Bucklebury’s first family are under attack over their collapsed firm’s unpaid bills… so who IS the poison poster prowler stalking the Middletons’ idyllic village?
- The village has been plagued by a poster campaign targeting the Middletons
Nestling amid the rolling North Wessex Downs and barely touched by the passing centuries, it is hard to imagine a more peaceful or idyllic place to live than one of the timber-clad villages of rural West Berkshire.
It was in Bucklebury, of course, that the Princess of Wales famously spent her childhood and where her parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, still live.
Her younger sister Pippa has set up home there with her hedge fund tycoon husband and three children. Last year, her brother James and his French wife moved into a £1.45 million, 17th-century farmhouse in neighbouring Stanford Dingley, where they are expecting their first child.
But, alas, in what appears to be a sinister and mysterious new chapter in the parish annals, these villages – along with nearby Yattendon – have recently been plagued by a malicious poster campaign targeting the future King’s well-heeled in-laws.
Referencing the collapse earlier this year of the Middletons’ business, Party Pieces, and demanding the couple pay back those left in debt, dozens of A4 laminated posters have been stapled to trees, church noticeboards and lampposts by someone creeping around in the dead of night.
Positioned to attract maximum attention, they have appeared close to shops, churches, the entrance to a village cricket ground and right outside Yattendon village hall where, every Wednesday evening, locals queue for freshly-cooked fish and chips from the visiting Go Fish mobile van.
Carole and Michael Middleton pictured together in November 2010
In what appears to be a sinister and mysterious new chapter in the parish annals, these villages – along with nearby Yattendon – have recently been plagued by a malicious poster campaign
Outraged residents – who, for the most part, are protective of their royally-connected neighbours – have not seen the individual responsible, and have certainly been doing their best to rip down the offending posters as fast as they appear. They have been joined by none other than a furious James Middleton himself who, the Mail has learnt, dashed into Yattendon Village Stores and Post Office earlier this month after one was seen stuck to the sycamore tree outside.
‘He was not happy and wanted to know if we had seen any more. He wanted them taken down,’ says 57-year-old Teri Muggeridge, assistant manager at the store which is situated six miles from Bucklebury and three miles from James’s Stanford Dingley home.
Postmaster Eugene Smit adds: ‘There were lots of these posters all over the area and I removed every single one. I am not going to tolerate this in our village. The family have been here for years. They are great citizens. This just doesn’t wash.’
So who on earth would do something so dastardly? And why are they targeting the Middletons, who are held in such affection in the area? This week, hot on the heels of the fly-posting phantom, the Mail took a trip to this charming rural enclave and found tongues wagging among concerned and baffled villagers.
‘I don’t know how anybody could do something so cruel,’ says an elderly lady living near the cricket pitch in Yattendon, which serves as a community hub for several outlying villages and appears to have been at the centre of the poster campaign.
Carole Middleton with her three children promoting Party Pieces in 1989
Whoever is behind it, whispers another villager, must know that Yattendon is a favourite spot for the Middletons. James and his parents are regular customers at the well-stocked village store. And long before her daughter married into the Royal Family, Carole Middleton was an occasional visitor to Adam and Eve Hair in the village square. The Prince and Princess of Wales have also been seen tootling around the area where word on the street is that they are partial, now and then, to a delicious pub lunch at The Old Boot in Stanford Dingley.
READ MORE: Carole Middleton is ‘deeply upset’ by collapse of Party Pieces business: Princess of Wales’s mother is ‘sad’ her company is being sold off after going bust with £2.6M debts… but admits she’s been ‘naïve’
The Princess of Wales’s mother, Carole Middleton, has been left deeply ‘upset’ by the collapse of her mail-order business, a close friend tells me
Leanne Brown, 37, who runs the florist, says: ‘I can’t believe this was done by anyone local. It is completely out of character for the village. This is a nice community where everybody helps each other out.’ Is it really possible, in such a delightful area, that an adversary is lurking in their midst?
The posters, one of which the Mail has seen, would certainly suggest that someone has an axe to grind with the Middletons.
