Peter Phillips is the ideal peacemaker to stand between his cousins Prince William and Prince Harry at Prince Philip’s funeral.
However badly the brothers have fallen out, they remain extremely fond of their first cousin. Ever since they were born, Peter Phillips has been the cousin they most look up to.
As the oldest grandchild of the Queen and Prince Philip, he occupies a powerful role among the next generation of royals. At 43, he is 30 years older than his youngest royal first cousin, Viscount Severn, Prince Edward’s younger child. Five years older than William, and seven years older than Harry, Peter was the tough, strong, no-nonsense boy they admired when they were children. Now they’re grown-up, you can see how close they remain to him, joshing each other and laughing away.
Zara Tindall, Peter Phillips’s brother, is close to the princes, too. She is said to have acted as a peacemaker between William and Harry. But, at only a year older than Prince William, she doesn't occupy the same protective big brother role. In any case, women won’t be walking in the royal procession behind Prince Philip’s coffin.
As the oldest grandchild, Peter is said to be one of the favourite grandchildren, if not the favourite, of the Queen and Prince Philip – not least because Peter has the same bluff, no-nonsense, sporty, bantering character as his late grandfather. For the Queen’s 90th birthday in 2016, it was Peter who organised the celebratory Patron's Lunch, with a parade on The Mall and a picnic for 10,000.
He and his sister, Zara, are blessed by Princess Anne’s inspired decision not to impose titles on them. Peter Phillips was the first legitimate grandchild of a monarch to have no title in more than 500 years. They would naturally, according to royal protocol, have been given titles: like Lord Linley (now Snowdon) and Lady Sarah Chatto, Princess Margaret’s children.
As a result of having no titles, Peter and Zara can act as semi-private, semi-royal citizens – like the famous bicycling royal families of Continental Europe. Zara has been free to strike business deals, as well as continue an extremely successful riding career, with none of the problems that beset royals who have taken commercial advantage of their titles – like Sarah Ferguson, who, again and again, has tried to monetise her brand; or, indeed, Prince Andrew, so apparently seduced by big bucks that he befriended the paedophile tycoon, Jeffrey Epstein.
Peter, like his father Mark Phillips (said to be nicknamed ‘Fog’ by the family, because he is dense and thick), is no great brain. But he was head boy at Gordonstoun – the Scottish school Prince Philip adored and Prince Charles hated – before studying sports science at the University of Exeter.
With his parents and sister all competing in riding events at Olympic level, it’s no surprise that Peter has worked in sport for most of his career. He worked for Jaguar Racing, the Williams racing team and Formula One legend Jackie Stewart. He also had a spell in Hong Kong with Royal Bank of Scotland. He is now a managing director at SEL UK, a sports management company.
That isn’t to say that he hasn’t taken advantage of his royal connections. Last year, he caused minor controversy by appearing in an advert for Bright Food, a Chinese company, flogging his status to sell Jersey Cattle milk. In the deeply naff ad, he’s pictured at Longleat House, home of the Marquess of Bath, being waited on by a footman, while knocking back his milk.
Still, he escaped great criticism because of his lack of royal status, titles or duty. That's also meant he’s surmounted the hurdles in his personal life with little of the megawatt attention on the failed marriages of his mother and two uncles, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew.
When he married Autumn Kelly, a Canadian management consultant, at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in 2008, there was some press attention. They were said to have been paid half a million pounds by Hello! for an interview – an agreement regarded at the time as an error of judgment by the Palace. But, still, their marriage attracted nothing like the column inches awarded to the weddings of his cousins, William and Harry.
The Phillipses had two children together, Savannah, 10, and Isla, 9, who are close to the Queen. They were pictured in the photograph released this week of Prince Philip and the Queen with their great-grandchildren at Balmoral in 2018.
Again, when Peter and Autumn Phillips sadly separated in 2019, the coverage was nothing compared to the scrutiny of other royal splits. Only last month, he was questioned by the police for driving from Gloucestershire to Aberdeenshire to see a female friend, in a possible contravention of Covid rules. The police found he’d done nothing wrong because he was on a business trip. Any press attention soon blew over.
Peter Phillips is the ultimate private insider in the Royal Family – at the heart of the family, but able to live a private life. And that welcome semi-anonymity will only increase. When he was born, he was fifth in line to the throne; today, he is 16th.
How William and Harry must admire their much adored cousin even more for his ability to drive away from the spotlight after today's sad ceremony.
Harry Mount is author of How England Made the English (Penguin)