Mike Tindall on his nose, his royal in-laws and The Jump

The former England captain and Zara Phillips' husband on why he's risking all for a reality TV show...

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It’s only once you get up close to Mike Tindall that the full glory of the former England rugby captain’s nose is revealed. Like some sort of Cubist experiment, there is an angle – about 45 degrees from face-on – at which it appears vaguely natural, but from every other approach it is pure Picasso.

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Tindall, 36, the husband of Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Phillips, first broke it in a dodgem accident, aged five, but has since smashed it more times than he can count, including three times on the rugby field. The result is that, these days, he can only breathe out of his mouth. “Snoring does happen,” he chuckles. Poor Zara.

Having retired from professional rugby last year, the Yorkshireman found himself with few opportunities to break his nose, or any other part of his body, and signed up for The Jump, the Channel 4 show in which celebrities compete in a variety of winter sports, including flinging themselves off an Austrian ski jump.

Last year’s debut run was given a kicking by the critics, but was a ratings hit, drawing an average of 2.2 million viewers, nearly 20 per cent higher than other shows in its slot on Channel 4. It stands alone as a reality show that is genuinely dangerous. Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, has already gone home with two broken ribs; Ola Jordan, the Strictly Come Dancing pro dancer, has put her career in jeopardy by smashing her leg. 

When we meet on the slopes of Innsbruck in Austria, it’s Tindall’s first day of jump training. He confidently plops off the beginner’s ramp multiple times, before being ushered by the coaches – who rate him as one of the favourites – onto the intermediate jump. In the flesh, it looks terrifying. He tries it twice, and twice ends in a crumpled heap, but unscathed. A natural competitor, he confesses it “would be great” to win, but at 16 stone he isn’t built for flight. “That’s life, unfortunately,” he shrugs.

Our interview comes with an advance warning that any questions about the royal family, including Prince Andrew, will lead to it being called to an abrupt halt. When asked how Zara, Andrew’s niece, is holding up amid the row, the shutters come down with a firm, “Let’s not go there,” and “I don’t want to talk about that.”

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In person he’s quiet, considered and courteous. Questions about his finances lead to the only moment during our 45-minute chat when his passions are roused. The suggestion that life is a bit easier for him than it is for other players leaving the game, given whom he’s married to, elicits the tetchy response, “Why in any way am I lucky with my in-laws?” Well, you know, your extended family aren’t exactly short of a bob or two… “They don’t give us any money. We look after ourselves – we don’t get anything for free.”