Meet 'Granny Middleton'
Ainhoa explores Carole Middleton's 'hands-on' and fun approach to grandparenting
Carole Middleton is a bit of an enigma. The Princess of Wales' mother has only given a handful of interviews, usually hooked to her former business Party Pieces, and it's clear from reading those articles that she's very mindful about how she comes across.
She doesn't want to appear as though she lives in a mansion, although her Grade II-listed country home Bucklebury Manor, which has seven bedrooms, a drawing room, and a library, is said to be worth £4.7 million.
She rarely touches on her family life and those close to her who I approached for an interview politely declined, saying that Carole is a "friend" and "very private".
What we can glean though, from her few public remarks, is just how hands-on "Granny Middleton" is to her seven grandchildren – and just how fun she is, too. More on that later.
"My family are paramount," Carole has previously told The Telegraph. "They come first and that will always be the case, even when I have more 'me time'."
This week the Middleton matriarch turns 69 and while she has previously spent her birthday lapping up the sunshine in Mustique with William and Kate, we can expect a more low-key celebration this year.
Carole has been stepping up to help her eldest daughter with the kids – Prince George, ten, Princess Charlotte, eight, and Prince Louis, five – while Kate recovers from abdominal surgery.
On the first weekend that the Princess was in hospital, George, Charlotte and Louis spent the Sunday with doting grandmother Carole and grandfather Michael at their Berkshire estate, while William was at his wife's bedside in London. The Middletons have also paid Kate a private visit in hospital.
A key player in Kate's support system
"Carole has always been very hands-on," my fellow royal clubber Emily said. "She and her husband Michael often step in to look after the children when William and Kate are overseas, and they will no doubt be stepping up more than ever while Kate recovers from her surgery.
"Carole takes the children on outings near her home and spends time with them on holidays at home and abroad. She's a huge support to both her and William.
"Since Prince George's birth, the Middletons have played a key role in the children's upbringing. He spent the first weeks of his life at their home in Bucklebury while his parents adjusted to their new roles."
William has been holding the fort at home in Windsor, alongside their long-term nanny Maria and other staff.
But Carole remains instrumental to the Wales' support system and has always been their preferred go-to babysitter. In their earlier years of parenting, she was often pictured arriving at their London home Kensington Palace, as William and Kate were heading out to an official evening engagement.
Carole has admitted she models herself on her own mother-in-law when it comes to grandmotherly duties. "I had a wonderful role model in Mike's mother, who I tried to emulate," she has previously told The Telegraph.
She clearly relishes her time with all seven of her grandchildren. As well as her high-profile royal grandkids, her daughter Pippa has three of her own (Arthur, six, Grace, two, and Rose, one) while her son James has just become a dad to baby Inigo.
"She may now be a grandmother of seven, but I'm sure all the family are rallying around to help the Waleses as much as they can," Emily said.
"The Middletons are a really close family, " Ingrid Seward, editor in chief of Majesty magazine, also said. "Carole is a very hands-on grandmother, and I'm sure she will be at the helm. She often picks the kids up from school. Pippa has children of her own now, but I'm sure she will help by offering to have the kids round for tea and that kind of thing."
'Fun' Granny Middleton
"Hands-on" is a word Carole uses to describe herself. I'm imagining the Middleton matriarch, who's partial to old-fashioned games like sardines and musical statues, letting the kids run riot in the 18 acres of land of her country mansion.
"I want to run down the hills, climb the trees, and go through the tunnel at the playground. As long as I am able to, that's what I'll be doing. I cook with them, I muck around dancing, we go on bike rides," she's previously told Good Housekeeping.
"If I'm doing planting with my grandchildren, I like to have it all laid out at 'activity stations' with their own little trowel and pot so they can get started immediately. It's important for children to grow up appreciating nature and part of that is allowing them to get a bit muddy," she said in Saga magazine. It's no wonder Kate is such a fan of the outdoors and always encourages her children to get out and play.
We know that Carole also loves a kitchen disco; like many mothers and grandmothers, the kitchen is the heart of the house. She likes her grandchildren to get stuck in with the "chopping and stirring" and believes in the whole family eating together from as soon as the little ones "can sit up properly".
Carole's "biggest fear" was her family drifting apart as they grew up, but "we've stayed close" she's told The Telegraph. Being present for a young Kate, Pippa, and James was paramount to her, even when she was juggling her own party supplies empire. And their closeness as a family now is testament to Carole's parenting success.
She didn't have what her children had growing up. Her father was a builder, her mother worked in a factory, and they lived on a council estate in west London. She left school at 16 but after a stint working, she returned to do her A-Levels. Her parents couldn't afford to send her to university though.
While working as a flight attendant at British Airways, she met aero manager Michael, who she went on to marry. The couple spent three years living in Jordan, but the expat life wasn't for Carole and Michael's job was coming to an end. They moved back to England. Kate, at this point, was four, while Pippa was 18 months younger; Carole was pregnant with James.
The rise and fall of her family business
"I had this strong feeling that I hadn't achieved anything. I got married at 25, had Catherine at 26," Carole admitted to The Telegraph. Her brainchild Party Pieces was born the same year as her son – a one-stop shop for party supplies.
It was truly a family affair. Kate started the First Birthday brand, Pippa set up the blog, while James launched the personalised cakes. As kids, they also modelled for the business's marketing material.
Carole was a grafter and by the time Kate was dating William, her business was valued at £30 million.
Unfortunately, Party Pieces collapsed last year after racking up over £2.5 million worth of debt. By that point, Carole had stepped back from the day-to-day management and she was said to be "desperately sad" to see her family business fold.
Her resourcefulness and stoicism are key traits that Carole has passed down to her children though. She believes in working hard; Kate is the epitome of duty and service to the crown.
And while she's had bad press in the past (remember those headlines about 'Coach Carole' which also filtered down to her daughter 'Waity Katie'?), you may be glad to hear that she no longer takes any notice. Good on you, Carole.
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