Queen tells of joy over rugby hero and Zara's marriage wed

HE is the rough-and-ready rugby player from Yorkshire, a former fish-and-chip seller who wishes he'd worn braces to straighten his crooked teeth.

She is the Queen's eldest granddaughter, a glamorous blonde-haired equestrian champion who is twelfth in line for the throne.

But the unlikely couple of England rugby star Mike Tindall and Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne, are now lining up the second big Royal wedding of 2011 after announcing their engagement yesterday.

Tindall popped the question at the couple's Gloucestershire home on Monday night, some seven years after their romance began in a bar in Sydney.

The 32-year-old rugby star said yesterday he was "delighted" his long-term girlfriend had agreed to marry him. Miss Phillips, 29, said she was left "shocked" but "very happy" by his proposal.

Tindall, who has been capped 66 times by his country, was born in Otley and attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield. His rugby-playing father Phil captained Otley before injury forced his retirement.

At the age of 18, Tindall was earning his money serving fish and chips from a van, describing the experience as the worst job he ever had.

Looking back on the job, he recalled recently: "(It was] just a lot of rowdy northerners complaining about the size of the fish. I was paid according to how many fish we sold."

Twelve years and one sparkling sports career later, he is set to become part of the Royal family.

In a short statement issued by the marketing company that represents the couple, Miss Phillips said: "I was really shocked when Mike proposed, but I am very happy."

Tindall added: "I am delighted that Zara has agreed to marry me. We are both very excited about the next stage of our lives together."

Miss Phillips is a professional horse rider and one of Britain's top equestrians, having been formerly crowned world three-day eventing champion.

Like her mother, who was also a member of Britain's equestrian team, she was named 2006 BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman spoke yesterday of the joy felt by Miss Phillips's grandparents at the announcement.

She said: "The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are delighted with the news."

The revelation that Miss Phillips is to wed comes only weeks after the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton was announced. Their wedding takes place at Westminster Abbey on April 29.

The newly-betrothed couple have not yet set a date, but it is expected they will also tie the knot in 2011 – setting up the prospect of two royal weddings in the same year.

Clarence House issued a statement on behalf of the Prince of Wales – Miss Phillips's uncle – the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Prince Harry.

A spokeswoman said: "Their royal highnesses are delighted with the news and look forward to conveying their best wishes to the couple."

Royal-watchers have long expected that marriage between the two was on the cards.

It is speculated the couple will choose St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle for the wedding – the venue chosen by Miss Phillips's brother Peter when he married his wife Autumn in 2008.

In August 2009, Tindall admitted in a magazine interview it was not about whether they would wed, but when. But he said the time had to be right for them to walk down the aisle.

He said: "Yes, it probably would be a white wedding – although sometimes I can see the attraction of sneaking away without telling anyone."

Tindall, who plays for club side Gloucester, was part of the England team that won the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

It was while at the tournament in Australia that he met Miss Phillips in a bar, having been introduced by her rugby-loving cousin Prince Harry.

He has previously admitted he was nervous about being introduced to Miss Phillips's famous relatives.

But he said: "Zara's mum is a legend, and her father is lovely too.

"My mates up in Wakefield are forever asking how on earth I fit in among the Royal Family. But they are really down to earth."

A CO-INCIDENCE OF SPORTING SUCCESS

18 October, 1978 : Mike Tindall born in Otley, West Yorkshire to rugby-playing father

15 May, 1981: Zara Phillips born in London to Princess Anne and Capt Mark Phillips

1992: Her parents divorce

1997: Tindall leaves school in Wakefield and signs professional rugby terms with Bath

1999: Miss Phillips pictured bungee-jumping on her gap year, gaining a reputation as the 'wild child' of the family

2000: Tindall makes England debut at Twickenham

2003: Miss Phillips splits with jockey boyfriend Richard Johnson

2003: Tindall wins Rugby world cup with England; meets Zara Phillips in Sydney

2005: Tindall signs three-year contract for Gloucester

2006: Miss Phillips becomes world eventing champion and is named BBC Sports Personality of the Year

21 December, 2010: Couple announce their engagement