Phillips is surprise winner of top Sports Personality award

Zara Phillips, the world equestrian champion, emulated the feat of her mother, Princess Anne, 35 years ago, in winning the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year prize in Birmingham last night.

Phillips beat the hot favourite Darren Clarke into second and the gymnast Beth Tweddle into third. There was also a shock in the Team of the Year category where the European Ryder Cup side had to be content with a minor placing behind the rugby league team St Helens. Both of the top categories were decided by votes cast by the public.

Accepting the award, Phillips thanked the viewers for the support, saying: "It is amazing to be here with all these fantastic sports people. I'm sat in awe of everyone and to win this is absolutely amazing."

Indeed, it capped an incredible year for the 25-year-old. She won the individual gold on Toytown in the three-day eventing competition at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in Germany in August, so becoming only the third rider to hold the European and world titles at the same time. The Queen's granddaughter also helped Great Britain claim the team silver.

Nevertheless, last night's honour was still a surprise, despite the obvious link up with her mother, who beat George Best and Barry John to the prize in 1971. Clarke, who was as low as 1-6 to succeed last year's winner Andrew Flintoff, will not have been too disappointed as in the run-up to the show the Ulsterman had expressed his "discomfort" at being a contender.

The 38-year-old, who lost his wife, Heather, to cancer six weeks before he honoured a commitment he made to her by playing in the Ryder Cup, said that he believed "a real champion such as Joe Calzaghe should win it".

In the event, the boxing world champion did not even make the podium. Meanwhile, St Helens had double reason to celebrate when Daniel Anderson was chosen as Coach of the Year.

Earlier in the evening at the NEC - the first time in the event's 52-year history that it had been held outside London - there were emotional scenes when Lindsey Hunter accepted the Helen Rollason Award on behalf of her husband, Paul, the snooker player who died of cancer two months ago aged 27. The award is made in memory of the BBC journalist who also died of the disease in 1999 to someone who has "struggled in the face of adversity".

In the other categories, Roger Federer was voted as the Overseas Sports Personality of the Year, Theo Walcott was named as the Young Sports Personality of the Year and Bjorn Bjorg was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Val Hanover won the Unsung Hero prize for more than 30 years' service in the Midlands, organising the Special Olympics.

ROLL OF HONOUR

BBC Sports Personality of the Year: Zara Phillips; Runner-up: Darren Clarke; Third: Beth Tweddle.

Team of the Year award: St Helens.

Overseas personality of the year: Roger Federer.

Helen Rollason Award: Paul Hunter.

Coach of the Year: Daniel Anderson (St Helens).

Lifetime Achievement: Bjorn Borg.

Young Personality: Theo Walcott.

Unsung Hero Award: Val Hanover (North Shropshire Special Olympics Club).

Special award: David Walliams.

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