The Queen has let it be known she thinks the Middletons have conducted
themselves ‘impeccably’ since news of the royal engagement was announced
By Rebecca English
At first glance, they appear not to have much in common.
One was born to a life of unimaginable privilege, the cosseted daughter of a family of impeccably connected Scottish nobles used to a life of privilege. The other hails from a long line of Durham miners, carpenters and tradesmen whose family clawed their way out of poverty through sheer hard graft.
And yet if one looks closer, there are uncanny similarities between the late Queen Mother and new royal in-law, Carole Middleton.
So much so, some in royal circles have dubbed Mrs Middleton ‘the Steel Marshmallow Mark II’.
The phrase was originally coined by the photographer and royal acolyte Cecil Beaton to encapsulate what he believed to be the Queen Mother’s remarkable character — which he described as ‘a marshmallow made on a welding machine’.
As with the Queen Mother, Carole’s charming veneer masks an unyielding toughness — one of her business suppliers describes her as ‘personable but an absolute b***-breaker’.
While she would never (well, almost never) liken herself to a member of the Royal Family, it is known that Carole is a huge admirer of the late royal matriarch, and she has been quick to adopt the Queen Mother’s well-worn mantra: ‘Never complain, never explain.’
It is an approach that has served her well. Very well, indeed. For in the six months since their elder daughter married into the country’s first family, the Middletons have been welcomed by the Queen with open arms.
Indeed the warm affection and genuine enthusiasm the monarch has shown towards Carole and her husband, Michael, have taken even seasoned courtiers by surprise.
Prince William has spoken at length
with the Queen about his desire
to protect Kate’s family
She has let it be known she thinks the family have conducted themselves ‘impeccably’ since news of the royal engagement was announced and demonstrated her approval by inviting them to a number of ‘inner sanctum’ events.
These include a private ‘getting-to-know-you’ lunch at Windsor Castle the week before April’s Royal Wedding as well as her Royal Ascot Week house party. The couple’s appearance in her carriage procession on Ladies’ Day only served to seal their position.
‘The Queen likes them enormously,’ explained one courtier.
‘Her decision to invite them to Royal Ascot was a very personal gesture that was entirely her own idea. It shows the level at which she has welcomed them into their extended family.’
In years gone by, once a woman married into the Royal Family she was considered very much part of the Firm and the in-laws have felt frozen out, often adding to the feelings of isolation endured by royal brides such as Diana and the Duchess of York.
But William, who is particularly close to his grandmother, has spoken at length with her about his desire to protect Kate’s family.
And while the Queen is still a stickler for protocol, she has gone out of her way to ensure the Middletons feel relaxed in Royal circles and are properly looked after.
Members of both Royal Households (Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, Prince Charles’s London base) have taken their lead from the top.
Charles and Camilla have met the Middletons several times and the Prince has made his most senior staff available to help the family in any way they can.
‘While royal staff don’t get involved with them publicly, they do work for Prince William, and the Middletons are his in-laws, so they are happy to provide advice and encouragement,’ says a royal source.
‘The feeling within the Household is they have been admirably thick-skinned, given some of the barbs that have been thrown their way.’
Kate’s parents have discussed several niggling issues with the Prince’s private office both over the phone and in person. Party Pieces, the business she started at her kitchen table and has transformed into a nationwide market leader, has been repeatedly criticised for ‘cashing in’ on Kate’s position by selling royal-themed goods.
Charles and Camilla have met the Middletons several times and the Prince has made
his most senior staff available to help the family in any way they can
Mrs Middleton vehemently denies this. She argues the opposite, saying that while her competitors ‘made a killing’ out of selling Royal Wedding paraphernalia in the run-up to April’s ceremony, she and her husband limited their contribution to a handful of street party products.
And she dismisses as ‘an aberration’ the decision to flog Britannia-theme scratch cards, corgi cake-toppers and plastic hats emblazoned with Union Flags in the run-up to the royal nuptials.
‘At the end of the day we are running a business, not a charity,’ she recently told one confidante.
‘Of course we don’t want to do anything that will embarrass Catherine, but I really feel as if we are caught between a rock and a hard place.
‘Our business was around long before her association with the Royal Family.’
