Feature writing


Why Doria Ragland, and Carole and Michael Middleton are the perfect royal parents-in-law

The Daily Beast

May 17, 2020

Doria Ragland, and Carole and Michael Middleton, are the perfect royal parents-in-law. As their children attract headlines, they stay supportive, discreet, and very stylish.

Earlier this week James Middleton, Kate’s handsome brother, shaved his beard off. He filmed this momentous event and posted it on Instagram, hairy chest sward on display and surrounded by his many dogs, Ella, Zulu, Inka, Luna and Mabel—and who knows, perhaps hundreds more off-camera, responding to his canine pan pipes.

The next thing we saw and heard, post-shave, was Middleton’s fiancée Alizee Thevenet squealing with delighted surprise at the sight of James appearing in the garden of his parents, Carole and Michael, in the bucolic British hamlet of Bucklebury, where the couple are spending quarantine.

It was the first time James had shaved in seven years, and the first time Thevenet had seen her guy sans whiskers. Michael Middleton muttered a dad-like compliment that may have been about how handsome his son looked.

To date, this post has garnered almost 188,000 views.

The shaving of the beard soon became a side point. What about that beautiful garden, hedges and plants in perfect order and a wheelbarrow of photogenic twigs! And what about those twinkling elders sitting at that garden table!

Behold, the Middleton parents, sitting in this handsome patch of rural Berkshire on garden chairs, bottle of wine and drinks in front of them, smiling indulgently at their son. If you think it looks idyllic in the summer, imagine Christmas when Carole makes sure the grandchildren’s rooms have trees, so they can decorate them themselves.

Yes, as ever, silently stealing the show were Carole and Michael Middleton, who between them sired the future queen of England Kate, Pippa (who became a star in her own right because of the world’s sleekest bridesmaid dress), and James, the now smooth-cheeked hunk who has also written movingly about his experience of depression.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Harry and Meghan spent Mothers’ Day with her mom Doria Ragland in Los Angeles (all social distancing rules being properly observed).

We can assume that Doria, Meghan’s beloved and much-trusted mom, has been providing support to Meghan and Harry as they settle down—with reportedly varying degrees of success—to life in Hollywood.

Carole has been written about a lot in the past, most notably by snobs who dismissed her as “doors to manual” because of her former life working for British Airways. Like Carole cares. Glamorous and discreet, she more than matches her daughters in whatever public appearance she shows up to. The power is hers.

Doria, too, commands a similar power rooted in the closeness she has with her offspring. Having raised Meghan following divorce, her discretion is in sharp public contrast to Meghan’s father Thomas Markle, whose pronouncements and complicated relationship with his daughter have helped shape a high-profile court case Meghan has brought against British tabloid group, Associated Newspapers.

Doria, so far, has kept a very low profile; the most memorable image we hold of her is on Meghan’s wedding day, standing proudly on her own, an African-American woman watching her daughter marry into the British royal family—the only member of Meghan’s immediate family in attendance. Her nickname for Meghan is “Flower.”

A social worker and yoga instructor, Doria inspired Meghan’s commitment to charity work, a source told People last month. “Meghan didn’t have much when she was a child, but her mom made sure they always gave back,” the source said.

It was Doria, the source added, who guided Meghan and Harry to the Los Angeles-based Project Angel Food—the couple were photographed delivering meals for the non-profit charity in April.

“We can just have so much fun together, and yet I’ll still find so much solace in her support,” Meghan told Glamour in 2017 of her relationship with her mother. “That duality coexists the same way it would in a best friend.”

According to Town & Country, Meghan described Doria thus, in a 2014 post on her now-defunct blog: “Dreadlocks. Nose ring. Yoga instructor. Social worker. Free spirit. Lover of potato chips & lemon tarts. And if the DJ cues Al Green’s soul classic ‘Call Me,’ just forget it. She will swivel her hips into the sweetest little dance you’ve ever seen, swaying her head and snapping her fingers to the beat like she’s been dancing since the womb. And you will smile. You won’t be able to help it. You will look at her and you will feel joy. I’m talking about my mom.”

The quiet importance and centrality of Doria to Harry, Meghan, and baby Archie’s family life was made clear in the official Buckingham Palace announcement of his birth, which said that an “overjoyed” Doria was with Harry and Meghan at their former British home, Frogmore Cottage.

