Carole and Michael Middleton are heading for a very good Coronation. At the event on May 6, which they are expected to attend, their daughter Kate will take a delicate step closer to being Queen one day.
No parents could be prouder of their daughter, who discharges her royal and familial duties with such impeccable grace.
As entrepreneurs, they will also be hoping that by that point they will have done some brisk pre-Coronation business at their company, Party Pieces, which is selling a range of Coronation-themed items on its website.
There is Coronation Flag Bunting (£4.99 for three metres), which features the side profile of the King in gold on a Union Jack background, not to mention the Great British Party hats and flags set (£5), which features paper crowns and tiaras, plus essentials such as Union Jack paper plates (£4.99 for eight).
Yet for the Middletons, who have built their kitchen-table business into an empire, this will mark a rather significant moment in their business journey for other reasons.
Carole and Michael Middleton built their kitchen-table business, Party Pieces, into an empire
For friends reveal that Carole, 68, and Michael, 73, are planning to step away from the firm.
The couple have decided that the time is finally right to retire — and they are hoping to sell the company in the coming weeks to investors who will continue the brand.
They own just over half the company, with two investors owning the rest. To this end, they have appointed strategic advisers at the company Interpath. Last week, a Party Pieces spokesman commented on news of Interpath’s involvement: ‘We are working with our advisers to secure additional investment which will help support the business as we look to embark on the next phase of our growth plan.’
In truth, the ‘next phase’ of the growth plan is that the couple are ready to walk away, the better to enjoy their six grandchildren.
A friend says: ‘Carole and Mike are ready to retire, and rather than just shut up shop, they are looking at the options to see whether someone will buy the business.
‘Carole has poured her heart and soul into Party Pieces and loves the business, but she’s 68 and is there running things pretty much full-time every day. It’s too much of a commitment — she wants more time for family, gardening and travel.’
I’m told there wasn’t one particular spur that led to her decision but, instead, the question of Party Pieces and its future has been a conversation in the family for some time, and she has gradually realised that this is the moment to move on.
The friend says: ‘It has taken her a while to come to terms with the fact that she’s ready to step away and enjoy her time more. There are now a lot of grandchildren and she loves being a granny.’
Carole and her family never put a foot wrong, no matter what the provocation. They were polite, they were patient and they kept their mouths firmly shut
Carole has George, nine, Charlotte, seven, and Louis, four, through daughter Kate and Prince William. Late last year the Cambridges moved to Adelaide Cottage on the Windsor estate — much closer to the Middleton family home in Berkshire.
This has made it easier for Carole, already an involved grandmother, to become yet more indispensable to Kate. And let’s not forget that, following the Queen’s death last September, Kate and William have never been busier with official duties.
There are also three other grandchildren via daughter Pippa and her banker husband, James Matthews — Arthur, four, Grace, two, and baby Rose. That young family fairly recently moved into the same Berkshire village that Carole and Michael have called home for decades.
Son James and his wife, Alizee, are local, too — all of which means that there is a lot keeping her in Bucklebury at the beautiful Grade II-listed manor house they bought for £4.5 million, rather than at the offices of the company which are at a farm in nearby Ashampstead.
And alongside that pull, there is no question that it has been a challenge running a partyware company in the teeth first of a pandemic and then a cost-of-living crisis.
Indeed, in January this year it was reported that Carole had been dealing personally and directly with suppliers, asking for an extended period in which to pay for goods received by the company. One source said: ‘Carole’s been explaining that it has been a terrible Christmas, made worse by the postal strikes. She has emphasised that she’d like to continue doing business with them [the suppliers], but would like terms allowing Party Pieces 90 days rather than the usual 30 days.’
But the woe is not a one-off. Last October, accounts showed a loss of £285,506 in 2021, taking the company’s total deficit to £1.35 million. It was explained this was due to the launch of a wholesale division and plans to open in the U.S., across Europe and in the Middle East — plus six months of lockdowns.
