Festival Of British Eventing: All About The Event Hosted By Princess Anne

The British royal family has to attend all manner of events throughout the year, from swanky galas to state visits, balls, and hospital openings. What they rarely do is attend festivals ... but Princess Anne not only goes to one, she actually hosts it, too. The Festival of British Eventing is a must for equestrians and lovers of horses, whether they plan on competing or are simply there because they love the sport. It's a prominent event in the calendar and the royals are often spotted there, but what does it actually entail? 

The word "festival" might bring to mind images of girls in denim hot pants wearing wellies and flower headpieces with cups of booze, but it's not that kind of occasion. This sporting highlight is home to some serious competitions. It's not all showjumping and horse grooming, either. There are plenty of other things that happen too, but one of the most intriguing things about the entire affair is its history. 

How exactly did a member of Britain's most prestigious family come to run an entire festival? Exactly what goes on there, and how involved is Princess Anne's family? There's a lot to think about. After all, you would never see King Charles III opening up the golden gates of Buckingham Palace and inviting the public in, so why does Anne? Let's find out.

It's held at Princess Anne's home

The public can sometimes get within touching distance of where the royals live when there are open days. For example, history lovers are able to visit the state rooms of Buckingham Palace for a select few weeks out of the year. You'll probably never see King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort welcoming a hoard of vendors, horses, and hundreds of members of the public, though. Princess Anne's Gatcombe Park estate is usually private as well, but every year she throws a festival that allows visitors to take in the wonder of the extensive grounds. 

It's not a new, modern thing, either. Anne has been hosting the festival for over 40 years, with the first one taking place back in 1983. At the time, she was still married to her first husband and fellow equestrian, Captain Mark Phillips. Despite splitting in 1989 and divorcing a couple of years later, Phillips remains involved with the festival as chairman.

Considering that the festival lasts three days and stretches across Gatcombe, it can't be an easy thing to organize. However, one would expect the cleanup to be minimal when compared to the huge mess that is left behind by revelers at musical festivals like Glastonbury or Coachella. This is a much more formal event that doesn't involve staying up all night dancing in a tent surrounded by sweaty strangers.  

There are multiple equestrian competitions

The backbone of the Festival of British Eventing is, of course, the eventing competitions. There aren't just one or two for spectators to behold, but several major ones. According to the official website: "[The] Festival of British Eventing hosts five championship classes that horse and rider combinations have to qualify for throughout the year. It is a key date in the calendar for riders and spectators alike and always promises to be an action-packed weekend." 

For those of us that know next to nothing about equestrianism, there's a simple way to think of it. There are courses that cater to greener, novice riders, and courses that run right up to the British Open Championship. Even Princess Anne's daughter and former Olympian, Zara Tindall, competes. In fact, she was spotted riding her horse at the most recent festival when she participated in a jumping competition, despite the wet weather. 

In an interview with ITV West Country before the festival, Tindall told reporters she was nervous, proving that this isn't just your regular pony show, but a serious event for riders. Fans may remember that Tindall won silver in the 2012 Olympics, so she isn't exactly inexperienced or easily spooked. Anne's only daughter wouldn't have been the only rider to feel tense before hopping in the saddle — but at least she was on home turf!

There's a shopping village

Of course, the competitions are a huge draw for visitors that want to see the sportsmanship of some of the world's top equestrians. However, there always has to be something for ticket holders to do when they aren't watching horses and their riders run courses. Plus, any event organizer knows that having retailers at an event means one thing: more money! Typically at these sorts of events, stallholders pay organizers a fee to set up and keep the profits for themselves. The Festival of British Eventing has a whole shopping village for the public to browse!

The website says: "Every year, the festival brings together an eclectic mix of exhibitors to create a fantastic shopping village for visitors. With over 100 stands offering everything from art and jewelry to homeware and country clothing, there is something for everyone!" That certainly seems like an impressive selection that's fit for a royal. 

