On 23 July 2013, the day after his birth, Prince George made his first public appearance on the steps of the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital in London. That may have been his first experience of royal life, but his first taste of home wasn’t a palace. It was a family home, albeit a £4.7 million seven-bedroom one, Grade II listed.
Bucklebury Manor, in Berkshire, is where the ‘other grandparents’, Michael and Carole Middleton, live and the only place Kate wanted to be in those sleep-deprived weeks of new motherhood. It’s also where the tight bond between Grandpa Michael and George began to form.
A quiet, level-headed man, Michael showed his protective instincts towards his first grandchild early in the young prince’s life: a month after his birth it became clear that the world was keen to see how the royal baby was getting on. In truth, releasing a new picture was the last thing Kate and William wanted to do, let alone invite a photographer into their family bubble.
‘Michael had the perfect solution,’ says a family friend.
‘He proposed that he would take the photo himself: organise a stress-free photoshoot in the garden and save them the bother of getting in a photographer who would take ages. It meant the nervous new parents could stop any time they wanted.’
A quiet, level-headed man, Michael showed his protective instincts towards his first grandchild early in the young prince’s life. The grandfather and grandson pictured together in 2019
The picture was released to the media and printed by newspapers around the world, leaving Kate and William to go back to looking after their baby.
Next Saturday, Prince George will celebrate his tenth birthday and for a decade, Kate and William have been finding a balance between his destiny as King and as ordinary a childhood as possible.
While the role of King Charles – or ‘Grandpa Wales’ – dictates his future, it is his other Grandpa who has shaped his life thus far in countless other ways. Michael and Carole Middleton were the first members of the family to visit Prince George when he was born and have been a constant presence in his life ever since.
The Middletons’ ‘ordinariness’ plays a key role in George’s solid and stable upbringing. Although Michael, 74, has aristocratic antecedents (his family line can be traced back to Henry VIII), he’d be more accurately described as middle class: the son of RAF pilot Peter Middleton, who once flew alongside Prince Philip as a co-pilot, and Second World War code-breaker Valerie. He went to Clifton College boarding school in Bristol and had planned to become a pilot before opting to take a job with British Airways as ground crew instead.
Carole, 68, is a working-class girl from Southall, West London, who left school at 16 only to end up going back to get her A-levels, before securing a job as a secretary for British Airways. On deciding she wasn’t so keen on that job, the resourceful Carole learnt French so she could switch to a role with cabin crew. While working for BA she met her future husband and the couple married on 21 June 1980, when Carole was 25. A year later they had their first daughter, the future Princess of Wales.
The Middletons and their three children – Kate, Pippa and James – have always been a close family.
It was inevitable they would play a big role in all their grandchildren’s lives. The image on the front of this magazine – taken on a yacht as they watched the Prince and Princess of Wales compete in the 2019 King’s Cup regatta off the Isle of Wight – encapsulates the tender relationship between grandfather and grandson. With protective hands either side of George, Michael looks down at him with pride and love while George looks totally at ease under his grandfather’s gaze.
He is also said to be a fun grandpa. Pippa Middleton, writing in The Spectator in 2012, revealed that her father entertains his family by dressing up in a different fancy dress outfit each year: ‘My father has developed this funny tradition of surprising us at some point by appearing in fancy dress. He buys a new costume each year and typically gets a bit carried away – a couple of Christmases ago, he appeared in an inflatable sumo outfit.’ Among his grandchildren, the name ‘Sumo’ is supposed to have stuck and always gets a laugh.
6 MAY 2023 ALL SMILES ON THE BUCKINGHAM PALACE BALCONY AFTER THE CORONATION
6 MAY 2023 MICHAEL AND CAROLE MIDDLETON AT THE CORONATION OF KING CHARLES AND QUEEN CAMILLA
19 AUGUST 2013 THE NEWBORN PRINCE GEORGE, PHOTOGRAPHED BY HIS GRANDFATHER MICHAEL MIDDLETON
21 JULY 2022 ON THE EVE OF HIS NINTH BIRTHDAY, PHOTOGRAPHED BY HIS MOTHER
As the world continues to watch the Wales children’s every move, Michael and Carole have managed to keep much of their relationship with their grandchildren private.
