Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, is one of the most famous and photographed women in the world. That’s understandable as she will become queen consort once her husband Prince William eventually takes the throne as king of the UK. However, she started out as a “commoner,” with a fairly normal family. And there’s plenty you didn’t know about the Middletons.
Pre-William, Kate’s family existed in a curious space where they weren’t quite upper-class, nor quite middle-class. Kate’s mother Carole came from a working-class family and was a flight attendant. Carole’s parents, Dorothy and Ronald Goldsmith, reportedly couldn’t afford to send her to college when the time came.
However, Carole “married up.” While working for British Airways she encountered flight dispatcher Michael Middleton, the grandson of the wealthy aristocrat Olive Christiana Middleton. She and Michael went on to create their own business, party supply outlet Party Pieces. The money they made from that venture and an inheritance from Olive, made them millionaires.
Yet thanks to the British preoccupation with class, some people used Kate’s mother’s background against her when she first became involved with Prince William. According to a 2010 Vanity Fair piece, Wills and the Real Girl, friends of the prince used to whisper, “Doors to manual” whenever she walked in a room.
Even Kate’s engagement ring is coldly called the “Commoner’s Sapphire” by some. It first gained that title when Princess Diana chose it for her wedding to Prince Charles – as it was bought it from a catalogue instead of having a special one made. Kate’s status ensured that the ring kept that name.
However, some genealogical digging on Carole’s background by researchers unearthed the fact that she is actually a very distant relative of the Queen Mother. Her great-great-grandmother, Jane Liddle, was a descendant of King Edward VI, and she shares a distant ancestor with the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
And Kate’s father, Michael, also had close ties to the royal family. His father, Peter Middleton, was a Royal Air Force Captain. Once, he co-piloted a plane with none other than Prince Phillip, the grandfather of Prince William. Little could the two men have known that one day their grandchildren would meet and marry.
Carole and Michael had three children – Kate in 1982, Pippa in 1984, and youngest child James in 1987. The kids had a happy childhood by all accounts, and got to see the world. When Kate was a mere two years old British Airways moved Michael to a position in Amman, Jordan, and the family lived there for some time.
Kate’s biographer Marcia Moody spoke to Parade magazine about the Duchess’ childhood in 2013. She had particular praise for Carole, saying, “I think Carole Middleton is a really admirable woman. She grew up in a family with little money and was state educated, but she started up her own business from scratch, from her own idea.”
Moody continued, “[Carole] started it, built it, and made a success of it while raising three children with no formal childcare, and the business did so well that her husband gave up his job to join her. People have been called feminist role models for less!” And Carole herself has spoken to the media about Party Pieces.
Come 2018 Carole told Good Housekeeping, “In 1987, I had two young children and was pregnant with my son, James. We had come back to the UK from living abroad and I was a full-time mum. I didn’t want to miss out on my children growing up, so I considered starting my own business.”
Carole went on, “Party Pieces was as a result of my personal need for my own children’s parties. You had to hunt high and low to find suitable party supplies. I found suppliers and put up notices in my daughters’ playgroup that said ‘Planning a Party?’ and started getting orders. My memories of those early days are very vivid.”
Carole also made sure to install a work ethic in her kids. She explained, “My children have all worked for the business. Catherine started the First Birthday brand – she chose the products and looked after all the imagery and the catalogue production. Pippa set up the blog, as we didn’t have one. James came up with the idea of personalised cakes and got them off the ground for us.”
The Middleton parents also gave their children a love of sports. In 2012 an anonymous friend told GQ, “The whole family are mad about tennis and they hate losing. Carole’s brother, Gary, lost to James once, and didn’t play for years afterwards.” Incidentally, Kate’s uncle Gary Goldsmith is also a millionaire thanks to his creation of an IT recruitment company.
Kate acknowledged her upbringing in a 2015 speech at the Place2Be Headteacher Conference, which focused on mental health in children. She said, “I know that I was lucky. My parents and teachers provided me with a wonderful and secure childhood where I always knew I was loved, valued and listened to.”
Kate now has young children of her own, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. In 2019 an anonymous source told People magazine the Duchess “wants to emulate her upbringing, living in the countryside with a close-knit family. She desperately wants that normality for her own kids.”
So far Kate seems to have achieved this. She’s even been spotted telling off her kids in public, something people think she got from her own mother. In an interview with The Telegraph in 2018, Carole said, “I think one of the most important qualities of a good parent is discipline… You can’t suddenly start teaching them about politeness at 13. You have to do it from the start.”
In that interview Carole shared a few other snippets about the Middleton family. She admitted that she was worried about her children drifting away from her as they grew up. She said, “My biggest fear was that I’d lose my family, but we’ve stayed close. There are times when they say, ‘Can you do this, or that?’ and I can’t quite. But they like the fact that I work.”
Both Carole’s daughters are married now, and she was involved in both weddings, even the royal one. She told The Telegraph, I think the most important thing, as a parent, is to listen to what your daughter wants. You can have all the ideas in the world, but it has to be about them. And don’t muscle in on the guest list.”
Pippa’s wedding, while it wasn’t as big an event as Kate’s, still garnered plenty of attention. Pippa herself had become somewhat of a media star after appearing as Kate’s maid of honor at the royal nuptials. Her ivory Alexander McQueen dress proved to be extremely popular, and people snapped up copies of them.
