Daily Mail

What’s re­ally be­hind Ca­role Mid­dle­ton’s PR blitz?

As she breaks 15-year si­lence...

- RICHARD KAY

FOR some­one who re­coils from pub­lic at­ten­tion, it is the most un­ex­pected of de­vel­op­ments. Ever since her daugh­ter Kate was first courted by Prince Wil­liam 15 years ago, Ca­role Mid­dle­ton has been the model of dis­cre­tion. Only once has she spo­ken out to voice her con­cerns about the im­pact that scru­tiny has had on her life: ‘I’m not a celebrity and don’t want to be one,’ she vol­un­teered. ‘Celebritie­s have min­ders and PR peo­ple. I don’t want a PR per­son and wouldn’t want to have to pay to em­ploy one. I haven’t asked for all this.’

‘All this’, of course, was the re­lent­less fo­cus she has faced, on ev­ery­thing from her ap­pear­ance, to her early life in a hum­ble coun­cil flat and mock­ery over her so­cial back­ground, to her chil­dren and her mar­riage.

This rare in­ter­ven­tion was long be­fore Kate and Wil­liam were even mar­ried, and years be­fore Ca­role be­came the in­dis­pens­able and ca­pa­ble grand­mother to the fu­ture king. Even when the cou­ple were en­gaged, Ca­role con­fined her pub­lic com­ments to just five words. ‘We’ve never done this be­fore,’ she said, de­fer­ring to her hus­band Michael, who read from a writ­ten state­ment of their hap­pi­ness at their daugh­ter’s be­trothal to the Queen’s grand­son.

So her de­ci­sion sud­denly to grant not just one, but two, soft­lysoftly mag­a­zine in­ter­views has left courtiers baf­fled and also a lit­tle un­easy.

First, she ap­peared in a broad­sheet news­pa­per’s colour sup­ple­ment on Sun­day. Now, she has also been in­ter­viewed in the new edi­tion of Good House­keep­ing mag­a­zine, in which she poses for the pic­ture on the op­po­site page sur­rounded by sea­sonal props.

Is this, they won­der, the start of some new pub­lic re­la­tions strat­egy, or it sim­ply a sign of the busi­ness-savvy drive of the very prac­ti­cal Mrs Mid­dle­ton?

That the in­ter­views ap­pear at the very mo­ment ques­tions are be­ing asked about her daugh­ter’s frosty re­la­tion­ship with her royal sis­ter- in- law, the Duchess of Sus­sex, is surely a co­in­ci­dence.

Palace of­fi­cials have been des­per­ate to down­play talk of a rift be­tween Kate and Meghan, and in­sist there has been no fall­ing out which has af­fected their hus­bands’ close­ness.

Nev­er­the­less, aides pri­vately con­cede that the two duchesses do not get on par­tic­u­larly well. So Ca­role’s de­ci­sion to speak now, how­ever co­in­ci­den­tal, has only served to add to the in­trigue.

Un­til Meghan and her very un­con­ven­tional fam­ily came along, the Mid­dle­tons were the num­ber one in-laws. Wel­comed into the Royal Fam­ily by Wil­liam, they have been given front row seats at al­most ev­ery key event since his West­min­ster Abbey wed­ding to their daugh­ter in 2011.

They have ce­mented their place in royal life in a man­ner un­think­able a gen­er­a­tion ago. In the process, they have nim­bly avoided the tra­di­tional fate of royal in­laws down the ages.

For years, the Mid­dle­tons’ pre­de­ces­sors have been solidly side­lined and rarely in­vited to Royal Fam­ily gath­er­ings. YET, two years ago, the cou­ple were guests at Bal­moral, the most in­ti­mate and pri­vate of all the royal res­i­dences, and Ca­role was pho­tographed there in the front pas­sen­ger seat of a car be­ing driven by the Queen.

Not only did this be­stow royal ap­proval for the man­ner in which the cou­ple have han­dled be­ing thrust into the pub­lic eye, it also put an end to claims they were be­ing frozen out be­cause of their close in­volve­ment in the up­bring­ing of the Queen’s great-grand­chil­dren.

Ca­role, re­mem­ber, is the only grand­mother Ge­orge, Char­lotte and Louis have and as such has been a vi­tal consoling pres­ence for Kate as well as an ex­tra pair of hands.

But Meghan’s ar­rival has un­doubt­edly up­set this par­tic­u­lar royal ap­ple­cart.

The for­mer ac­tress’s flu­ent pub­lic ap­pear­ances and the grace and dig­nity of her African-Amer­i­can mother Do­ria, as well as her fa­ther Thomas Markle’s bizarre prewed­ding melt­down, have made her a firm favourite.

With Harry by some dis­tance the most ad­mired royal af­ter the Queen, he and Meghan have be­come one of the most glam­orous cou­ples on the planet.

His pop­u­lar­ity and her cam­paign­ing zeal are fast turn­ing the Sus­sexes into a dar­ingly mod­ern royal power cou­ple. Fac­tor in, too, Meghan’s preg­nancy, which means another grand­par­ent shar­ing the lime­light with Prince Charles.

Some say this has all had a knockon ef­fect on the per­cep­tion of Wil­liam and Kate with the pub­lic. NExT year, when Harry and Meghan be­come par­ents, all eyes will be on them even more. And on softly-spo­ken Do­ria.

Ever since Prince Charles gal­lantly took her arm at Harry and Meghan’s wed­ding in St Ge­orge’s Chapel, Wind­sor, he has be­come a huge ad­mirer of the for­mer yoga in­struc­tor and so­cial worker.