The public don’t find out when George has family holidays with the Middletons in Mustique – usually to help Granny Carole celebrate her birthday on 31 January – or see him hanging out at other children’s birthday parties.
Even when the Waleses holiday closer to home, they mostly do so in the tranquillity of Dolphin House, one of their favourite spots on Tresco, in the Scilly Isles. It helps, of course, that William now owns the entire island through the Duchy of Cornwall estate.
‘They are doing the best job of making a normal situation out of an abnormal one,’ says a palace insider.
A COUPLE OF CHRISTMASES AGO, ‘GRANDPA MICHAEL’ SUDDENLY APPEARED IN AN INFLATABLE SUMO OUTFIT
And this is in no small part down to the other grandparents. The public may not have noticed but Granny Carole even attended the royal tour to Australia and New Zealand in 2014 so she could help look after eight-month-old George alongside the couple’s unflappable Norland Nanny, Maria Borrallo.
This Friday, the night before his birthday, Kate will maintain the Middleton tradition of staying up late at Adelaide Cottage, their house at Windsor, to bake him a homemade cake (something she insists on doing for all her children).
23 JULY 2013 THE FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE OF PRINCE GEORGE
On 23 July 2013, the day after his birth, Prince George made his first public appearance on the steps of the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital in London
But there are bigger plans for George’s birthday beyond a sponge cake named after his ancestor Queen Victoria.
Like any other ten-year-old, he’s having a party and inviting his close-kit group of school friends – although, admittedly, this party will be on the Windsor estate rather than at the local bowling alley.
‘Everything centres on the children,’ says a palace source. ‘William and Catherine take it in turns to do the school run. Kate is adamant that family comes first – that rule shapes everything they do, as well as all their engagements. Even their house is small by royal standards and there is no live-in nanny or housekeeper there with them.’
Living just a 45-minute drive away, Michael and Carole are on hand to help raise the little Waleses. While George is also close to his royal grandparents, their new roles as king and queen mean hefty demands on their time, whereas Michael and Carole have the freedom to be full-time grandparents, particularly since their Party Pieces business went into administration earlier this year.
25 APRIL 2014 RETURNING FROM THE ROYAL VISIT TO AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
1 JANUARY 2015 WITH HIS LATE GREAT GRANDFATHER THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH IN NORFOLK
22 APRIL 2016 MEETING BARACK AND MICHELLE OBAMA AT KENSINGTON PALACE
25 DECEMBER 2016 HEADING TO CHURCH AT CHRISTMAS
Having devoted ‘commoner’ grandparents on hand to help raise him sets George apart from previous generations of royal children.
In fact he was set apart even before birth as during Kate’s pregnancy, his mere existence as a future royal baby changed British law to allow for their eldest child – if a girl – to ascend the throne regardless of whether she went on to have younger male siblings.
PLANS FOR HIS BIRTHDAY GO BEYOND A SPONGE CAKE NAMED AFTER HIS ANCESTOR QUEEN VICTORIA
George was the first royal to attend a co-ed school when he started at Thomas’s Battersea, switching to attend Lambrook in Berkshire with his siblings last September. Having looked round Eton with his parents last month it seems he will follow in his father’s footsteps.
But as he turns ten, what do we know of the little prince’s character? Most will remember his immaculate behaviour while serving as a page of honour for King Charles during the coronation service in May.
A serious boy? Yes, but George also knows how to enjoy himself. A fellow member at the Hurlingham Club, the exclusive private-members sports club by the Thames in West London, says he is ‘lots of fun but sensible’, adding: ‘George isn’t timid as such, but you will see him hang back while Charlotte and Louis rush forwards. He takes his time. He’s more cautious.’
Friends say he also has a wild side. He has chosen lessons in electric rather than classical guitar, and has a particular preference for AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. With sport, he ‘gets stuck in’ and has already graduated from tag rugby to the more injury-prone ‘contact’ version.
