Zara Phillips is more than just a British eventer–she’s British royalty. Abby Gibbon reports on the implications of her naming to the British Olympic team earlier this week.
In line at the grocery store, we see subtle postcards: Will and Kate volunteering on the National Enquirer’s bottom corner, Harry in uniform on the Star. Somewhere in the world, across vast oceans, we may rest assured that British Royal Duties are being performed.
But in the UK, Royal Tabloidism is a full-blown phenomenon, almost exotic to those of us whose Kardashian-obsessed countries claim no monarchial corollary. When I lived there, Prince Harry and Kate Moss were frequent covermates on the London tube dailies (“toilet papers” they were affectionately dubbed, and we read them religiously), giving the distinct, immediate, tantalizing impression that somewhere nearby, Prince Harry was partying. And quite possibly, if you didn’t read the fine print, he was partying with Kate Moss.
There’s a strange, mainstream, trickle-down effect in the little-known world of eventing: “Zara Phillips is left ‘burnt’ after Olympic heartache,” The Telegraph, May 15. And subsequently: “Zara Phillips in Team GB eventing team for London 2012,” BBC, June 11. Even Horse & Hound, venerable reporters of all things equestrian, chose “Zara Phillips will ride on British team at London Olympics” for yesterday’s headline.
Which is not to question their judgment.
Zara’s an accomplished, hard-working, individual WEG gold medalist. She’s also only ridden High Kingdom around one four-star, Burghley last year, and though widely considered an outside choice for the coveted 5th spot on Team GB, many were intrigued by her inclusion (not least of whom, I suspect, must be Nicola Wilson and her many-four-starred veteran Opposition Buzz). There’s also the unavoidable matter of her Queen’s-granddaughter status, and if we can take any indication from the toilet papers, it’s that royal headlines are worth their golden weight.
And in the particular the case of Zara’s Olympic headlines, there’s extra gold to be mined: The way the story broke—early, publicly, and in the plain, uncensored view of social media. James Pearce, BBC Sport correspondent, got hold of this nugget and betook to his iPhone:
Before long, he’d amassed 50+ retweets and spawned countless more, including cautious fellow BBC Sport reporters and less wary eventing outlets:
And before long, the staff at Horse & Hound found themselves rushing back to the office, into the fray:
Bringing us the story that we eventually referenced on Eventing Nation.
Watching it unfold, in the course of mere hours, was simultaneously exciting (can we believe this?), disturbing (“Is she riding Princess Anne? #horseface,” twitter user Ashley Rose pondered), and tantalizing (what if Pearce is right? And even more tantalizingly, what if he’s wrong?). It felt voyeuristic. Refreshing the twitter window felt, a little embarrassingly, like holding that toilet paper in hand, a half-cocked smile.
It did not feel like eventing news. It felt like world news, or else News of the World–of which I’m not yet sure.
Every four years, our sport receives a little limelight (my common explanation of eventing as “the one where they jump down into the water in the Olympics,” usually rings a bell), but this year, with Zara on Team GB, we can expect a bit more.
Royalty and eventing and mainstream media aren’t total strangers—Zara’s own family history tells us that—we had no internet on which to report, no blogs on which to speculate, no social media on which to leak when Princess Anne rode around the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
This London Olympics is poised to be the most prolific in eventing’s media history.
The fine print? At what benefit, or cost?