While his re­la­tion­ship with the Mid­dle­tons has been cor­dial rather than close, he has been irked that they have been closer to the grand­chil­dren than he has been.

Some in royal cir­cles sug­gest that as a con­se­quence he has wanted to build a closer un­der­stand­ing with Harry’s mother-in-law.

These com­pet­ing dy­nam­ics make Mrs Mid­dle­ton’s in­ter­views with the Tele­graph and Good House­keep­ing so in­trigu­ingly timed.

Out­wardly, they were to mark the 30th an­niver­sary of Party Pieces, her mail- or­der one- stop shop for party para­pher­na­lia, but for a woman who has al­ways pro­ceeded with such cau­tion, she must have ag­o­nised over the de­ci­sion.

At the fore­front of her think­ing would have been the risk of speak­ing out, how­ever well-in­ten­tioned. Af­ter all, she only had to ask daugh­ter Pippa, who was ridiculed af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of her par­ty­plan­ning book Cel­e­brate, with its painfully ob­vi­ous pieces of ad­vice.

Even the royals them­selves have come a crop­per with busi­ness en­ter­prises: think of the Count­ess of Wes­sex and her PR com­pany. And the Duchess of York, a free spirit com­mer­cially, has suf­fered em­bar­rass­ments.

In­evitably, the ques­tion be­ing asked yes­ter­day was why Ca­role chose now to break her si­lence.

Ex­pe­ri­ence, surely, would have told her that what­ever she said it would be re­ported far and wide.

So I am cer­tain that even though she would not have needed her son-in-law’s per­mis­sion, she must have sought it.

‘Make no mis­take, Ca­role would not have done it if there had been any ob­jec­tions,’ says an old friend of the Mid­dle­tons. ‘In all these years, she hasn’t put a foot wrong, and while she doesn’t rock the boat she would also have wanted to en­sure there was ap­proval.’

The dis­clo­sure that Kate sent her a text to wish her good luck ahead of the pho­to­shoot in­di­cates that her el­dest daugh­ter was in on it. Pippa and their brother James also gave their sup­port to the project.

‘ It was very much a fam­ily de­ci­sion,’ a close source tells me. ‘The feel­ing was “why not’’? Thirty years is a fan­tas­tic an­niver­sary and is some­thing to cel­e­brate.’

How­ever, I un­der­stand the tim­ing of the in­ter­views was crit­i­cal.

Ac­cord­ing to a fam­ily source, the dates were de­lib­er­ately cho­sen so they did not co­in­cide with any­thing royal go­ing on.

‘ Ca­role did not want to be ac­cused of dis­tract­ing from any­thing,’ says the source.

There may be a clue in that brief ex­change she had all those years ago, when she told a news­pa­per di­arist: ‘ I feel very vul­ner­a­ble about ev­ery­thing,’ adding: ‘I’m con­cerned about my busi­ness; that’s my fo­cus. I don’t want the at­ten­tion to de­tract from that.’

And the fact is Party Pieces has been a very good busi­ness. It be­gan when she was preg­nant with her son James and, keen for some­thing to do, she hit upon the idea of pro­vid­ing all the bits and pieces for the par­ties that friends of Kate and Pippa were hav­ing.

To­day there are around 7,000 prod­ucts, which, dur­ing the busiest pe­ri­ods, gen­er­ate 4,000 or­ders a week. And Christ­mas is clearly the busiest time of all.

So, on one level, Ca­role’s in­ter­views make per­fect busi­ness sense. But if the en­ter­prise has been such a phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess, one is tempted to won­der why it should

need any ad­di­tional pub­lic­ity. As a pri­vate en­ter­prise run as a part­ner­ship, the firm does not have to pub­lish its ac­counts or re­veal any fi­nan­cial de­tails.

Most small busi­nesses in Bri­tain are run as lim­ited com­pa­nies, which means their ac­counts have to be filed at Com­pa­nies House, where they are avail­able for all to see as a mat­ter of pub­lic record.

But be­ing a gen­eral part­ner­ship, Party Pieces’ ac­counts re­main strictly be­tween the Mid­dle­tons and the tax­man. This ar­range­ment has tax ad­van­tages be­cause it means they are taxed as in­di­vid­u­als through in­come tax, and may pay lower Na­tional In­sur­ance con­tri­bu­tions.

The down­side is that, should the com­pany fail, all their worldly goods — in­clud­ing their home would be at risk. Yet that is hardly likely.

At the time of Kate and Wil­liam’s wed­ding, re­tail an­a­lysts pre­dicted that the com­pany, based a few min­utes’ drive from the Mid­dle­ton fam­ily home at Buck­le­bury, Berks, was worth £30 mil­lion. In the years since, it has boomed. And Ca­role and Michael are the only share­hold­ers. So might they be look­ing to re­tire? Mike is 70 next year and Ca­role is 63. Brand ex­perts say it is the royal link that gen­er­ates their firm’s huge turnover. From her in­ter­view, Ca­role did not give the im­pres­sion of some­one want­ing to sell up. Party Pieces is her baby and she is in­cred­i­bly proud of what she has achieved.

Her en­thu­si­asm for life, for fam­ily and for work shine through.

If noth­ing else, her in­ter­view re­veals a kindly fig­ure, cau­tious but also fun. Just the sort of moth­erly woman Kate might grow into.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Party queen: Ca­role pos­ing for Good House­keep­ing mag­a­zine
Party queen: Ca­role pos­ing for Good House­keep­ing mag­a­zine

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK