By Rebecca English
The champion and the horse vet: Zara, left, after winning another trophy and Felicity, right, in New Zealand
When Zara Phillips marries in less than a fortnight, one of her closest relatives will most definitely not be on the guest list.
Her half-sister Felicity Tonkin, love child of Captain Mark Phillips, will remain at home with her mother on the other side of the world.
The two women were born only four years apart and share a passion for horses – Zara is a world champion three-day eventer while Felicity is a specialist equine vet.
Soon-to-be wed: Mike Tindall and Zara Phillips will tie the knot in less than two weeks
But they have never met despite numerous visits by Zara to New Zealand, where Felicity lives with her mother Heather on a smallholding in Whitford, Auckland.
The Princess Royal’s daughter is already making plans to return for the Rugby World Cup in September, when she will cheer on her new husband, England rugby captain Mike Tindall.
Despite all her famed approachability and non-regal manner, however, reaching out to her half-sister has remained strictly off limits.
‘Zara has never been in touch with her – nobody has,’ her grandmother Dr Shirley Tonkin told the Mail.
Captain Phillips met Heather Tonkin, an art teacher, in 1983 when she attended a riding clinic he held in New Zealand. They met again the following year and spent the night together at his hotel.
Miss Tonkin says she was ‘infatuated’ with the princess’s husband and her diary entry for that night was filled with kisses formed into the shape of a horseshoe.
The following month she discovered she was pregnant but when she rang the captain at his marital home, Gatcombe Park, he urged her to get an abortion. She decided to go it alone and Felicity was born in August 1985.
Later, however, Miss Tonkin decided to seek financial support for her daughter and Captain Phillips secretly paid her maintenance for the next five years, which he wrote off as an ‘equestrian consultancy’.
He was divorced by the Queen’s daughter after 19 years of marriage in 1992, the year after a DNA test finally confirmed his paternity.
Miss Tonkin eventually decided to go public with her story when she read that the captain was in line to receive a substantial financial settlement from the princess, and managed to secure a confidential pay-off.
The agreement also barred her from ever again publicly associating her name or Felicity’s with Olympic gold medallist Phillips, who has never openly acknowledged his daughter.
Even when Heather and Felicity passed within 15 yards of the captain at a three-day equestrian event in Auckland in 1999, they made no attempt to bridge the gulf that divides them.
And he, by then remarried to U.S. millionairess Sandy Pflueger and the father of a third daughter, Stephanie, brusquely dismissed queries about the close encounter, saying merely: ‘Wrong subject’.
The captain’s cash did, however, enable Miss Tonkin to send her daughter to the Diocesan School for Girls in Epsom, Auckland, where friends say she shone.
‘She has really had a lovely middle-class upbringing,’ says her grandmother.
‘She played a lot of sports at school but she loves horses and went to pony club. She had a lot of fun and won the odd ribbon but she doesn’t compete.’
As a youngster, Felicity ached for some gesture from the Phillips clan – even keeping a book about her father on her bedside table and following her half-sister’s exploits closely via newspapers.
But her grandmother says she is now so focused on her work, and her beloved 60-year-old mother, who has never married, that she is highly unlikely even to follow TV news reports of Zara’s big day.
‘She’s very happy leading her own life, so I don’t think they’ll be watching – they didn’t even watch William and Kate’s wedding,’ said Dr Tonkin, a leading authority on cot deaths.
In recent months, knowing Zara’s engagement and marriage would bring attention to her, Felicity discussed the possibility of speaking publicly about their relationship.
‘I’ve thought about telling my side of the story,’ she confided to a friend. ‘But I’m not sure there’s much point. I don’t want to create bother for them and I like my life quiet. I just like getting on with it.’