George and Mia, 2019. They clearly enjoy one another’s company hugely, which should come as no surprise
The long school summer holiday, and as usual I am in the country, at my grandparents’ house in Italy, catching up with the cousins.
There are seven of us, and we play hide and seek in the orchard until evening, when we see who can catch the most fireflies in a jar.
The youngest is Benedetta, a little pixie with a pudding bowl haircut and a life-enhancing smile.
She is three and I am 13, and I feel tremendously protective. Every day she measures herself against me (she comes a little above my knee) and, looking up with her big brown eyes, asks me: ‘When I grow up, will you let me be as tall as you?’
I wonder if that’s what little Mia Tindall was asking her second cousin, Prince George, when they were snapped comparing heights at the Burnham Market Horse Trials.
The two young royals were sharing a joke — and a distinct family resemblance.
They clearly enjoy one another’s company hugely, which should come as no surprise, given that their parents, Zara and Prince William, are the best of pals and have always been close as cousins.
There is a very special complicity between cousins. We are closer than best friends because we are blood relations. We have known each other all our lives, and can use shorthand that leaves ‘outsiders’ confused.
Little playmates: Zara, William and Diana in 1984. Their parents, Zara and Prince William, are the best of pals and have always been close as cousins
A name — Uncle John or neighbour Betty — and we fall about laughing, remembering a horde of funny anecdotes that, through the years, have entertained us.
A place — our grandparents’ house; my brother’s first flat — will have a host of associations that mean nothing to anyone else, but will remind us of our childhood.
I was Benedetta’s confidante and sounding board through her school years, as she navigated friendships and playground peer groups and again through adolescence as hormones seized control, leaving her railing against the world.
Then suddenly, she was 18, and entrusted into my care when her mother sent her to London to learn English. I remember my aunt issuing a list of instructions: Benedetta was to be in bed by 11, no partying on weeknights, no alcohol, no cigarettes, and above all, no boys.
But my little cousin was very pretty and mischievous and I was a softie. Within days of her arrival, she was being driven around town in a Rolls by a posh young suitor.
Rain over us: An affectionate look in 2004. Cousins are often easier than siblings. There is a lot of emotional baggage with brothers and sisters
She was never home before midnight and always with a distinct whiff of tobacco on her clothes.
‘Don’t tell the parents!’ she made me promise as she was about to board her flight home.
I wouldn’t dream of it. Just as I didn’t tell her parents (or mine) when Benedetta and I flew to Rome to interview our cousin Carolina. An American magazine had commissioned me to interview young aristocrats who wanted to become nuns. Carolina fitted the bill.
William and Zara, 1988. George and Mia will never remember a world without the other one in it
The magazine paid so well that we swanned about the eternal city, drinking Campari in all the most fashionable watering holes. By the time we interviewed Carolina, we had 1,000 tales to tell — and hardly listened to a word she said.
But we must have impressed upon her how fabulous the Dolce Vita in her hometown was, because our cousin never took the veil but instead got married to a wonderful academic.
Benedetta also married and again I was sworn to secrecy, lest we shock her wonderful but conventional parents with the news that she was having a Hindu ceremony in Goa, with only four of us as guests.
We have fewer expectations of our cousins than of our siblings. We accept that they have their own life to lead — in a way I sometimes forget with my own (adored) brother. Cousins are often easier than siblings.
There is a lot of emotional baggage with brothers and sisters; with cousins, it’s a carry-on case. All those recriminations — ‘you were Mummy’s favourite’ and ‘you always were the rebel’ — never burden cousins.
That degree of separation means not everything said between grown-up cousins is charged with huge significance; when grown up siblings talk, instead, it is always under a serious, ‘family matters’, banner. Sometimes I feel sorry for people who never had this special relationship.
Psst! At Charles and Camilla’s 2005 wedding. All those recriminations — ‘you were Mummy’s favourite’ and ‘you always were the rebel’ — never burden cousins
I know there are plenty of them — the children of only children, who will never know what it is to have this other tier of family that has provided such joy and stability throughout my life.
George and Mia will never remember a world without the other one in it. They will grow up knowing, like their parents did, that in each other they have someone to trust, for ever. With a life that will be somewhat in the public eye, this will be a comfort.
I can hardly believe Benedetta is now grown up. She is still not as tall as me, but I look up to her. She runs a consultancy that helps the hospitality industry become more environmentally-conscious.
She is married and has two adorable boys, Zeno and Hugo, who have spent many a summer playing with their older cousin — my daughter Izzy.
These days, when Benedetta and I sit chatting in the kitchen, we overhear our children trade jokes, compare notes and laugh. Just like in the old days, we say. Just like cousins.
Cristina Odone chairs the Parenting Circle
She really is the sister William never had
By Rebecca English for the Daily Mail
Prince George and Mia Tindall couldn’t have looked happier and more relaxed in each other’s company. The five-year-old second cousins have clearly inherited the easy familiarity of the life-long friendship of Prince William and his cousin, Zara.
So much so, it is understood that the Tindalls were staying with William and Kate at Anmer Hall, their Norfolk retreat, last weekend while leading equestrian Zara was competing in the Burnham Market Horse trials, where the charming photographs were taken.
No-nonsense Zara, 37, daughter of Princess Anne, has always been the fun cousin whom William can rely on to lift his spirits in dark times.
William, who is believed to be Mia’s godfather (though it has never been confirmed), has always enjoyed the same free and easy friendship with Zara, over and above their family ties. The pair are pictured together in 1998 at Clarence House
And, as we know, he has his fair share of them. It would not be an understatement to say that she has been the big sister he never had. She has, of course, always been close to Harry too (he is believed to have been recently made Lena’s godfather).
One friend recalls a country dinner party where Harry was left in hysterics as he showed his mobile phone to his host boasting a barrage of expletive-ridden jokey messages from his cousin which had popped up between courses.
Both could, of course, party with the best of them in their time.
William, who is believed to be Mia’s godfather (though it has never been confirmed), has always enjoyed the same free and easy friendship with Zara, over and above their family ties — whether it be larking around at the polo, arms slung with easy intimacy around the other’s shoulders, or chatting away in the background at a major royal event such as Trooping The Colour.
Prince William is pictured on a go-kart as a boy with Zara Phillips behind him on a motorbike. Both attended different schools and universities and have followed markedly different career paths
That’s not to say it was a given. The Queen’s own children have famously not always had the easiest of relationships.
Their upbringings were very different: Zara, unfettered by any official royal role, has always lived at Gatcombe, her mother’s Gloucestershire estate while William was based principally at his mother’s residence in Kensington Palace.
Both attended different schools and universities and have followed markedly different career paths.
But they do meet up, sources say, over and above official family events and keep in touch by phone and WhatsApp — jokey little messages, family news and the like.
Theirs is a unique bond, forged by circumstance as well as blood, that few outside of the Royal Family could ever understand.
What’s the betting that one day we see cheeky little Mia, with George and Charlotte in tow, ripping up the royal rule book together as their laughing parents look on?