Not only does the shopping village have a ton of things to look at, but it's situated right next to a funfair and a food court, making it the perfect family day out. Even Princess Anne has been spotted perusing the stalls with her grandchildren in tow (see above), while Mike Tindall was photographed riding the Ferris wheel with his children. Stallholders for 2023 included Bath Soft Cheese, Aureliean Fine Jewelry, Caroline Nicholls, and more. It's likely they made a decent amount of money over the three days!

Tickets aren't that expensive

Considering the festival is held at Princess Anne's private residence at Gatcombe Park, lasts three days, and is one of the biggest events in the equestrian calendar, many may think tickets are incredibly expensive. Surprisingly, they aren't nearly as much as you might expect. According to Horse & Hound, advance tickets cost between £20 and £25, while a whole weekend pass will set visitors back £65. Granted, that can add up if you have a large family, but considering it secures your chance of accidentally bumping into a royal, it's worth every penny. 

There are different types of tickets, too. For example, visitors are given the opportunity to pay for festival pavilion membership, which means they get VIP treatment. For an additional £55 a day (£27.50 for children) members can enjoy a buffet lunch, tea and coffee, and the best seats for the competitions. Perhaps best of all, they have their own luxury bathrooms so don't have to wait in long lines when nature calls. It does make tickets more expensive, though, as these member prices are on top of general admission fees, making it around £75 for a ticket. This does include free parking, so there are no hidden fees there. 

There is also the option for camping, too, but these aren't regular campsite prices. Camping is usually relatively cheap, but not at the Festival of British Eventing. A caravan pass for the weekend will set visitors back £195 to £305 if they want swanky pavilion memberships. 

The Festival of British eventing is a royal family event

As previously mentioned, Princess Anne first held the festival back when she was still married to Captain Mark Phillips in the early '80s. Even though they split many moons ago, it remains a real family affair for Anne. Not only is Phillips the chair, but the couple's children are heavily involved, too. Their only son, Peter Phillips, takes on a vital role in the festival itself — but more on that later. 

As for the rest of the family, Zara and her husband Mike Tindall, who live on the Gatcombe Park estate, are often spotted enjoying the festival activities alongside their three children. The couple has lived there since selling their Cheltenham pad in 2013, but they don't share the same house as Princess Anne and her husband, Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence. This makes the festival very easy to get to for the Tindalls, who essentially live on-site. When the children get tired and want to go home, it's just a walk across the estate. 

As for the rest of the royal family, it doesn't seem like the more senior members of the Windsor household attend the festival. Perhaps it's too much of a public event for them. With security an ever-pressing issue, it makes sense that they may choose to stay away and let Anne and her family enjoy the fruits of their labor. 

Princess Anne designed the horse courses herself

While the spotlight may be on her daughter, Zara Tindall, when it comes to eventing these days, Princess Anne was once a successful equestrian too. At the age of 21, Queen Elizabeth II's only daughter caused quite a stir at the European Championships at Burghley. A reporter for Horse & Hound gave a glittering account of events, explaining: "It was a fairy story ending. Of course, everyone knows now that the Princess Royal won the individual championship, but only those who were there can appreciate the extent of the popularity of her victory, or the tension that gripped the thronged arena during her jumping round on Sunday." Anne's parents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, were there to cheer her on. 

Anne's career continued to blossom, and by 1976 she was riding her mother's horse, Goodwill, at the Montreal Olympic Games. Her experience over the next decade saw her become more heavily involved with the Olympics, becoming a member of the International Olympic Committee in 1988. 

Given her history and dedication to the sport, it's only natural that Anne would transfer her knowledge to the Festival of British Eventing. She has designed some of the courses herself over the years. After all, who is better qualified to do so than the landowner, who happens to be a prominent equestrian? It goes to show that Anne takes a lot of pride in her work with the festival. 

Princess Anne's son is the director

Zara Tindall often competes in the competitions, but it's her brother, Peter Phillips, that really holds the reins. In 2010, he became the co-organizer of the festival. In an interview with Great British Life, he explained that it seemed like a natural progression. At the time, he was in his early 30s.

