at work, the royal theme was everywhere yesterday. The very first fence involved jumping through a diamond-shaped hoop on top of something called the Diamond Jubilee Hedge.
The royal cousins were all sitting in front of a section called the Tower of London, where one of the fences was guarded by two huge, androgynous Beefeater dummies.
The nastiest obstacles included a vertical drop (called, for some reason, Royal Greenwich Borough) and the mandatory water jump, a deceptively twee number called Ratty’s House.
Trev and his mistress showed no fear, dashing onwards as the noise of the crowd grew louder.
This was a race against the clock as well as an exercise in staying upright (hence riders carry stopwatches which bleep at key points to let them know if they need to speed up).
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, watch the equestrian eventing
The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William read a programme as they watch the equestrian eventing
Radiant: Kate looked happy and glowing as she and William enjoyed their day out in the sun
The target time – beyond which
penalty points would apply – was 10.03 minutes. With a handful of
exceptions, all yesterday’s riders took longer.
As she crossed the finish, Zara could
see her time flash up on the electronic scoreboard: 9.56. The crowd went
barmy – by equestrian standards. Eventing fans are a more restrained
breed than their racing counterparts.
There may be beer tents and champagne bars but there are no bookies at a three-day event.
Yesterday, though, certainly had a big race atmosphere. Was there, perhaps, too much noise for poor Trev, I asked Zara afterwards
‘No – it was an advantage,’ she panted. ‘But they were so loud I couldn’t even hear my stopwatch. It was fun as well as hard work.’ This was a knowledgeable crowd. These were not people who’d just opted for any old tickets when the Olympics went on sale.
The country had come to town. From the clothes to the footwear to the snippets of conversation, these were horse folk through and through. Had dogs been allowed, half of the punters would have come armed with a black labrador or a Jack Russell.
Tender: Kate and Camilla show how close they have become
Cousins: Harry and Eugenie appeared to be enjoying their day
Full support: Olympic fans arrive at the Royal Naval College to show their support
Team GB: Olympic fans arrive at Blackheath train station to make their way to the Greenwich Park Equestrian venue
Had this not been an Olympic event,
there would have been trade stands flogging shooting sticks, hip flasks,
sloe gin and terracotta-coloured corduroys.
Badminton and Burghley had been
crammed into a patch of south London for the day; hearties and honking
Sloanes in rugby shirts, weatherbeaten farming folk, Pony Club mothers
bellowing orders at starstruck teenage girls.
I spotted a Jockey Club face in green
wellies. I bumped in to a Hampshire farmer who had been agonising
since dawn: should he start bringing in the harvest or watch Britain
reach for a medal
‘I got the combine harvester going but then I left it to the lads and jumped on a train,’ said Nick Rowsell from Winchester.
The youngest spectator was Eloise Bruce-Payne, born just five weeks ago and fast asleep in mum’s arms.
She was not even alive when Hilary Bruce-Payne, 35, bought tickets for her sister, Ruth, and mother, Joy.
But the equine vet from Arundel, West
Sussex, wanted Eloise to be able to say she was there when Britain
triumphed at the 2012 Olympics.
Today we will find out if they really
can. And if they do, might one competitor’s grandmother feel tempted to
parachute in again for the medal ceremony
Team Zara: The Duchess of Cornwall and Lord Seb Coe arrived at Greenwich Park ahead of the event
Great Britain's Zara Phillips competes in the dressage stage on the second day of the Olympics
Princess Anne, left, mother of Zara Phillips, attends the equestrian eventing dressage phase with Prince Phillip