The inclusion of Doria in that statement made clear that they want Doria to be seen as important to their family life, just as Carole and Michael Middleton are to Kate and William’s.

Michael Middleton is in some ways the most enigmatic of this parental grouping, perhaps because he is a man and escapes all the gawping and comments over his fashion sense (which is very smart and resolutely un-flashy).

He and Carole met when both worked as ground crew for British Airways, he a former pilot who became a flight dispatcher. All their wealth comes from both inherited money (his family), and Party Pieces, the party supplies company he and Carole set up in the mid-1990s.

The garden that we see in the video is just part of the 18 acres attached to the Middleton family home, Bucklebury Manor, a Georgian Grade-II listed manor house.

Michael turns 71 in June, and—as James’ beard-shaving video shows—he is advancing towards that age urbane silver-foxiness defiantly intact.

In the brief snatches of him that we see, Michael Middleton is the 21st century version of a Jane Austen patriarch, benevolent and smilingly gruff; a man who loves his family, and who indulges those around him, even if general sound and fury bamboozle him. Give him a quiet day and a glass of something cool in the garden, and he’s fine.

Here he is with Carole in B-matter that was filmed when they made their statement after William and Kate announced their engagement in 2010.

Clearly, Michael Middleton is not as acted-upon as all those easily placated Austen paters (the kind of man who is a willing alien in his own home as daughters chatter about party invitations and mothers plot betrothals), because his first words are a directing note for Carole to tit her head “slightly” towards him. Michael thinks he knows what will look good on camera.

“It doesn’t look too cheesy does it?” he asks those filming him and Carole. “Oh Mike,” she lightly chides him.

Awww, in real life Michael Middleton is a good English, dependable Mike.

This B-matter subtly reveals that he doesn’t want to become part of the tabloid mush machine he has already been reading for years about his daughter and William. Cutely, he gallops off in front of Carole, until she slows him down. Her expression reveals she knows exactly what her husband is like.

“Hold hands,” the camera guys ask.

“No, no that’s too cheesy. No, no, no,” says Michael Middleton with a mischievous smile, yet as stoutly as his own alliterative name suggests. He won’t be made to do anything that he is uncomfortable with.

What the public saw, however, on the news that night was Michael doing his best Austen-dad.

“We’re absolutely delighted by this announcement,” he said, “thrilled” at the prospect of William and Kate getting spliced sometime in the following year. Michael is dressed in a countryman’s Sunday best tweed. He spoke of the family’s fondness of William, the fun they had all had, and how he and Carole wished them “every happiness” for the future.

It was reported that William asked Michael for Kate’s hand in marriage, which Michael granted—William then swearing him to secrecy, so he could get clearance from the Queen and Prince Charles.

It was also said that William enjoyed how normal the domestic life was with the Middletons, when he and Kate were getting together, and that he even jokingly referred to Michael as “dad.”

Doria Ragland exhibits no desire to speak to the press. The Middletons are also famous for saying next to nothing, and certainly nothing that could embarrass their children. When Prince George was born, it was Carole who did the (minimal) speaking to the press outside the hospital. Michael just smiled.

“Over the years, it’s proved wise not to say anything,” Carole told the Telegraph in the only significant interview she ever gave to the press, in 2018.

Doria and the Middletons say most by saying zilch, and looking great wherever they are photographed saying zilch. In Doria’s case this is mostly if she is caught getting out of her car on the West Coast or in official Sussex family portraits alongside Charles and Camilla. In the Middleton universe, there are occasional in-the-wild sightings at Wimbledon, Ascot, other posh weddings, and rich person beach holidays, such as last Christmas in St Barts.

Note that at the time Carole was 64 and Michael 70, and they look this fabulous while in their beachwear. As those reading hunkered down for dish-upon-dish of rich seasonal treats, for days on end there were pictures of the tanned and sexy multi-generational Middletons cavorting in the surf of the rich person’s winter playground.

Yet for all their money and children’s fame, the Middletons will carry on striving.

“I don’t see myself stopping [work],” Carole told the Telegraph. “If I did I’d have to have so many projects on. I’d have to redecorate the house. I’d love to travel, but then I’d miss the grandchildren… I’ve got a billion ideas I still want to do.” As she pursues them, Michael Middleton will likely remain, silently loyal, at her side.

Like Doria Ragland, Michael and Carole Middleton have recognized that the most powerful weapon at their parental disposal is an enigmatic smile.