The middle-class parents who raised a future queen
Gordon Rayner profiles the son of a pilot and daughter of a builder who worked to become millionaires, then maintained a silence as tales of social gaffes in royal circles abounded
Published 17/11/2010 | 05:00
For everyone outside their immediate social circle, Carole and Michael Middleton have been largely defined by a handful of anecdotes about their motives and knowledge of etiquette.
Some of the stories -- such as Mrs Middleton's supposed howler when she greeted Queen Elizabeth with "pleased to meet you" rather than "how do you do?" -- were manifestly untrue (the meeting never took place).
The suggestion that the "pushy" Mrs Middleton told her daughter to switch her choice of university to St Andrews when she discovered Prince William was going there is also described as "pure fiction" by those who know the family.
They have gained such widespread currency because the Middletons have been caught in the media equivalent of no-man's-land; with no official status, they have had no help from the St James's Palace press office, but neither could they speak to the media, even to issue denials, without gaining an unwanted public profile.
"They've had the worst of both worlds," one source close to the family said.
"They've resolutely refused to talk to the media, which is to their great credit, but while the royal family have an army of press officers to deny any stories that are untrue, the Middletons have had no one. They've just had to grin and bear it."
There have undoubtedly been mistakes along the way, including an ill-judged decision to have Kate help plug products on the website of the family's mail order company, and Mrs Middleton's chewing of nicotine gum at Prince William's passing out parade at Sandhurst in 2006.
But the fact that neighbours in the village of Bucklebury, Berkshire, are so fiercely protective of the Middletons is perhaps the most reliable gauge of the family's suitability.
In the 30 years that they have lived in the area, they have become familiar faces at village shows, local pubs and shops, earning almost impenetrable loyalty.
"Carole and Michael are a couple whose only crime has been to start their own business and do well for themselves and their children," said one long-standing friend.
"The fact that they raised a daughter who won the heart of Prince William should be to their credit, but I'm afraid that a lot of people are still obsessed by class in this country, and some will never forgive the Middletons for being middle class."
Mr Middleton (61), the Leeds-born son of an airline pilot, was working as an air steward for British Airways when he met his future wife Carole Goldsmith (55) in the mid-1970s.
Ms Goldsmith, a builder's daughter from Southall, Middlesex, was a stewardess for the same airline.
In 1979, after he was promoted to flight dispatcher for BA at Heathrow, keeping track of the fleet on the ground, the couple bought a modest Victorian semi in Bradfield Southend, a village near Reading, and married in 1980.
It was from there that they started their Party Pieces children's partyware business in 1987. It became a huge success and enabled the couple to move to a modern five-bedroomed house, set behind trees in neighbouring Bucklebury, in 1995.
It also enabled them to send their children, Kate, Pippa and James, to Marlborough College in Wiltshire.
In the past year Kate's younger siblings have proved rather less publicity-shy than their parents.
Pippa (27) works part-time in marketing and public relations for Table Talk, an events catering company, and devotes the rest of her working week to 'The Party Times', an online magazine and offshoot of the family business.
In October she invited 'The Sunday Times' to the local pub to discuss the venture (with her mother's approval) while stopping short of saying anything at all revealing.
James (23) dropped out of his English degree course at Edinburgh University to start his own cake-making company, another spin-off from his parents' firm.
Last year he was criticised for appearing in 'Hello!' magazine, baking 21 cakes to celebrate the publication's 21st birthday.