These days, the royal family are generally embarrassment free and more or less beloved by all – but it wasn’t always that way. During the ’80s and ’90s, in fact, they were a hotbed of scandal. Princess Diana, Prince Charles, the Duchess of York… They all seemed to make headlines for their personal lives far more than for any royal engagements. They weren’t the only ones, either. Princess Anne and her husband Mark Phillips also caused trouble for the royals as their marriage disintegrated. Here’s how the story unfolded.
Princess Anne – the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II – met military man Mark Phillips at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Both of them loved horses and competed in equestrian events, and initially they seemed like the perfect couple. Indeed, just a year later, their engagement was announced, and preparations began for a big royal wedding.
So it was that on November 14, 1973, Princess Anne and Mark Phillips went proudly down the aisle. Naturally, the nuptials happened at Westminster Abbey in London, with the Queen and other royals in attendance. Hundreds of millions of people watched the event on TV, too, just as they would for the other royal weddings that followed.
At first, everything seemed to be going fine in the couple’s relationship. Princess Anne continued to be a horse rider, and indeed she competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Mark Phillips, meanwhile, carried on with his military career, and he was promoted to the rank of captain in 1975. What’s more, the couple had two children: Peter Phillips, born in 1977, and Zara Phillips, born four years later.
As time went on, however, the marriage began to deteriorate. Princess Anne’s brother, Prince Charles, famously didn’t like Phillips much. Indeed, Charles apparently nicknamed his brother-in-law “Foggy” – because he was supposedly thick and wet. And it appears that Princess Anne herself may have agreed with such sentiments as time went on. Come 1984, in fact, the couple were checking into separate hotels – not even separate rooms – on at least one trip abroad.
As a result, there was media speculation that the pair were staying married for the sake of their children. But in the latter half of the ’80s, more and more rumors of infidelity started to hit the headlines. For instance, in 1985 the tabloids reveled in the story of Peter Cross, a royal bodyguard who was fired for his alleged over-familiarity with the Princess. Captain Phillips also frequently felt obliged to deny rumors of affairs.
Then in April 1989 another scandal rocked the pair’s marriage. Tabloid newspaper The Sun acquired letters that had seemingly been stolen from Princess Anne. The newspaper subsequently passed them over to the police. But then, in a surprising move, the royal household issued a statement revealing whom the letters had been written by.
“The stolen letters were addressed to the Princess Royal by Commander Timothy Laurence, the Queen’s Equerry,” the statement read. “We have nothing to say about the contents of personal letters sent to Her Royal Highness by a friend which were stolen and which are the subject of a police investigation.” As a result, the media speculated luridly about the relationship between the Princess and Laurence.
Anonymous sources who claimed to have read the letters stated that they were romantic in nature, but the sources gave no hint that the pair had a sexual relationship. “Obviously, Tim and the princess were physically attracted to each other, but their friendship goes deeper than that,” one such source was quoted as saying by People magazine. “He cares for her in the way her husband does not.”
Later on that year, then, the seemingly inevitable happened: the couple announced their separation. Not a divorce, though. Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips would be parting ways, the Palace announced, but they would still remain technically married. If either party was hoping for some sort of reconciliation, however, it wasn’t forthcoming. Indeed, eighteen months later, another bombshell was dropped.
In March 1991 Heather Tonkin, an art teacher from New Zealand, claimed that Captain Phillips was the father of her five-year-old daughter, Felicity. “My ambition is to get Mark’s public acceptance of her,” she told the Daily Express, “and to be able to enter his name on her birth certificate.” Phillips, meanwhile, would go on to dispute her claims.
However, it later transpired that Phillips had been making payments to Tonkin for five years. The Daily Express reported that officially Tonkin had been hired as Phillips’ “consultant on equestrian matters.” The newspaper also alleged that upon hearing about Tonkin’s pregnancy, Phillips had begged her to terminate it.
It was furthermore reported that on learning that Phillips could possibly receive a large divorce settlement from Princess Anne, Tonkin had opted to go public. She told the Daily Express that she’d been threatened by Phillips’ agent, John Erskine, who had allegedly told her, “I will make life a bloody misery for you.” As a result, she claimed that at “any moment [she] could find [herself] penniless.”
People magazine subsequently did some digging into Tonkin’s background, though, and reported that she was far from poor. In fact, at the time she owned 50 acres of land, a Mercedes and a racehorse. “How she’s got the nerve to stand up and declare she’s broke is beyond most of us,” the magazine quoted an anonymous neighbor as saying. However, another neighbor, Michelle Godsiff, told the Sunday Mirror, “I spoke to [Tonkin], and she’s on the verge of collapse. She should be on sedatives.”
People also speculated that Phillips was now looking at a considerable reduction in both his divorce settlement and his social status. After his separation from Princess Anne, it’s worth noting, he had still been allowed to live in Gatcombe Park, the Princess’ country residence. It appeared that this arrangement may have been about to come to end, however. “Mark has had it… Anne’s hand will be strengthened significantly,” an anonymous source told the magazine. “This is all the excuse she needed to get Mark out of Gatcombe.”
Moreover, a DNA test subsequently proved what many people had long suspected: Mark Phillips was indeed the father of Tonkin’s child. Just a year later, then, the divorce of Phillips and Princess Anne was finalized; on April 23, 1992, they were officially no longer husband and wife. And by December of that year, Anne had married the person whom she probably should have wed in the first place: Tim Laurence.
After the dust had settled, the media, though, remained interested in Tonkin’s daughter, Felicity. So much so, in fact, that her mother felt obliged to speak out about it. In 2000 The New Zealand Herald reported that Tonkin had complained that her daughter’s schoolwork had suffered because of the media attention. “She doesn’t feel bitterness, but that’s not to say that the press haven’t affected her,” Tonkin said of Felicity.
Mark Phillips, for his part, went on to marry dressage rider Sandy Pflueger in 1997, and their daughter, Stephanie, was born later the same year. Yet while Stephanie, Zara and Peter grew into adulthood together, their other half-sibling was missing from their lives entirely. And when Zara got married in 2011, Felicity was not invited to the wedding. Indeed, newspapers reported that the sisters had never even met.
The Phillips-Pflueger marriage didn’t last, either, mind you. In May 2012 it was reported that Phillips had left his wife for another woman – one almost half his age, to boot. This was his U.S. eventing team colleague Lauren Hough, 35 years old to Phillips’ 63. Naturally, there was controversy – the website Eventing Nation even described his behavior as “reprehensible” – but Phillips tried to brush it off. He did, however, leave his job on the U.S. eventing team shortly afterwards.
As for Felicity, she went on to become an equine vet, and in 2015 she herself got married – to New Zealand polo player Tristan Wade. She also chose not to invite her half-siblings to her wedding. And while The New Zealand Herald asked Felicity for a comment, she told them that she had nothing to say on the matter.