Carol and Michael Middleton are heading for a very good Rite. At the May 6 event, which they are supposed to attend, their daughter Kate will take a delicate step to become queen one day.
No parent could be more proud of their daughter, who carries out her royal and family duties with impeccable grace.
As entrepreneurs, they also hope that by then they will have had a good pre-coronation business at their company, Party Pieces, which sells a range of coronation-themed items on its website.
There’s the Coronation Flag Bunting (£4.99 for three yards), which features the side profile of the king in gold against a Union Jack background, and there’s the Great British Party hat and flag set (£5) , which includes paper crowns and tiaras, plus essentials such as Union Jack paper plates (£4.99 for eight).
Yet for the Middletons, who have turned their kitchen table business into an empire, this will mark a pretty significant moment in their career for other reasons.
Carole and Michael Middleton have built their kitchen table business, Party Pieces, into an empire
Because friends reveal that Carole, 68, and Michael, 73, are considering retiring from the firm.
The couple have decided that the time has finally come to retire – and they hope to sell the business in the coming weeks to investors who will pursue the brand.
They own just over half of the company, with two investors owning the rest. To this end, they have appointed strategic advisers within the Interpath company. Last week, a spokesperson for Party Pieces commented on the news of Interpath’s involvement: “We are working with our advisors to secure additional investment that will help support the business as we consider embarking on the next phase of our growth plan.”
In truth, the “next phase” of the growth plan is that the couple is ready to go, to better enjoy their six grandchildren.
A friend says: “Carole and Mike are ready to retire, and rather than just closing up shop, they are looking at options to see if someone will buy the business.”
“Carole is a big heart and soul in Party Pieces and loves the business, but she’s 68 and runs things pretty much full time every day.” It’s too much of a commitment – she wants more time for family, gardening and travel.
I am told that there was no particular spur that led to his decision but, instead, the question of Party Pieces and its future has been a conversation in the family for some time, and she gradually realized that it was time to move on.
The friend says: ‘It’s taken her a while to come to terms with the fact that she’s ready to walk away and enjoy her time more. There are now many grandchildren and she loves being a grandmother.
Carole and her family were never mistaken, no matter the provocation. They were polite, they were patient and they kept their mouths shut
Carole has George, nine, Charlotte, seven, and Louis, four, through her daughter Kate and Prince William. At the end of last year, the Cambridges moved to Adelaide Cottage on the Windsor Estate – much closer to the Middleton family home in Berkshire.
This allowed Carole, already an involved grandmother, to become even 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 their official duties.
There are also three other grandchildren via daughter Pippa and her banker husband, James Matthews – Arthur, four, Grace, two, and little Rose. This young family recently moved to the same Berkshire village that Carole and Michael have called home for decades.
Her son James and his wife, Alizee, are also locals – meaning there’s a lot that keeps her in Bucklebury at the stunning Grade II listed mansion they bought for £4.5million, rather than in company offices. which are on a farm in nearby Ashampstead.
And alongside that pull, there’s no doubt that running a party supplies business in the face of a pandemic, and then a cost-of-living crisis, has been a challenge.
Indeed, in January this year, it was reported that Carole had dealt personally and directly with suppliers, requesting an extended period to pay for goods received by the company. A source said: ‘Carole explained that Christmas had been terrible, made worse by the postal strikes. She stressed that she would like to continue doing business with them [the suppliers]but would like the terms to allow Party Pieces 90 days instead of the usual 30 days.
But misfortune is not unique. Accounts last October showed a loss of £285,506 in 2021, bringing the company’s total deficit to £1.35million. This was explained to be due to the launch of a wholesale division and plans to open in the US, across Europe and the Middle East – plus six months of lockdown.
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 “wish I had 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 worked for the company at one point.
It was started in 1987 when Carole was pregnant with her son James and was looking for fun paper plates for Kate’s fifth birthday. Surprised by the lack of options, she decided she could do better.
Carole, raised in a social flat and then in a small terraced house in Southall, west London, left school at 16 and worked for insurance company Prudential before getting a staff job at the ground 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 six years her senior. His family was wealthy and he was privately educated at Clifton College in Bristol.
They married in June 1980. For the first few years of the marriage, they lived in Jordan, where Michael worked, but Carole wasn’t sure she was cut out to be an expat mother, so they moved back to the Kingdom. United in 1986 – and it was then that Carole launched her “kitchen table business” Party Pieces.
At first she was just making party bags for the parents of her daughters’ classmates, but over time the business grew enough to take over a shed in their backyard and eventually needed its own premises.
The key change was the advent of online shopping in the 1990s. Michael Middleton left his job to get involved as it took off. At the time of their daughter’s marriage to Prince William, Party Pieces was said – perhaps enthusiastically – to be worth £30million.
Certainly, the company helped pay the school fees of the three children, who went to expensive education at Marlborough College.
There, “the Mids” became known for doing everything crucial a little better than their contemporaries.
Another parent told Tatler magazine: ‘There was always something slightly infuriating about having your kids go to school with the Middletons.
“Each immaculate garment would have a beautifully stitched name band, for example. It was unthinkable that they would end up resorting to marker on labels like the rest of us.
“There were huge picnics on sports days, the smartest tennis racquets – that sort of thing. It made the rest of us all pretty desperate.
The writer added: “At the end of the day, Carole played a blinding role as a mother. Not only are all her children unfairly beautiful, but they are also renowned for their charm. Always the first to write a letter in thanks, they dance the night away and are always the first to rise in the morning, plumping the cushions and doing the dishes.
Naturally, when Kate caught the eye of Prince William at St Andrews University and then spent years as his girlfriend before they married in 2011, the whole family came under scrutiny.
Carole’s playful brother Gary, who lives at the Maison de Bang Bang in Ibiza, was interviewed. Carole was reprimanded for chewing gum during Prince William’s passing out parade in Sandhurst. And, hurtfully, Kate was branded ‘Waity Katie’.
However, as any Marlborough mum could have told you, Carole and her family were never wrong, no matter the provocation. They were polite, they were patient, and they were firmly silent.
Friends reveal Carole, 68, and Michael, 73, are considering quitting the business
The Queen’s maxim – “Never Complain, Never Explain” – was adopted as their own.
And in the meantime, Carole has quietly got down to running her party business with formidable dynamism and energy.
She gave a rare interview to this newspaper in 2021 and was asked why she didn’t feel the need to step back from the party supply business, especially after going through the pandemic.
She said the thought didn’t even cross her mind.
“They say if you’re doing a job you love, you don’t work a day in your life — and I really feel like that, even when it’s really busy,” she said.
But in the end, with her daughter taking on an increasingly prominent public role, the time has finally come for her to focus on supporting her family.
Carole said in 2021: “The only thing I can say about being a mother is how much I loved her and still do. Mike was a good working dad and we found a way to make business and family life work.
But now is the time for others to work on growing the business, and for Carole – perhaps now the number one grandmother in the country – to take full advantage of that role.