John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Tuesday 31 July 2012) Horses, royals and divorce

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Tuesday 31 July 2012) Horses, royals and divorce

Guilt gathered around Roy as he succumbed to the third and final section of the eventing competition – the show jumping from Greenwich Park. Team GB was second. Equestrianism put Roy in mind of Leila as a child, so earnest in her hat and jodhpurs, and also returned him to his TV boyhood in the New Town old house. The nation had been glued to show jumping back then: nail-biting jump-offs with David Broome, Eddie Macken and the plain-spoken Harvey Smith.

The TV horse sport diet had been further enriched by Princess Anne becoming an eventing star. It was a thrill for Roy to see a royal galloping a muddy cross-country course, and this was a royal who swore. Her wedding had been a huge small screen occasion, although Gwen had been worried about Mark Phillips, her groom.

Army lieutenant or not, to Gwen he’d appeared hesitant and weak, quite unlike her own successful suitor. “Don was rather masterful,” she’d once remarked to her children when they were old enough to hear such things. Eye-rolling from Nerys. Amused approval from Brian. Absorbent attentiveness from Roy.

Two decades later when the royal couple divorced, Gwen had quietly claimed vindication: “Anyone could see it wouldn’t last.”

Phillips, of course, had been an eventer too, Roy now recalled – wasn’t that how he and Anne had met? – and (he looked it up) an Olympic silver medallist. Anne herself had been an Olympian. And now the couple’s daughter Zara was in the British team – on merit, Roy was sure, otherwise there’d have been a row.

The first of the British riders, William Fox-Pitt, emerged on to the course. All four of his fellow team members were women. It had been Lucy who’d remarked, at something like the age of nine, that show jumping and eventing were the only sports where men and women competed on equal terms. Roy had a pretend conversation with Lucy, a throwback to hallmark themes.

“There’s more to life than money, Dad.”

“It makes the world go round.”

“Yes. That’s the trouble.”

“It does do some good, you know.”

“Did you know that about one per cent of your boss’s latest bonus could save the lives of, like, literally, thousands of babies?”

“I believe you.”

“Why doesn’t he give some of it away?”

“I think he does.”

“Not as much he could afford to, I’ll bet.”

“That’s probably true.”

He loved Lucy so much: elusive, sceptical, different, unattached, his sternest critic, maybe his best friend. The pretend conversation continued, but now adapted from a real one.

“Do you wish you’d had a son, Dad?”

“Not particularly.”

“Mum thinks you do.”

“We thought two children were enough.”

“I’d have liked a little brother.”

“Are you sure?”

“Not really, no.”

Zara Phillips was third out for GB. She brought a fence down and had a time penalty, but she was still one of the top three in the team. The final two members went clear and Britain won silver.

Roy watched the four women interviewed, just a few words from each. Gosh, jolly happy, rather flushed. The queen’s granddaughter sounded the most like Roy’s girls: semi-drawled words making their way out from far back in her throat. How did she feel about a silver medal, not a gold? “If you’d asked us before that we’d have probably been well chuffed. No, the silver’s cool.”

All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE. Follow John Vane on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture, Roy's Summer of Sport

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