James Middleton: Kate and Pippa's little brother who carved out a quiet life away from the royal fishbowl
Being a royal-in-law isn’t all lunches at Kensington Palace and Christmases with Queen Elizabeth.
When Kate Middleton married Prince William in 2011, there was no rule book with directions in how families would merge with royals and any successful model they've built has been based on trial and error. The Middletons had the advantage of time before Kate walked up the aisle as she and William had already been together for nearly 10 years by the time they wed.
There would be plenty of hiccups, but the Middletons had proven time and again they could be counted on for their discretion and support.
'The Firm' had learned the hard way that isolating a young woman and forcing her into a life of royal servitude wasn’t exactly a responsible recipe for a happy marriage thanks to the disastrous divorces between Princess Diana and Prince Charles and Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew.
By the time Kate came into the picture and with the pull William has as heir to the British throne, they could carve out a happy life together - a compromise in which they balance their royal duties without isolating your family.
And so Kate’s parents Michael and Carole were treated as equals to Prince Charles and Camilla both at their wedding, during their married life and now as grandparents to their three children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
But what of her siblings? After Pippa’s turn as maid of honour, during a time just a few short years ago when the objectification of a woman’s bum made her an overnight mainstream celebrity, she embraced her newfound fame.
She pursued a questionable career as a correspondent with Good Morning America and published a party-planning advice book, after which William reportedly took her aside discreetly and encouraged her to pursue a life away from the spotlight.
Now, she’s happily married to multi-millionaire hedge fund manager James Matthews and mother to 10-month-old son Arthur. The youngest Middleton sibling James, who was just 23 when the family was propelled to global stardom, had a rockier road to self-satisfaction.
He struggled to cope with the attention at first, in particular when it came to assessment of his business ventures. At the time, he was a fresh graduate of environmental resource management from the University of Edinburgh and was still figuring out his next move.
Unlike his sisters after graduation, he didn’t take on a full-time role at their parents’ wildly successful party supply company, trying to create his own path to entrepreneurial success.
This, of course, meant that he was subject to more scrutiny from his independent business ventures, like his ill-fated cakemaking business and most recently Boomf, the novelty marshmallow company which recorded losses of £3m last year.
"Suddenly, and very publicly, I was being judged about whether I was a success or a failure," he told Tatler magazine this week. "That does put pressure on you. Because in my mind I’m doing this irrespective of my family and events that have happened."
It was no longer feasible to pursue his businesses and last year, he became a host tour guide at Affric Lodge, the 10,000 acre estate in the Scottish Highlands, owned by Pippa Middleton’s father-in-law David Matthews.
“I’ve always been the family member who will go and make a bonfire and gather people round, even in the pouring rain. It’s what I love doing and I know that people will really enjoy it,” he previously told Vogue.
“I don’t see it as work at all. I’d probably be [at the house] whether there are guests or not, so I’m excited to share the experience.”
In a separate interview last year in coordination with the announcement of his new role, he reflected on fond memories of his childhood spent outdoors, asserting he felt at home in the fresh air.
"The countryside has always been a big part of my life. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about the countryside’s beauty and fresh, clean air," he said in an interview for the property's managers at the Oteker Collection.
"Spending quality time with friends and family amid glorious surroundings is one of the biggest pleasures that life can offer.”
The fact that there are interviews with James to cite is uncharacteristic in itself - aside from a handful of soundbites over the years, he has preferred not to draw attention to himself, even when he was dating TV presenter Donna Air.
Donna, despite being a well-known personality all her own, was also exceptionally discreet when referring to her famous ex during their three-year relationship.
Now that arranged marriages are a thing of the past, there is an increasing need for assessment in how in-laws are supported. Princess Tessy of Luxembourg was 19 when she met ex-husband Prince Louis and after their wedding in 2006, she found herself virtually estranged from much of her family due to the pressures on them.
"My family suffered greatly when I married into the family. My little cousin needed to change school twice," she told Sky News. "My twin brother was incredibly bullied a work - still is today - my sister, my parents suffered...my oldest brother doesn't talk to me any more because of that, because it was too much for him to handle.”
James echoed a similar statement, while making it clear he is still close with his sisters on a personal level, but distancing himself from the attention. Although he seems exceptionally close to Pippa and they are often pictured together during their annual trip to Wimbledon or holidaying in St Barth's with their respective parnters.
"I lead a separate life to them. If there's interest in me, great. If there's interest in me because of them, that's different," he told Tatler.
The last 12 months have been transformative for James: he launched an Instagram account in which he mostly shares pictures of his four dogs Ella, Zulu, Inka, Luna and Mabel; but he has made strides in his efforts in encouraging transparency in the conversation around mental health.
Kate has been a vocal advocate for mental health, launching Heads Together with her husband and brother-in-law Prince Harry (both of whom have been open about their own struggles, in particular related to grief) and James said he was inspired by their good work to share his story.
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‘The doctor said “James are you okay?” And I said “NO, I’m not”’ the words acted like a like a valve: ‘Even saying that was an easing of the pressure. I was saying I wasn’t okay, when each day I’d wake up pretending I was.’ The dogs and I spent some time with @tatlermagazine talking about dogs, business but most importantly mental health... August issue available Thursday 27th June #Itsgoodtotalk #itsoktonotbeok #mentalhealth #dogsofinstagram #tatler #petsastherapy
Earlier this year, he came to the fore when he spoke at length about his experience with depression, describing it as a "cancer of the mind", expressing his guilt at struggling with mental health when he lived a life of privelge.
"It’s what keeps you in bed, while anxiety makes you feel guilty for being there," he said. "I thought ‘What do I have to be depressed about?’ I’ve been so lucky with my upbringing, I had all the things I wanted. It’s not that I wanted more, but there was something that wasn’t always there... And the more I ignored it, the more it was taking over."
In a piece for the Daily Mail, the Boomf business owner wrote at length about his mental health and said he was inspired by the work his sister and Princes William and Harry were doing with Heads Together, which inspired his decision to speak out and destigmatise the issue.
"During the day I’d drag myself up and go to work, then just stare with glazed eyes at my computer screen, willing the hours to tick by so I could drive home again. Debilitating inertia gripped me. I couldn’t respond to the simplest message so I didn’t open my e-mails," he wrote in the Daily Mai.
"All colour and emotion had leached out of my world and everything was grey and monotone. I know I’m richly blessed and live a privileged life. But it did not make me immune to depression. It is tricky to describe the condition. It is not merely sadness. It is an illness, a cancer of the mind."
Middleton went to describe his feelings as a "complete failure" which plagued him with self-doubt and a "sense of worthlessness and desperation" which led to him feeling increasingly isolated, despite having a loving support network of family and close friends around him.
"It’s not a feeling but an absence of feelings. You exist without purpose or direction. I couldn’t feel joy, excitement or anticipation – only heart-thudding anxiety propelled me out of bed in the morning. I didn’t actually contemplate suicide, but I didn’t want to live in the state of mind I was in either," he said.
It's clear that James has never pursued the limelight or used his sister's royal status to further his personal life, but he is an example of using the public interest in his personal life for the greater good and that by sharing his story, he may help someone else in the same position.
"People have asked me, too, if my public profile has made it harder for me," he said. "Would I have become so depressed if I hadn’t been subject to the pressure of public scrutiny that comes with my association with the Royal Family?
"The answer is, I believe I would. But I wouldn’t have found a voice or an outlet for my story if it hadn’t been for the people I’m related to. And that puts me in a unique position of privilege and trust. I feel I have a duty to speak out, so I can help others who are suffering as I did."