5 SEPTEMBER 2019 WITH PRINCESS CHARLOTTE ON HER FIRST DAY AT THOMAS’S BATTERSEA
18 DECEMBER 2019 MAKING CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE
23 APRIL 2020 THE CAMBRIDGES CLAP FOR NHS CARERS AS PART OF BBC CHILDREN IN NEED AND COMIC RELIEF
His sporting prowess has also been helped along with some money-can’t-buy experiences. Not every child can boast that they’ve had Roger Federer as their tennis coach.
Yet that’s what happened when the 20-time grand slam winner stopped by the tennis courts at Anmer Hall, the Norfolk mansion gifted to the Waleses by the late Queen Elizabeth II. And while children are not normally permitted into the Royal Box at Wimbledon, George has been allowed to sit there – with the proviso that he wear a shirt and tie and be on his very best behaviour for the cameras.
George’s aptitude for coping well under scrutiny in social situations began early in life. At the age of two and ready for bed, he was curious about who had dropped by to say hello to his parents. It happened to be the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his wife Michelle. When George emerged in his dressing gown, his mother found the whole exchange so charming that she spoke to her team about releasing some pictures.
‘They were normally very private when it came to the children,’ says one insider. ‘There was this stunned pause before we looked at each other and said, ‘OK, sure. Great!’ The images went viral and the prince’s fluffy bathrobe (£27 from My 1st Years) sold out in minutes.
‘Maybe it’s because he started young,’ says one former aide on George’s success in the spotlight. ‘His first engagement was on tour in New Zealand at a playgroup in 2014. The Cambridges, as they were then, had the idea that they would introduce him early so that it wouldn’t be a shock to the system when one day he had to step out on to the world stage. It seems to have paid off.’
GEORGE COULD BECOME THE FIRST KING TO PLAY ELECTRIC GUITAR ON TOP OF BUCKINGHAM PALACE
I met him when he was seven months old and Kate and William hosted drinks at Kensington Palace to introduce the little chap. He held out a pudgy hand for me to shake, while it was clear from the bags under Kate and William’s eyes that they were doing most of the night shifts themselves.
The Waleses’ inner family circle of five is now complete. But just beyond stand the Middletons, with Michael’s quiet British dignity said to have a ‘wonderfully calming’ influence on George and the other grandchildren. Their influence is seen on not one but two future kings – they took William into their family more than 20 years ago.
7 SEPTEMBER 2022 THE FIRST DAY AT LAMBROOK SCHOOL FOR THE YOUNG ROYALS
19 SEPTEMBER 2022 WITH PRINCESS CHARLOTTE AT THE FUNERAL OF HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II
6 MAY 2023 PRINCE GEORGE AS PAGE OF HONOUR FOR KING CHARLES AT THE CORONATION
17 JUNE 2023 PRINCE WILLIAM AND HIS CHILDREN IN A PORTRAIT RELEASED FOR FATHER’S DAY
Both of those future kings have shaped the Middletons’ middle-class lives, too. They are now at the heart of the British establishment, with their own coat of arms featuring acorns as a symbol of ‘England’ and ‘strength’. Meanwhile, Prince George has also re-cast his father’s life. ‘The arrival of George has allowed William to go from being Prince William to being just ‘Dad’,’ says a family friend who has known him since childhood. It’s a different role and one that he treasures and protects.
So how did they break the news to George that he will have to follow in his father’s footsteps and one day become King? Regardless of the huge family support he has, how do you tell a child that there is this weight of expectation on him?
In an unguarded moment during a visit to Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, Prince William told a patient: ‘George has been really easy. He hasn’t said: “Have I got to do this for the rest of my life?”.’
The truth is, the future for George is far freer than it was for his father or grandfather. Perhaps by the time he ascends the throne as King George VII, the monarchy will have changed dramatically. Who knows? He could even become the first king to play the electric guitar on the roof of Buckingham Palace.
What seems certain is that whatever lies ahead for the young prince in the near future, he can rely on ‘Sumo’.