Pippa wasn’t entirely pleased with all the media attention. She told the Today Show in 2014, “It’s really difficult… The nature of Twitter and Facebook, people will say they’ve just seen me somewhere, and particularly in a restaurant that could be the worst, because if someone tweets in a restaurant then a photographer could show up at a restaurant and then my private dinner is not so private.”
Pippa continued, “I have felt publicly bullied a little bit, like when I read things that clearly aren’t true. It is quite difficult because I’m just paving my way and trying to live a life like any 30-year old. I think people feel they can say something about you online or on a web page that they would never say to your face, and they think that’s okay.”
The cameras came out again when Pippa wed James Matthews, a racing driver turned businessman, in 2017 at a church near the Middleton’s manor in Berkshire. Pippa’s husband’s father currently bears the Scottish title Laird of Glen Affric. If the title passes to his son, Pippa may one day be Lady Glen Affric.
The brother of James Matthews is Spencer Matthews, a regular on the British reality TV show circuit. While James appears to avoid the spotlight, Spencer is the opposite. He’s appeared on The Bachelor and Made in Chelsea among others, and headlined his own show with his wife, Spencer, Vogue and Baby Too.
Pippa and James welcomed their first child in October 2018, a boy, born in the same hospital where Kate had her children. They kept his name a secret from the media at first, but eventually it came out. His full name is Arthur Michael William Matthews, and Pippa’s been spotted out and about with him occasionally.
So Pippa and James appear to be doing well, but what of the other James, Kate and Pippa’s younger brother? He is undoubtedly the most controversial member of the Middleton family. In 2008, while Kate was in the public eye, he was photographed urinating in a London street. The pictures were published in an Australian magazine, and Kate was not pleased.
A friend of the family recollected to GQ in 2012, “James did what most 21-year-olds do on their birthday and got very drunk… Michael and Carole decided to take him home early, which was a bit embarrassing for James, but they could see things getting out of control. Kate realized the potential for embarrassment and stayed at the club an extra half an hour so that she wouldn’t be photographed with James.”
The anonymous friend continued, “They tried to leave without making a scene, but the paparazzi were outside snapping away.” They got the photos they wanted… and that wasn’t to be the last time embarrassing photos of James appeared in the press. In 2009, a picture of him in a sexy maid’s outfit was published by the Mail On Sunday.
Carole reportedly warned all her children to be on their best behavior after that. James, who had always been a major party boy, begrudgingly agreed. He stopped going out clubbing, and started staying in. Reportedly at that point Prince William befriended him and started giving him advice on life in the spotlight.
However, things weren’t quite over for James yet. A few days after the royal wedding more problematic photos of him leaked onto the internet. One of them featured James naked in a chair covering himself up with his hand, another showed him baring his bottom, and third was of him jokingly pretending to have sex with another man.
Unsurprisingly, the photographs were passed around with lightning speed. Those who had shared them suddenly found themselves emailed by a lawyer claiming to represent “Nice Group London.” But this lawyer transpired to be none other than James himself, using a fake email address. The incident was an embarrassing disaster.
In 2019, long after his sister had established herself as a royal, James wrote a piece for the Daily Mail. In in he discussed the mental health issues which he had once wanted to keep secret. He wrote, “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.”
James said that one of the reasons he had decided to speak out was because of his sister’s work for mental health. Kate, Prince William and Prince Harry had launched a charity called Heads Together in 2016. Its purpose is to try and change the stigma which still surrounds mental illnesses.
James wrote of his sister and brother-in-law, “They believe we can only tackle the stigma associated with mental illness if we have the courage to change the national conversation, to expel its negative associations. So it wouldn’t be honest to suppress my story. I want to speak out, and they are my motivation for doing so.”
As well as discussing his mental health issues and his severe dyslexia, James revealed that he had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD. He said, “It was a revelation when I was told I had it. It explained so much. It is the reason I have trouble focusing; why my mind wanders off into extravagant daydreams; why simple tasks such as making my bed assume the same enormity as filing my tax return.”
James went on, “ADD explains other things, too: why I’m restless, energetic and impulsive; why I start tasks but can’t complete them; why sometimes I seem impatient and don’t listen because my mind is galloping off on some flight of fancy. However, I also see my ADD as a gift: it accounts for my creativity and emotional intensity.”
Near the end of his piece James pondered, “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.”
All the Middleton family, including Kate, joined James when he underwent therapy for his depression. Later on in 2019 the youngest Middleton told The Telegraph, “That was so important because that helped them understand me and how my mind was working. And I think the way the therapy helped me was that I didn’t need my family to say, ‘What can we do?’ The only thing they could do was just come to some of the therapy sessions to start to understand.”
James said that all his family were helping him overcome his mental health problems. He explained, “My mother will see how much I’m eating and know that there’s something wrong. She’ll see the way that I look at her and know there’s something wrong. It’s the same with all my family. We are very close.”
As of October 2019 James is engaged to Alizee Thevenet, a French financier. Kate, Prince William and Pippa will all most likely attend his wedding when it happens – as well as all the children they have between them. So all the Middletons seem to be happy at the moment – long may that continue.