Another royal source adds: ‘The Middletons are very pragmatic people, but Carole has made the point to the Prince’s staff that they also have an obligation to their employees.
‘So while they want to ensure that their business interests do not embarrass their daughter any more than possible, their staff — which number around 30 — must come first.’
Public interest in their younger daughter, 27-year-old Pippa,
has taken the Middleton family by surprise
The difficulty for Carole and Michael is that while their close family may not have changed much — apart from the addition of a family crest and regular advice from a top-flight firm of security consultants — the world outside is very, very different.
Public interest in their younger daughter, 27-year-old Pippa, who almost stole the show at the wedding in her curve-enhancing maid of honour’s dress, has taken everyone by surprise.
Each day both her sister’s office at St James Palace and Party Pieces HQ are inundated with requests for personal appearances and endorsements: from a starring role in the hit U.S. series Dancing With The Stars to a ‘ludicrously generous’ offer by a besotted private admirer to have her now famous derriere set in bronze.
Such is the cult of Pippa’s celebrity that she is now followed daily by dozens of paparazzi who sell pictures of her to American, French and Italian magazines.
The situation has proved so worrying that Pippa recently had talks with senior St James’s Palace staff to discuss ways of controlling it.
Despite her new-found celebrity, Pippa — who still lives in the £750,000 Chelsea flat she shared with Kate, and which her parents bought for cash — still leaves home around 9.15am most days (after an hour-long jog along the Thames) and heads off to her offices in South Kensington where she creates an internet blog, called Party Times, linked to her parents’ own website.
She has hopes, though, of starting her own business — along the lines of the Queen’s legendary party-planner cousin, Lady Elizabeth Anson — and spends one or two days a week grafting at events business Table Talk, on a run-down estate in one of the grittier parts of Stockwell.
According to one well-placed source,
Michael and Carole insist they will continue
to live an ‘ordinary’ life
Her romance with cricketer turned City broker Alex Loudon is going from strength to strength and she is a frequent overnight visitor to his Parson’s Green home in West London.
Friends have expressed surprise at the intensity of the relationship — ‘he’s just, well, a bit boring — particularly compared with Pippa, who is hugely outgoing’, says one. But others says that Pippa has got to the stage in her life where she is ‘looking for stability’.
‘She is not batting off any suggestion that she and Alex may walk up the aisle,’ says one member of her circle.
‘Alex is silently driven and successful, like her dad, Michael, and he’s very kind. She feels that the two are very similar. She’s dated more fun and exciting guys before but it’s never led to anything.’
And what of the ‘forgotten’ Middleton, brother James, who dropped out of university (socially well-connected Edinburgh, natch) after just a year to forge a career as the new Sir Richard Branson?
His Cake Kit Company doesn’t appear to have set the world alight yet. The firm’s bake-at-home kits can only be bought (surprise, surprise) through the Party Pieces website, and his HQ is based at its offices at a converted farm building in Berkshire.
Still, he clearly is doing well enough — either off his own back, or that of his parents — to buy at the age of 24 an AC Cobra car worth up to £70,000 on eBay and pay £2,000 to have it shipped back from Ibiza.
So what next for the Middletons as memories of the wedding fade?
There have been reports that the couple are hunting for lavish houses, both in the UK and their favourite holiday island of Mustique.
Earlier this year, they viewed a £5 million mansion in Chippenham, Wiltshire, which was owned by Camilla Parker Bowles at the height of her affair with Prince Charles, but friends believe they are unlikely to purchase a lavish new property.
According to one well-placed source, they insist they will continue to live an ‘ordinary’ life despite their new-found connections.
‘They are intensely private people and have always socialised in Berkshire among a close-knit circle of friends. It’s a very discreet lifestyle and there are no plans for that to change,’ says the source
‘Michael and Carole are not angling to be included in any royal events.
‘That’s one of the things that William loves most about them. He is very protective and sees Michael and Carole as surrogate parents.’
‘If and when Catherine has her own baby it will be Middleton in all but name. They will be involved in every aspect of the child’s life. She relies on her parents totally.’
Yet for their insistence that it is ‘business as usual’, Michael and Carole still have to pinch themselves at the remarkable transformation in their lives since William and Kate first announced their engagement last year.
Sometimes they still can’t quite believe that they are in-laws to the future King.
See Related: Royals Archive