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

The Mail on Sunday - You - - Interview - Amy E Wil­liams IN­TER­VIEW Anna Cervinkova PHOTOGRAPHS

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

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