With her grandson perched on her shoulders as they wandered around a local petting zoo, Carole Middleton looked just like any other doting grandparent on a day out with her grandson.
Except, of course, she isn’t.
For the bald fact is that Carole Middleton is a former air hostess who will one day, assuming she outlives Prince Charles, who is six years older than her, be the mother of the Queen (not the ‘Queen Mother’ – a title reserved for a dowager queen who is the mother of the reigning queen).
A woman whose great-grandfather was a miner—an exceptional and ambitious individual who left the safety of his pit hometown and headed to London, retraining as a carpenter in search of a better life for his family—is the single most important influence on Prince George apart from his parents.
In most families there is one set of grandparents who are more favored and more influential than the other, and it is strikingly clear that in the case of Prince George, it is Carole Middleton who is shaping much of his world with her middle-class values of hard work and fair play, not the ossified Windsor culture of privilege.
As these adorable pictures show, with clear evidence of a powerful bond, Mrs. Middleton is the grandparent entrusted by the parents and beloved by the son.
William and Kate’s rejection of Charles as a formative influence for George has been painful for him, but it is clearly Carole whom William and Kate believe will instill the right values in the future King.
To this end she has taken up what appears to be semi-permanent residence at the lavish country home of William and Kate, Anmer Hall.
These days, she also owns her own ten-bedroom manor house—which only makes it all the more amazing that her early years were spent in her grandmother’s condemned apartment in the working-class London suburb, Southall.
She is a woman who has fought her way to the top of business with a resolutely middle-class attitude, who was once mocked by her son-in-law and daughter’s society friends for having been a flight attendant but is now having the last laugh, having secured for herself an inviolable place at the heart of the new royal establishment.
These days, no-one whispers “Doors to manual” when she enters the room.
“Carole’s pretty hard to faze,” says one acquaintance. “She never really cared about the whole ‘doors-to-manual’ thing. You don’t build a business like she has being a sensitive flower. She is also deeply practical. That’s why Kate likes having her around so much—she just takes care of all the details.”
Carole’s parents were born into grinding poverty, and much of Carole’s early life was lived under serious financial constraints.
Understanding this heritage is key to understanding the influences now being brought to bear on Prince George and his baby sister, Princess Charlotte.
Carole’s mother, Dorothy Goldsmith, made ends meet working as a shop assistant. She and her husband Ron spent the early years of their marriage living with Ron’s mother in her dilapidated apartment on one of London’s toughest streets in Southall, East London.
But, showing the determination to improve their lot that has come to be seen as a Middleton hallmark, Ron and Dorothy subsequently moved into a council flat where Carole was born in 1955, according to the writer Sean Smith.
Ron re-invented himself as a builder, and by the time Carole was 11 and her brother Gary was 1, they had bought a new home in a nicer street, also in Southall, Arlington Road.
They certainly were not rich, but the Goldsmiths seemed set at least for a life of comfortable lower-middle-class prosperity. They could not afford private education for Gary and Carole, but they encouraged them to dream big.
In the ’70s there was perhaps no bigger, more glamorous dream for a good-looking, working-class girl than a job as an air hostess, and when Carole got a job working for BOAC (as British Airways was then known) it would quite clearly have been understood as a possible entrée into an entirely different social class.
BOAC was still essentially run by an old-school-tie network of ex-military public schoolboys, and a sexist one at that; air hostesses were unashamedly hired on the basis of their looks, and to provide potential girlfriends and wives for the bosses and pilots.
Thus it would not have been a complete surprise when Carole fell in love with a social superior while working at BOAC. Carole Goldsmith and Michael Middleton married in 1980. (Michael was a pilot and later manager at the airline.)
In a bizarre coincidence his father, Peter, who had also worked for BOAC, sat alongside Prince Philip as co-pilot for two months in 1962 when the Duke flew himself for two months around South Africa on an official tour, according to the writer Geoffrey Levy.
Michael was one of the beneficiaries of a trust set up in the early 1900s by his industrialist great grandfather, Francis Lupton, a Yorkshire mill owner, city councilman and the owner of several grand mansions in the Leeds area.
On his death in 1921 he left an estate valued at £70,538—many millions today. Wise and cautious investments mean that these family trusts are believed to continue paying an income to this day, and almost certainly paid for Kate, Pippa and James’s private education, at least until their parents’ business took off.
In 1984 the family relocated to Jordan for Michael’s job for two years. Kate, aged 2, learned Arabic nursery rhymes.
On her return to the UK, Kate’s mum set up her business Party Pieces, making up party gift bags for her friends at the kitchen table.
According to friends and acquaintances, Carole is unembarrassed by her working-class roots.
“Carole is untroubled by self-doubt,” says a friend. “She couldn’t really care less if people think she is an arriviste or a social climber. Her focus is all about Kate, William, George, and Charlotte.”