From Princess Anne to the Queen : The best royal moments at the Olympics

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Prince William and Kate Middleton at the London 2012 Olympics (Getty Images)
Prince William and Kate Middleton at the London 2012 Olympics (Getty Images)

Ahead of the Tokyo Olympic opening ceremony on 23 July, royal family members sent messages of good luck to Team GB athletes who are competing in the 2020 games in Japan after a year-long delay.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge expressed their faith on Twitter, writing: “we know you’ll do the nation proud”, while Buckingham Palace said it wishes the team “every success” at this year’s tournament.

In a video message, Princess Anne recalled her own time in the competition and the excitement that she felt before the 1976 games.

“I do remember from my own Olympic journey the anticipation and excitement,” she said. “I know that you have all worked incredibly hard for this moment... this is your Olympics. It will be different, but not in its importance to you. Savour it, and above all, enjoy it.”

Under coronavirus restrictions, attendance at the Tokyo Olympics has been limited to participants, staff, and journalists, with spectators banned from all games and venues.

So while the monarch and her family won’t be in attendance, we look back on the best show-stealing moments from the British royals over the years.

From the Princess Royal’s equestrian debut on Queen Elizabeth’s horse to Prince Harry and Prince William’s joy at seeing their grandmother star alongside Daniel Craig in a James Bond spoof, here’s a look back at the most memorable royal moments of the games.

Princess Anne competes in 1976 Olympics

Aged 25, Princess Anne became the first royal family member to compete in the Olympics. As she joined the British equestrian team for the summer games in Montreal, Canada, the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Andrew and Edward also flew in to support her.

During the three-day event, Anne rode the Queen’s horse, Goodwill. Unfortunately, Goodwill fell on one of the jumps during a race, taking the Princess Royal down with it. As reported by Daily Express, she suffered a concussion from the fall and does not remember any of what happened.

Her former lady-in-waiting, Jane Holderness-Roddam, recalled the event in ITV’s documentary, Anne: The Princess Royal at 70. “She was that concussed that she couldn’t remember - and still to this day I believe can’t remember - the rest of the course,” she said.

Princess Anne rides Goodwill during the 1976 Olympics (Getty Images)
Princess Anne rides Goodwill during the 1976 Olympics (Getty Images)

The British team did not win any medals that year, having to pull out of the horse-riding competition midway after two of its horses were injured.

In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2020, Anne said horse riding gave her the opportunity to make a name for herself outside of the royal family.

“I thought if I was going to do anything outside of the royal family, horses was likely to be the best way of doing it,” she said.

“But then you have to find the right horse at the right time. The original horse I rode was bred as a polo pony and should never have been an event horse, but it worked, so that was very satisfying. But I always knew it was going to be limited time,” she continued.

While Anne retired as a professional equestrian in the 1980s, she told Vanity Fair she still rides for pleasure at her country home in Gloucestershire, where she also breeds horses.

The Queen’s secret mission

The London Olympic games were (unforgettably) opened by the Queen, who appeared to skydive into the newly built stadium alongside actor Daniel Craig, who plays 007 agent James Bond in the latest versions of the blockbuster.

In reality, the dive was performed by a stunt double, with the Queen walking into the ceremony alongside Prince Philip and other family members.

Ahead of her entrance, the Queen surprised fans (and family) with a cameo in a James Bond spoof, alongside Craig.

A person dressed as Queen Elizabeth parachutes into the Olympics stadium (Getty Images)
A person dressed as Queen Elizabeth parachutes into the Olympics stadium (Getty Images)

In the short sketch, Craig is seen walking through Buckingham Palace until he enters a room where the Queen is seated with her back to him, signing some papers.

After a few moments, she turns and says: “Good evening Mr Bond”, before he escorts her to a waiting helicopter which takes them to the stadium.

In his autobiography, Running My Life, Lord Coe, chairman of the London Olympics organising committee, wrote that very few people knew of the Queen’s involvement in the sketch.

Lord Coe – who claimed to have been seated close to the royal family at the opening ceremony – said Prince William and Prince Harry were ecstatic and both shouted “go, Granny!” when the Queen turned to look at Craig.

The Queen at the opening ceremony with Prince Philip (AFP via Getty Images)
The Queen at the opening ceremony with Prince Philip (AFP via Getty Images)

Prince Charles had also not been told of his mother’s involvement in the spoof, judging by his reaction, Coe wrote.

“When the film cut to the shot of the royal back, he [Prince Charles] had exactly the same reaction as everyone else – which was to assume it was the lady who does the impersonations.

“But the moment she turned around and everyone realised, My God, it really is the Queen, he began roaring with laughter,” he said.

He added: “As for his sons, they were beside themselves. As she started her descent two voices shouted out in unison behind me, ‘Go, Granny!’”

Kate and William celebrate with a hug

Prince William and Kate Middleton are well-known sports fans. While the Duke of Cambridge is President of the Football Association, the duchess is patron of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and attends Wimbledon every year.

So, it’s no surprise that they were regularly seen in the crowds at the London Olympics cheering on Team GB.

Kate and William celebrate as Britain wins a cycling race during the Olympic Games in 2012 (Getty Images)
Kate and William celebrate as Britain wins a cycling race during the Olympic Games in 2012 (Getty Images)

Their most notable appearance was at the Keirin, which saw six-time Olympics champion Chris Hoy take home the gold medal. As Hoy sped through the finishing line, William and Kate looked completely elated as they hugged one another while celebrating.

The moment, which was captured in photographs, delighted fans as public displays of affection between royal couples are rare.

Zara Tindall wins silver

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Princess Anne’s daughter, Zara Tindall, competed in the 2012 Olympics for the British equestrian team on her horse, High Kingdom. In the team event, she won a silver medal, which was presented to her by her mother.

Photographs from the presentation show the pair smiling as Anne places the medal around her neck. In 2020, Anne told Vanity Fair that her daughter was a “natural”, given that both her parents were equestrians.

Princess Anne presents her daughter Zara with a silver medal (AFP via Getty Images)
Princess Anne presents her daughter Zara with a silver medal (AFP via Getty Images)

Zara is the daughter of Anne and her first husband, Mark Phillips. Philips, also an equestrian, won the Olympic gold medal at the Munich games in 1972.

“Her father had been a successful equestrian and won a lot more medals [than I] so you do slightly wonder if having two parents who’ve been in that situation helped,” Anne said.

She continued: “Zara was always a natural and it was really a question of whether she felt that was something she really wanted to do, and she did and she was very thorough and applied herself to it. So she was quite rightly very successful.”

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