"It's something my father has wanted me to do for some time," he told the publication. "He's always been a great advocate of me being involved; of my stepping up into an organizational role." He added, "You can't really have a family dinner without horses coming up sometime in the conversation. And with Zara riding full time, of course, I take a keen interest in what she's doing." Phillips still holds the position, though he said in a recent interview with British Eventing Life that it isn't exactly easy: "It's a labor of love. There is a huge amount to organize."

These days, Phillips isn't just a co-organizer, but the event director. Considering how Phillips grew up attending the festival alongside his family, it seems like the perfect job for him. It's a huge undertaking with an enormous amount of responsibility that likely requires an awful lot of attention, both before and after the weekend itself. King Charles III may have inherited the throne, but Phillips is heir to the Festival of British Eventing. 

Its biggest sponsor has a close link to the royal family

Big events like this only run smoothly because of sponsors. They bring the money in and make things tick. If the British Festival of Eventing didn't have a sponsor with plenty of spare cash, it's unlikely it would continue to run. Thankfully, Australian company Magic Millions has been a partner of the event for some time, but its connections to the royal family reach even further than a weekend in the summer. Princess Anne's daughter, Zara Tindall, has been a patron of the brand since 2013. 

When the partnership was announced, Tindall said: "I am passionate about what the Racing Women initiative is seeking to achieve both in Australia and internationally. This initiative focuses on rewarding and recognizing the vital role women play in the sport, as well as attracting newcomers. ... I have my mother and grandmother to thank for my lifelong commitment to the sport of horses" (via Magic Millions).

Over the years, Tindall has done everything from supporting the company's various initiatives to sporting their merchandise while attending the festival at Gatcombe Park. As far as patrons go, having a member of the House of Windsor on your side is never a bad thing!

The best equestrians in the world come to compete

Zara Tindall isn't the only prominent lover of horses to compete at the Festival of British Eventing. As previously mentioned, this is an important event in the calendar for equestrians. Tindall may have taken home the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, but in 2023, gold medalists Oliver Townend and Tom McEwan were there to try their hand at the championship. People come from all over the world to try and beat their rivals, with New Zealander Tim Price, 2022 champion alongside his horse Vitali, coming back to defend his title. This just goes to show how important these competitions are. However, it's not always smooth sailing. 

Eventing is often dependent on the weather, and 2023 was particularly bad in terms of rain. Captain Mark Phillips explained in his column for Horse & Hound the difficulties that organizers were presented with: "My son Peter, who is the event director, the British Eventing (BE) steward, and the technical adviser all did everything they could to be able to put on the Magic Millions Festival of British Eventing, but eventually after more than an inch of rain in 24 hours from Storm Antoni, it was impossible to stage the five British championships."

Phillips admitted that although they tried to reschedule, the full list of competitions wasn't able to run. 

Princess Catherine was an attendee long before she married Prince William

When we see Princess Catherine now, she's usually dolled up to the nines in designer gear and headed to some important public event. It's easy to forget that before she was a future queen, she was just a regular person like the rest of us. Back in 2005, Catherine attended the Festival of British Eventing as a normal ticket holder. Although she was dating Prince William at the time, she wouldn't have a ring on her finger until several years later, cementing her status as part of the great Windsor dynasty. 

As she was still a person of interest then as William's gal pal, Catherine was photographed walking around and taking in the sights and sounds of the event. She was spotted sock shopping, buying a couple of drinks, and generally enjoying herself as any English country rose should do. She was dressed aptly for the occasion, in a brown hat, a V-neck sweater, jeans, and knee-high brown boots. Her accessories were a million miles away from the diamonds and sapphires she wears now. Catherine's most prominent piece of jewelry was a blue string heart necklace. 

Catherine attended the festival alongside her mother, Carole Middleton, who she was seen talking and laughing with throughout the day. Little did they both know that the next decade would see her get married, become a princess, and welcome three children!