While parts of the text cannot be repeated for legal reasons, the wording calls for ‘justice for creditors’ and makes the claim that ‘Party Pieces Holdings Ltd owes its creditors £2.5 million including £831,435 to HMRC and Government loan’ adding, ‘Yes folks, that’s taxpayer money’.
Clearly referring to the shock collapse, four months ago, of the Middletons’ mail order party supplies company, whoever penned the unpleasant poster clearly believes that the couple – who have no personal responsibility for the debts because of the structure of their company – should ‘cough up’ anyway
Victoria Fullerton, wife of former Stanford Dingley parish council chairman Harry, spotted one of the now infamous posters on a tree by 12th-century St Denys Church. ‘My husband took it down straight away,’ she says. ‘It’s just not the sort of thing we want around the village. I can only assume that whoever did it had lost some money at some point and wanted revenge.’
While many residents have lived there for decades, one relative newcomer, a 46-year-old who gave his name only as David, said he had seen one stuck to the lamppost by the village hall while the fish and chip van was parked outside. ‘It was here for everyone to read as they waited for their food,’ he said.
Perhaps most ominous of all was the succession of posters that appeared on the noticeboard of St Peter and St Paul church, founded in the 15th century by Sir John Norreys, Master of the Wardrobe to Henry VI. Eagle-eyed churchwarden, 74-year-old Ann Wheeler, swiftly deduced that the culprit was striking at night when everyone was asleep. ‘Our key holder locked up at 11pm on Saturday and when she came to open up at 8am on Sunday there was one of these posters on the church noticeboard,’ she says.
‘It was clearly targeted to be seen by churchgoers. She took it straight down, of course, but the next week the same thing happened and the week after that.’
Mrs Wheeler alerted the rector who contacted the Church of England’s Oxford diocese, which oversees the parish. ‘We did not want something like this displayed near the church,’ adds Mrs Wheeler. ‘The language was not pleasant. It sounded like an ex-employee or someone owed money. Certainly someone with a grudge.’
A poster with the false ‘screwing its creditors’ allegation
News that Party Pieces had gone into administration with £2.6 million worth of debt earlier this year came as a shock to many, not least because, for years, the Middletons appeared to epitomise middle-class entrepreneurial success.
Mother-of-three Carole dreamed up her ‘party bag’ catalogue business at her kitchen table back in the 1980s while her children were still of pre-school age. It quickly burgeoned — thanks to advent of the internet — into a multi-million-pound company with 30 employees, bringing a wealthy lifestyle a world away from the former BA stewardess’s council house beginnings.
Catherine, Pippa and James all attended Marlborough College, where boarding fees are now around £43,000 a year, while home for the Middletons is now a £4.7 million seven-bedroom Grade II-listed Georgian mansion in Bucklebury. But Party Pieces went bust just weeks after being sold for £187,000 to a Scottish businessman, James Sinclair, under a controversial procedure known as a ‘pre-pack’ which meant that neither he or the Middletons had to assume responsibility for any debts. As well as £1.4 million in loans, around £456,000 was owed to 35 suppliers including party supply wholesale firms, marketing and software companies, and accountants.
Creditors included Royal Mail, delivery company Yodel and Trustpilot, a digital platform which allow customers to rate the businesses they use. James Sinclair has said that Carole sold half the business to an investment firm and, in his view, ‘they ruined it’.
Sinclair claimed earlier this week: ‘We were trying to do a solvent sale but it wasn’t possible. We bought the company out of administration and, as a result, creditors won’t get paid, although Carole was desperately trying to avoid that happening.’ He added that ‘Carole didn’t get any of the administration proceeds’.
Home for the Middletons is now a £4.7 million seven-bedroom Grade II-listed Georgian mansion in Bucklebury
Catherine, Pippa and James all attended Marlborough College, where boarding fees are now around £43,000 a year
In addition, Portuguese gas canister firm Amtrol-Alfa is owed nearly £83,000, and Yattendon Estates, owned by Lord Iliffe, which leased premises to Party Pieces on the outskirts of the village, was left owing £57,480.
Speaking to the Mail in June, Lord Iliffe’s agent James Hole said the estate faced ‘severe financial consequences’ adding: ‘They have been long-term tenants. We were astonished about the amount owed to others.’
