Meet the HOGWARTS HEIRESS
Her family home is Alnwick Castle of Harry Potter fame, where her wedding was the society event of the year. But MISSY PERCY prefers muddy fields to posh parties. So when the fairy tale ended in divorce, she put on her wellies and rediscovered her country
a little bit disappointing to discover that Lady Melissa ‘Missy’ Percy is not a party animal. The headlines I’d read before our meeting go something along the lines of ‘The very naughty girl who broke royal pal’s heart’, in reference to her divorce from one of Prince William’s closest friends, and ‘More fun than the Middletons’, suggesting that some guests had skipped Pippa Middleton’s May nuptials to attend Missy’s 30th birthday bash instead. It is often noted that she is ‘fun-loving’: a ‘dancing on tables’ kind of a girl.
‘I’ve never danced on a table in my life!’ she corrects. ‘I’m not a party animal; in fact, I get quite nervous in rooms full of people. And anyway, Percys notoriously do not dance!’
Wrong then on the partying front, but possibly the newsmen have it spot on with the ‘fun-loving’ bit because after a day in her company I can tell you that fun and energy are attributes not lacking in Missy Percy. She’s simply more likely to channel them romping up Scottish hillsides than doing all-nighters in London clubs. When we meet for the YOU photo shoot at Burncastle Lodge, the sumptuous Scottish Borders hideaway built by her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, as a summertime escape from the family’s main residence (Alnwick Castle in northeast England), she engages and enraptures the team with consummate ease. This is her home but we’re all very welcome.
She kits us all out in wellies from the boot room, chauffeurs us along steep mud tracks in her 4x4 and then insists over lunch that she needs to know everyone’s answer to her all-important Service Station Challenge: if you were hungover and stranded on the M1, what fizzy drink, snack and chocolate bar would you buy? (Hers: Irn Bru, Monster Munch and a Boost.) She challenged Johnny Vaughan once and then he used the idea on his radio show.
Along with her three siblings, Catherine (Katie), 35, George, 33, and Max, 27, Missy is sometimes referred to as a ‘Hogwarts heir’, on account of Alnwick’s modern-day role as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter movies. The casting of the castle (it also had a star turn in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) is a mixed blessing for the Percys. The J K Rowling effect means they’ve hit the jackpot in terms of visitor numbers and cashflow (not that the family need be greatly concerned about the bottom line when recent rich lists put their wealth at the £370 million mark, with land in Yorkshire and the West Country as well as Alnwick, Burncastle and Syon House in London). It also means they now prefer to decamp to Burncastle during the summer holidays, when broomstick lessons and photo ops with Hagrid rather take over.
The Borders lodge, an hour or so away, suits them all just fine because although the Percys may not be up to much on the dancefloor they are hotshots, quite literally, when it comes to country pursuits. Missy was eight when she picked up her first gun, nine when she shot her first pheasant and 11 when she took down her first grouse. ‘As children it was all about the great outdoors,’ she says. ‘If we weren’t shooting or fishing we were playing on motorbikes or generally running around like little rotters.’ They’re a highly competitive bunch, though she does concede that her mother Jane and sister Katie are probably the best female shots in the land. They also partly inspired Missy’s new clothing collection, Mistamina, a range of jackets, shirts, jumpers and trousers designed for girls who want to shoot, fish and stalk but don’t do purple tweed.
Launching the business is the start of a new chapter for Missy and the first time she has ventured into either the entrepreneurial or the fashion fray. But what she lacks in fashion design training or retail experience she makes up for in her aforementioned energy and get-up-and-go – qualities she has been putting into practice for years.
Missy was just 14 when she embarked upon her career plan A: to become a professional tennis player. She left Millfield, the sports-mad boarding school in Somerset, to join a tennis academy in Florida where she spent six hours a day on the court, far away from friends and family but happy and determined. ‘It was a lonely life but I loved it.’ She was supported but, unlike many Wimbledon wannabes, not particularly encouraged by her mother and father who she says are the antithesis of pushy parents. ‘They tried to put me off the idea of a tennis career – I was so young. But, looking back, it is pretty awesome that they allowed me to leave school and live on the other side of the world.’
Missy had all the natural talent to justify the move – she could have played professional hockey, too – but although she made it into the world’s top 500, took part in Junior Wimbledon and joined the WTA circuit, she fell short of her personal goal of achieving a top 200 ranking before she turned 21. ‘The tennis world is not very friendly: once you start competing, everyone is out for themselves. I was beginning to quite fancy a normal life. I remember calling Dad at one point and saying, “All I want to do is wake up at 8 o’clock, put on a suit and grab a Starbucks on my way to the office like other people.” I missed my family, I was jealous of my friends and I was just ready to come home.’
On her return to the UK, At Missy’s 2013 wedding to Thomas van Straubenzee, below right, guests included Princes William and Harry, below left
If we weren’t shooting or fishing we were playing on motorbikes