Carole said: ‘We operate in a very competitive market. We work hard to stay ahead of the trends and ensure we have original designs and ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ products.’
The story of the rise of Party Pieces is also the story of the rise of the Middleton family — and all three children have worked for the company at some point.
It was launched in 1987 when Carole was pregnant with son James and looking for some fun paper plates for Kate’s fifth birthday. Surprised by the lack of options, she decided that she could do better.
Carole, brought up in a council flat and later a small terrace house in Southall, West London, left school at 16 and worked for the Prudential insurance company before getting a job as ground staff for British Airways at Heathrow.
Prince Louis looks tempted as mum Kate watches him, George and Charlotte decorate cakes for a street party in Cardiff
There, she met Michael Middleton, a flight dispatcher who is six years her senior. His family were wealthy and he had been privately educated at Clifton College in Bristol.
They tied the knot in June 1980. In the first years of the marriage they lived in Jordan, where Michael worked, but Carole wasn’t sure she was cut out to be an expat mum, so they returned to the UK in 1986 — and it was then that Carole launched her ‘kitchen-table business’ Party Pieces.
At first she was simply preparing party bags for the parents of her daughters’ school friends, but over time the business grew sufficiently to take over a shed in their garden and eventually to require its own premises.
The key change was the advent of online shopping in the 1990s. Michael Middleton gave up his job to get involved as it took off. At the time of their daughter’s wedding to Prince William, Party Pieces was said — perhaps over-excitedly — to be worth £30 million.
Certainly the business helped to pay the school fees for all three children, who were expensively educated at Marlborough College.
There, ‘the Mids’ became renowned for doing everything just that crucial bit better than their contemporaries.
One fellow parent told Tatler magazine: ‘There was always something slightly galling about having your children at school with the Middletons.
‘Every pristine item of clothing would have a beautifully sewn-in name tape, for instance. It was unthinkable that they would end up resorting to marker pen on labels like the rest of us.
‘There were huge picnics on sports days, the smartest tennis rackets — that kind of thing. It made the rest of us all feel rather hopeless.’
The writer added: ‘Ultimately, Carole has played a blinder as a mother. Not only are all of her children unfairly good-looking, they are also famously charming. Always the first to write a thank-you letter, they dance all night and are still the first up in the morning, plumping cushions and washing up.’
Naturally, when Kate caught Prince William’s eye at St Andrews University and then spent years as his girlfriend before their wedding in 2011, the whole family were greatly scrutinised.
Carole’s fun-loving brother, Gary, living in Maison de Bang Bang in Ibiza, was interviewed. Carole was chastised for chewing gum during Prince William’s passing out parade at Sandhurst. And, woundingly, Kate was branded ‘Waity Katie’.
However, as all the Marlborough mums could have told you, Carole and her family never put a foot wrong, no matter what the provocation. They were polite, they were patient and they kept their mouths firmly shut.
Friends reveal that Carole, 68, and Michael, 73, are planning to step away from the firm
The Queen’s maxim — ‘Never complain, never explain’ — was adopted as their own.
And in the meantime, Carole quietly got on with running her party enterprise with formidable drive and energy.
She gave a rare interview to this newspaper in 2021 and was asked why she didn’t feel the urge to retire from the party supplies business, particularly having come through the pandemic.
She said the thought had not even crossed her mind.
‘They say if you do a job you enjoy, you don’t work a day in your life — and I truly feel like that, even when it’s very busy,’ she said.
But in the end, with her daughter taking on an ever-larger public role, the time has finally come for her to concentrate on supporting her family.
Carole said in 2021: ‘The only thing I can say about being a mother is how much I loved it and still do. Mike was a good hands-on father and we found a way to make business and family life work.’
But now, the time has come for others to work on growing the business and for Carole — perhaps now the nation’s number one grandmother — to enjoy that role to the full.