Other disgruntled creditors included Sultani Gas, a Kent-based company which supplied Party Pieces with helium for its balloons. A spokesman for the company at the time said they felt ‘betrayed’ by Mrs Middleton: ‘What hurt me the most was that I trusted her as the mother-in-law of the future king and she just betrayed me. It is absolutely unacceptable.’
READ MORE: Fury at the Middletons as their Party Pieces business goes bust with debts of £2.6m: Disbelieving creditors talk of ‘betrayal’ over collapse of firm run by Princess of Wales’s parents Carole and Michael
The couple blamed lockdown and the cost of living crisis which caused a sharp downturn in sales
But the author of the poisonous posters appears to have been equally riled by other unpaid debts, including a £219,000 emergency Covid loan taken out with RBS, a bank still propped up by taxpayers.
Another major creditor is HMRC, owed more than £600,000. In essence, as the author of the posters points out with such vitriol, it is ordinary taxpayers who will ultimately foot some of the bill for the Middletons’ failed business.
It is undoubtedly an embarrassing state of affairs for a couple whose daughter will one day be Queen and one about which, it might be imagined, they would not wish to be reminded. Carole Middleton was said to be ‘upset and deeply disappointed’ by what happened to her business. A friend told the Mail in June that she would continue to work hard to find a solution that would ensure creditors would be paid.
However, the saga appears to have done little to dent the couple’s reputation in the Bucklebury area. ‘From what I’ve heard everyone likes the Middletons around here,’ adds Teri at Yattendon villages store. That affection has, by and large, been extended to the couples’ younger children, Pippa and James, who, after spending most of their 20s and 30s in London, have returned to raise their own families here.
Pippa and her husband, James Matthews, moved into a 32-room Georgian mansion set in 150 acres, a short drive from her parents, last year. They also snapped up Bucklebury Farm Park, a petting zoo said to have been a favourite with Prince George, for £1.5 million and, after overcoming objections from neighbours and winning a lengthy planning battle, set about refurbishing it.
James Middleton arrived in 2022 with his French wife, 34-year-old financial analyst Alizee Thevenet. Their baby is due in the next couple of months. He has experienced his own share of strife amid an ongoing feud with a neighbour. James and his wife — as well as several other neighbours and the parish council — opposed plans by David and Karen Alderton to tear down their bungalow and replace it with a larger, state-of-the-art dwelling.
The Middletons hired a planning consultant to argue their case and, after submitting a five-page report, the planning application was eventually refused by West Berkshire District Council.
James and Alizee’s own plans for alterations to their property, including the removal of a conservatory and the expansion of garages, were given the green light by the same authority. But the Aldertons have since made several complaints about noisy farm machinery and ‘noxious fumes’ coming from their neighbours’ property.
While they declined to speak to the Mail this week, Mr Alderton, who runs a motorcycle business, told Mail Online in February that it had become like ‘Steptoe’s junk yard’ full of ‘clearly unsuitable machinery’ saying: ‘There are three barnyards full of old farmyard machinery, no good to anyone and it’s all going on 50ft from our front door.’
While there is no suggestion that his neighbour is behind the poster campaign, James Middleton has reported Mr Alderton to police for allegedly trespassing on his 12-acre smallholding and has accused him of being ‘intimidating’ and ‘disingenuous’. Mr Alderton says he simply climbed a gate to ‘attract his attention over the din of a tractor’. He also denies long-running disputes with other villagers and the parish council.
Generally, there is little doubt that James is well-liked in the area. Victoria Fullerton, wife of the former Stanford Dingley parish council chairman, says: ‘James has made a good first impression on the village. He came down for a village photo to mark the Jubilee and locals approve of his plans for developing his smallholding.’
Another neighbour adds: ‘James is an absolute asset to the village. He is doing all the right thing things for horticulture and the landscape.’
This week Thames Valley Police were unable to confirm reports that they have been notified about the poisoned poster campaign.
But what remains clear is that in an area made famous by its royal connections, something nasty is lurking in the proverbial woodshed.
Postmaster Eugene Smit warns: ‘The police have investigated it and there are going to be serious, serious repercussions.’
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