Many athletes are eager to shrug off a familiar family name, but not Flora Peel.
It helps that the England hockey star’s lineage belongs in the dim and distant past, but certainly few monikers are as famous as hers: Peel’s great-grandfather (to the power of five) was Sir Robert: the two-time prime minister, creator of the Metropolitan Police service and one of the founders of the modern Conservative Party.
Peel has never tried to cash in on her past – she juggles her hockey career with her full-time job as a paralegal – but she doesn’t let it deter her either.
“It used to be my fun facts on [Birmingham] The university, Peel says, laughing. “It’s quite unusual, but it’s been so long that it doesn’t have any immediate impact on my sporting activities.”
Her father – also Robert – sets the record straight on the family line. Flora is actually a sixth generation descendant of Robert Peel, the first Baronet industrialist (known as Parsley Peel after inventing the parsley pattern textile print), one of whose sons became Prime Minister.
“My grandparents have a family tree, but for me it’s nothing further than that,” adds Flora. “I would think he would be happy [in today’s society]. He died when he fell off a horse so I guess health and safety has improved since then and maybe he would have worn a helmet.
“Politics is not something I wanted to go into, nor are any of my siblings doing. My father and grandparents make cheese [largely exporting Mozzarella to restaurants].”
With the family fortune made during the cotton mill boom, the Peel family motto is “Industria”, while the coat of arms includes a bee symbolizing business. It certainly reflects Flora’s attitude to her sport, where her all-action performances have helped England reach the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games.
The 25-year-old has always had sporting prowess. She won the British slalom championship as a 12-year-old before hockey took over. “It was great fun and I have no idea why I did it, but now it’s more the enjoyment, less throwing myself down the slopes,” she says.
Born in Cheltenham after his family moved south from Lancashire, Peel has been based in Holland for the past few seasons, a move that rules out most players from England or Great Britain other than goalkeeper Maddie Hinch due to key program commitments. She had signed to stay out in The Hague, but after joining the program full-time in January, days later, she flew to Argentina for her first FIH Pro League matches.
“I was thrown in at the deep end but feel so lucky to have the opportunity,” she admits. “A lot of players spend years trying to get their first cap.
“I remember the dressing room before the game, someone said the crowd will be something you’ve never experienced before and it was. I was told to take it all in, and when you start playing hockey, that’s all you think about, not the booing like they do over there.”
The Dutch environment has clearly paid dividends for Peel after several seasons playing for The Hague-based HDM. “It’s so cruel that you can keep raising your level or you’ll keep getting called out for not being good enough,” she says.
“It’s the competitive nature. At the end of every training session, we play a game and if you don’t win, everyone is really pissed off. That’s the mindset I needed to change.”
Speaking to Peel’s new teammates, it’s clear she has the potential to become an international mainstay. “The steps she has taken since playing in Holland have been remarkable,” says Anna Toman. “I’m so glad the program recognized that and gave her the opportunity to try. It was obvious as soon as she came in. You’d never know she only had a number of caps.”
The lifestyle change has also meant that the lawyer has had to negotiate her contract with the sports law firm Onside Law. “Covid has changed the working environment for an athlete – and fingers crossed that it will work,” she adds.
Her off-field pursuits will have to wait, however, with a Commonwealth semi-final against New Zealand on Friday and the EuroHockey qualifiers in Durham remaining this summer.
“This was a dream I gave up on,” admits Peel. “I had come to a difficult stage in my life where I had started to figure out what I wanted to do. If you had asked me a year ago that I would be in this position, I would not have believed you.”