The separation of Peter and Autumn Phillips brings to an end a 17-year royal romance that reads like a real-life fairytale, one in which Autumn, born into a normal, middle-class Canadian family, is taken from a personal assistant to a respected – and much-loved – member of the royal family.
The couple, who wed five years after meeting at the Montreal Grand Prix, announced today that they separated several months ago but remain ‘amicable’ and will continue to co-parent their daughters, Savannah, nine, and Isla, seven in Gloucestershire.
Autumn’s early years are a world apart from the grand royal residences and media glare of her former husband’s – and starts with a modest cottage in Cedar Park, Pointe-Claire, in the English speaking West Island region of Montreal.
Autumn was one of three children born to Kathleen and Brian Kelly. Her twin brother, Chris, is a bricklayer and roofer, and their other brother, Kevin, works as a chef.
Autumn’s parents divorced when she was eight and both later remarried. Kathleen, known as ‘Kitty’, to pilot Ron Magos and Brian, an executive at an electricity company, to a woman named Lynne, with whom he had two more children.
Kathleen and Brian sent their daughter to a Roman Catholic primary school.
At her local state school, St Thomas High, Autumn was widely considered the class beauty, and excelled at sport, particularly football and ringette, which is similar to ice hockey.
Classmates remember her being at the centre of a clique of ‘snooty’ young girls, however, who called themselves The Get-Along Gang.
‘They thought they were better than everyone else and could be quite bitchy. Autumn was her own number one priority. She’d throw hissy fits if she didn’t get her own way and could be moody and self-involved. But she did have a generous side and could be a good friend when she dropped her airs and graces,’ recalls one.
She was also regarded as a party animal, ‘buving’ (the local slang for drinking) and smoking with her mates.
During her teenage years Autumn landed small roles in a Bob Hoskins film and a TV series but ultimately decided to pursue East Asian studies at the city’s McGill University.
After juggling her academics with part-time work as a barmaid and model, Autumn graduated from McGill in 2002.
She is said to have landed a management consultancy job but by June the following year Autumn was working in an events role at the Montreal Grand Prix. It is here she met her future husband, Peter Phillips.
At the time Peter was working in a marketing capacity for the Williams Formula One team and had travelled to Canada for the high-profile event. There is disagreement over where Autumn was working, with conflicting reports suggesting the BMW hospitality tent and as a ‘Budweiser girl’, but one thing is agreed: there was an immediate attraction between the pair.
Peter kept his family connections under wraps but Autumn was still charmed by the Englishman. They started a long-distance relationship, speaking on the phone every day, and Autumn travelled to the UK to visit Peter just weeks after meeting. The loved-up Canadian even accepted a job that would take her to England.
However she only discovered her new beau was the Queen’s grandson when she was watching a TV show about Prince William’s 21st birthday and a photo of Peter flashed up on screen. Her mother, who was sitting by her side, reportedly said to her daughter ‘What have you gotten yourself into?’
Despite the shock, Autumn decided to pursue the relationship and took up a position as a personal assistant to Sir Michael Parkinson.
Unlike some other royal couples, the early days of Autumn and Peter conducted the early days of their relationship largely out of the public eye, thanks largely to Peter’s role as a ‘non-working’ royal and lack of royal title.
This commitment to a ‘normal’ life remains to this day, with the couple previously saying they are normal people who ‘work full time, enjoy our weekends and get on with our lives like anybody else’.
After four years together, Peter popped the question and their engagement was announced on 28 July 2007. A date was set for the following year.
Autumn was born and brought up a Roman Catholic but renounced her faith shortly before their wedding so her husband-to-be did not have to give up his claim to the throne.
The couple tied the knot at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 17 May 2008 in front of 300 guests, including the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and Prince Harry.
Autumn looked resplendent in a gown by Sassi Halford and the Festoon Tiara, which was lent to the bride by Princess Anne. She finished her look with a necklace and earrings gifted to her by her husband. Among her six bridesmaids was her new sister-in-law, Zara Phillips.
The women have gone on to form a close relationship. Both enjoy country pursuits and lived on 600-acre Aston Farm, which adjoins Princess Anne’s country estate of Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire. It is not known where Peter and Autumn are now living.
Mr and Mrs Phillips attracted media attention when they sold their wedding photos to Hello! magazine in May 2008 for a reported £500,000. The episode provoked claims the couple had exploited their Royal status.
Photos of the couple on honeymoon on safari in South Africa were also released to the press, prompting speculation they had received the £1,000-a-night accommodation for free – or at least at a knock-down rate – in return for their co-operation in publicising the stay.
In 2010, the couple returned to London after living in Hong Kong, where Peter had a job with the Royal Bank of Scotland, heading their sports sponsorship activities in the region.
Autumn gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Savannah, in December 2010. Savannah was the Queen’s first great-granddaughter. In October 2011 the couple announced they were expecting their second child. Isla was born in March 2012.
The couple raised their daughters in Gloucestershire and were regulars at the traditional 17th-century stone-built pub, the Ragged Cot Inn in Minchinhampton — which was also the favourite drinking hole of Peter’s parents decades ago.
She is a director of the business SCGB — the initials stand for Super Cars Great Britain — which offers guided driving holidays for supercar owners.
Set up with friend Rachael Thomson, their last jaunt in June 2018 took the super-wealthy from Split in Croatia to Venice. The entrance fee is £8,500, with additional expenses on top. Peter’s friend, Johnny Hon, also took part.
Autumn and Ms Thomson are described in the company literature as ‘elite events professionals with more than ten years’ experience with High Net Worth Individual events’.
Sadly, the figures are far from impressive. Micro accounts filed in June 2019 state that the company has net assets of just £1,670 and owes £63,000.
Autumn is also the director of two other businesses. First, APP Consultancy Limited, so-called because of her initials (her middle name is Patricia), which was set up in September 2014 and is run from the farm.
The couple have chosen to keep their daughters largely out of the spotlight, although they have joined their parents at high-profile royal events like Trooping the Colour.
The girls have also been seen at the Christmas Day church service at Sandringham and on family days out to the Gatcombe Horse Trials.