From the moment Princess Anne decided her daughter would grow up without a royal title, the path for Zara Phillips immediately took a very different turn to the one being trodden by her prince and princess cousins.
As the world becomes acquainted with the fact that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex similarly chose not to bestow baby Archie with the title of prince, it could be that Meghan and Harry may well have looked to the Phillips family – including Zara's brother Peter, who is also title-less – for inspiration when it comes to rewriting the royal rules and embracing a more modern "normal" family life for their little one.
Zara, now 38, a mum-of-two and married to former England rugby star Mike Tindall, grew up without the same airs and graces of the other royals her age, and it could be argued, blazed an alternative path for her peers and younger royal relatives. Her distinct down-to-earth nature and humbleness shines through when amongst the more traditional royal family members.
"The difference between Zara and Princes William and Harry are as much as night and day," says a palace spokesman.
"Because she's grown up without the weight and expectation of a title, she's been allowed to develop into her own person. She is without a doubt the most independent, smart and wildly funny member of her generation of the monarchy. She's incredibly grateful to Princess Anne for allowing her this freedom. You can bet Meghan and Harry have noticed that and taken a leaf out of Anne's book."
Ever since Zara, an Olympic equestrienne, married Mike, a cheeky, laddish athlete whom she met over a beer in Australia in 2003, and welcomed daughters Mia, five, and Lena, one, they have been an unstoppable force within the family.
In recent months, the public have been able to see and understand just why Zara and Mike are the most likeable couple within the royal realm, thanks to an incredibly endearing appearance on British motoring show Top Gear, during which viewers marvelled at how "perfectly normal" they are.
The couple were filmed engaging in witty banter and indulging in plenty of public displays of affection, which are usually frowned upon for royal highnesses. The plucky granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth even went head-to-head with her hubby in a car race.
Mike's wife of eight years thrilled the audience as she lost control at one point, hurtling off the gravel and onto the grass, much to Mike's amusement. But again, everyone was in awe of their love and genuine bond when they shared a kiss at the finish line and watched the replay giggling and holding hands.
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It was this glimpse into their personal lives that made the public fall for their down-to-earth ways and respect their values even more. Still very much in the royal fold, they respect tradition while managing to do things their own way.
On her own upbringing, Zara confesses she was thrilled her mother made the controversial decision not to make her a princess or lady.
"I'm very lucky that both my parents decided to not use the title we grew up with and did all the things that gave us the opportunity to do," she explains. "We were able to be more adventurous than say, William."
It's a trait Zara and Mike have instilled in their children, too. Their energetic eldest daughter, Mia, is famous for her scene-stealing moments, from grabbing the Queen's handbag in her 90th birthday portrait – which her dad did admit was a bit "naughty" – to her adorable appearance as bridesmaid at Princess Eugenie's wedding.
Mia is constantly photographed with a huge smile on her face and an ice-cream in her hand. Her bubbly personality could be down to the fact that her parents are rarely referring to the royal rulebook when it comes to raising her.
"She's an energetic, wild little girl, and Zara and Mike wouldn't change that for the world and certainly not just because it might not be 'proper' behaviour. You won't find rails of clothes fit for a princess in their house. Mainly it's just muddy boots and overalls," a close confidante says with a smile. "They're a modern family and that kind of stuff just isn't them.
They are fantastic parents who are raising their children in the most relaxed, caring and loving way. Mia has no idea her granny is the queen and her cousin Prince George is the future king."
It's clear they adore spending time together as a family and are often photographed playing at the park, strolling through the countryside or spending quality time with their royal rellies.
And it's no wonder Zara and Mike are so grateful for their blissful little family bubble, given that it's been a long, hard road to get there.
Zara heartbreakingly suffered two miscarriages before having Lena last year, and bravely opened up about her struggles. "For me, the worst bit was that we had to tell everyone, everyone knew," Zara said at the time. "I had to go through having the baby because it was so far along. I then had another miscarriage really early on. But as with everything, time's a great healer."
And Mrs Tindall credited her amazing family – including Mike – for helping her through it. "It was a time when my family came to the fore and I needed them," she said.
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It's clear family is everything to doting parents Mike and Zara, and their laid-back and fun-loving lifestyle doesn't seem to bother anyone. Nor does anyone hold a grudge over the fact they don't have half the royal duties that many of Zara's cousins do.
"When Zara and Mike attend family events, they're the life of the party," a royal correspondent reveals. "Everyone looks forward to having them around. Especially William – he and Kate feel a sense of normalcy just from being around Zara and Mike."
It was clear from their rather unroyal beginning the couple would march to the beat of their own drum. They met in 2003 in a bar in Australia where Mike was drowning his sorrows, having been dropped from the England squad in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals. Zara was on her gap year.
Zara made the first move by asking one of his friends, fellow ex-rugby player Austin Healey, to give Mike her number, which he swiftly acted upon.
Romance blossomed after they got back to the UK – they were a couple by April 2004. Mike has joked about how his rugby friends wondered how such a rough-and-tumble bloke would fit in with the royals, but he insists, "They're really down-to-earth."
Now, 16 years since they met, they are clearly more in love than ever – always cuddling, holding hands or sharing a kiss for all the world to see.
They share a love that is genuine and true and they're living their life their way – a true inspiration to all, royal or not.
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