SEVERAL years ago, I was boarding a flight to Nice from Heathrow and caused a bit of a ‘scene’ by attempting to wrestle my over-packed bulging carry-on case into an undersized overhead luggage rack.
For five long, tortuous minutes, I pushed, pulled, punched, and rammed away, but still my bag resolutely refused to slide in. And I was desperate not to have to check it into the hold with the inevitable delay when I got to France.
An increasingly long and irritated line of fellow passengers built up behind me, observing the humiliating spectacle in fuming silence interspersed with tuts and disapproving muttering.
To be fair, I’d have been equally annoyed if I’d been kept waiting while some selfish d***head did this to me.
"Maybe take out some of ze clothes?" snapped an exasperated Frenchman eventually.
"Yes, thank you for ze very helpful advice," I retorted, almost self-immolating with indignant passive-aggression.
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This prompted a spontaneous loud chortle from a fellow Brit standing right next to me.
"Struggling a bit there, Mr Morgan? Hahahaha."
I turned to see a burly-framed, razor-headed, nose-mangled man with a gigantic smirk on his face.
It was Mike Tindall, England rugby World Cup winner, who was finding the whole unedifying spectacle hugely entertaining.
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Behind him was his wife, Zara Phillips, the then Queen’s oldest grandchild, who just stared grimly at the floor, with her lips pursed, slowly shaking her head like she’d just encountered the village idiot.
‘I’m good thanks, Mr Tindall,’ I responded, re-attacking the case with the kind of venom that only comes from abject public humiliation, and finally smashing it in with a massive crunching sound that indicated I’d also just broken something.
Tindall, still cackling away, led a ripple of mocking applause as Mrs Tindall’s eyes rolled violently.
I wasn’t surprised by his humorous approach to my unfortunate situation.
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Two years earlier, he’d invited me to take part in a pro-celebrity televised charity rugby match at Twickenham in aid of military veterans.
"Piers, your involvement will only enhance the event and make it a long-term success," Mike assured me by email.
Which, of course, really meant: "Piers, me and my burly gang of psychotic, cauliflower-eared 6ft 5in, 300lb Neanderthals are going to beat you to a mangled pulp on national television which will delight the public, and my in-laws even more!"
I feigned a bogus hamstring injury to escape far more serious damage.
Mike Tindall isn’t your average royal.
But he is the most normal down-to-earth and fun-loving member of Britain’s most famous family, which makes it entirely understandable that he’s agreed to appear on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
After all, this is the man who was once dropped by England for cavorting with dwarves in a New Zealand bar as they raced around tied to bungee ropes, later saying he couldn’t feel sorry for what happened because he was so drunk that he didn’t remember any of it.
And the man who at his bachelor party in a Miami nightclub, reportedly drank a carafe of red wine in one gulp, ran up a bar tab of £15,000, and ended the night wearing a dancer’s tutu.
And the man who prank-punched Prince Harry at a party to test how quickly his bodyguards would respond (the answer was very quickly, as they wrestled Tindall to the floor).
Selfless charity work
To describe Mike Tindall as a bit of a naughty boy – he also has two drink-driving convictions – is putting it mildly.
But fatherhood – he and Zara have three young kids – seems to have tamed the hard-boozing beast and it’s been a long time since he hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Instead, he has slowly but surely grown a reputation for being one of the more popular royals through a lot of selfless charity work, touching public devotion to his family, and a very entertaining and often searingly honest podcast about his life in rugby.
There will be some who sneer today that Tindall shouldn’t be degrading himself by taking part in a TV reality show and comparing him to royal renegades Meghan and Harry who quit Britain and royal duty to ruthlessly exploit their titles for massive commercial gain in America.
But here’s the difference: the Tindalls have never been working royals, had any royal titles, or received any public money.
They are self-sufficient financially, trading off their mutual huge success in the sporting arena.
Zara is a brilliant horse rider who won a silver medal as part of the British equestrian team at the 2012 London Olympics.
And Mike was one of the key players in England’s iconic 2003 rugby World Cup win, ending up with 75 caps for his country.
But in an interview with the Times last year, he admitted his extra income from things like speeches and sporting dinners had ground to a halt during the pandemic and said: "You always worry about money. I was very fortunate that I had a couple of ambassadorial roles (when he retired) so you know there’s money coming in, but sponsorships won’t last for ever. You’ve got to plan and now with a third on the way and what’s coming down the line in terms of school bills, fees to pay…."
So, I suspect he’s partly doing I’m A Celebrity for the cash (contestants are very well paid), to raise awareness for his various charities, especially Parkinson’s which has blighted his father’s life, and, also, for a laugh.
And I’d put good money on him winning it and being crowned the People’s King of the Jungle.
First, because he’s a genuinely nice guy – humble, self-deprecating, and hard-working as befits someone whose great-grandfather was a blacksmith and whose other ancestors include bootmakers, stonemasons, and weavers.
Second, because he’s very funny and will regularly have his campmates and viewers in stitches.
Third, because he’s hard as nails – his nose was broken eight times in his often brutally physical rugby career – and well used to countryside life, so won’t be remotely perturbed by any of the bug-eating, snake-swarming stunts that reduce lesser celebrity weaklings to quivering wrecks.
And fourth, because, in marked contrast to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, he’s ferociously loyal to his country, his family and the Monarchy.
You’ll never hear Tindall attacking the Royals or the institution they represent.
In fact, you’ll hear the complete opposite, as he often praises the family he married into, as well as his great pride in being awarded an MBE.
"I can only say how kind they've been to me," he said recently, before Her Majesty’s death, "and how welcoming they've been to me since joining the family. And how they've made my family welcome. I've always felt part of it, and I think that's down to what an amazing woman the Queen is. They're a fantastic family."
As to what Mrs Tindall thinks of this decision, I think I know the answer.
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Fourteen years ago, my own wife Celia interviewed her for GQ magazine during which Zara revealed that she too had been approached to appear on I'm A Celebrity.
"I mean, really…" she snorted, with scornful derision, as she explained why she instantly rejected the invitation.
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