The blend of solid middle-class values and domestic informality personified by the Middleton family have been a keystone of the loving relationship between Prince William and his wife Kate.
Central, too, is the Middletons’ long-time base in the Berkshire village of Bucklebury, where the family has been running a party accessory company since 1987.
Now they have major plans to expand the family business, with Kate’s younger sister Pippa and her multi-millionaire husband James Matthews hoping to develop 77-acre Bucklebury Farm Park, where they already run a petting zoo, a cafe and cabin accommodation for about 30.
Pippa Middleton and her husband James Matthews are hoping to develop 77-acre Bucklebury Farm Park in Berkshire where they already run a petting zoo, cafe and cabin accommodation
Detailed plans for what is being billed as ‘Pippa’s Playground’ – seen by The Mail on Sunday – show the intention is to create a busy complex comprising glamping cabins, a farm shop and a restaurant.
The project would include revamping the zoo, constructing a children’s play centre in buildings with eco-friendly wooden decking, and creating a tree plantation and a display of retro farm vehicles painted in pastel colours.
The whole site will be festooned with twinkly lanterns. Their vision ties into the current upmarket trend for fashionable day visit centres and places that offer ‘human health activities’.
In the vanguard of such ventures has been Soho Farmhouse, spread across 100 acres in Oxfordshire and inspired by American cabin culture.
It offers guests ‘a home-made and personal feel – like a guest cottage on a farm’.
Then there is TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson’s Diddly Squat Farm Shop in the Cotswolds where he sells local grown vegetables and has recently opened a restaurant.
The couple intend to create a complex comprising glamping cabins, farm shop and restaurant
Inevitably, some critics may suggest that marketing for Bucklebury Farm Park may cynically try to cash in on the family’s royal connections.
After Kate Middleton first started dating Prince William, her parents were accused of exploiting their links to his family through the sale of their party firm’s range of Royal Wedding memorabilia.
Such concerns will be reinforced by the way some of the facilities already present on the Bucklebury site are being promoted.
Six log cabins with safari-style tent doors are currently available to hire for £1,400 a week.
Visitors are treated to spotting animals such as llamas, deer and goats in the safari park
They are operated in conjunction with Feather Down, a small bookings firm specialising in cabin lettings on boutique farms.
The ‘stay’ section of Pippa’s newly revamped website redirects visitors to Feather Down’s booking page, which highlights the Royal connection, teasingly mentioning ‘real-life royalty’.
It also says: ‘Only a 15-minute stroll from the farm, Bucklebury village was the home of Kate Middleton before she married Prince William.’
Undoubtedly, mention of the future king and queen is a big draw – though the website also informs readers that a short drive away is ‘Highclere, the fictional setting for the TV series Downton Abbey’.
The plans resemble similar development at Jeremy Clarkson’s Diddly Squat Farm (pictured)
Locals say that while visitors principally go to spot animals such as llamas, deer and goats in the safari park, they can’t be blamed for trying to see if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s children – Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis and George – might be playing nearby while staying with their maternal grandparents.
All three children stay in Bucklebury around once a month with Carole and Michael Middleton who often take them to the park’s elaborate children’s playground.
Locals say the youngsters love Bucklebury and enjoy ‘mucking in’.
Jeremy Clarkson stands outside his Diddly Squat farm shop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
Plans submitted to West Berkshire Council show the main new building has been modelled on a vast £5 million glazed canalside pub in Swindon built by Badger Beers, a craft brewery based in Dorset that offers brewery tours, sells merchandise and welcomes children, describing them as ‘little treasures’.
The Bucklebury space is designed to house a vast double-height dining hall with room for more than 20 tables – perfect for a small wedding – as well as a cafe and farm shop that will stock local produce.
While the farm is Pippa’s pet project, sources say that Carole, 67, is the driving force behind what would be a new venture hosting children’s parties – something that has been her speciality since founding the lucrative mail-order business Party Pieces 35 years ago.
Bucklebury Farm Park is close to the home of Pippa’s parents Carole and Michael Middleton
She has overseen the installation of a covered party space made from stylish woven larch and has appointed an events manager in charge of requests for children’s events.
A ‘party package’ costs £1,350 for 30 children and includes luxury lunch boxes served in a marquee, a homemade cake, party bags and personalised invitations.
There may also be parties for Ukrainian refugees. A ticketed event for Bucklebury villagers, called ‘Picnic at the Farm’, which took place on July 10, is rumoured to have been a ‘practice run’ for Carole’s plan to host regular socials at the farm for Bucklebury’s community of refugees.
Ukrainians are not charged to visit the park, which normally charges £85 for adult membership.
Carole is also credited with the revamp of a glossy temporary refurbishment of the cafe, which does a roaring trade in oat-milk lattes, sandwiches and artisan ice creams.
Some say it was Carole who first encouraged Pippa and her husband, James, 46, to invest in the venture in 2020 through his Mayfair hedge fund Eden Rock Capital.
The move was inspired by Pippa’s passion for the village, where she has lived since she was 11.
James named it Pippa’s Playground for business purposes and brought local friends Jamie Murray and Oliver Shute on board as co-investors.
They believe the business will inject £2.3million into the area and create plenty of jobs.
One design document for the expanded venture, which was submitted in May, describes the project as ‘major’ and suggests that queues would be expected at the entrance.
Prepared by upmarket firm Rural Solutions, which specialises in pubs, galleries and wedding venues, the document says: ‘The steeply pitched roof provides shelter to those paying or queueing … a covered entrance is proposed to enclose the area between the existing cafe and the new farm shop extension, creating a vestibule.’
There is an emphasis on the use of ‘renewable energy [to meet] challenges of climate change’, with solar panels as well as a ‘native species hedge’ and the realignment of a fence to control deer.
Images in a glossy 367-page brochure show full design plans, maps of the area and the location of a nearby sewage works. Rural Solutions has a grand portfolio of projects, such as an ice cream farm in Cheshire, which it says taps into consumer ‘demand for play experiences’.
The current glamping site will be developed as part of a wider development under the plans
It has worked on other schemes with ‘wild’ accommodation, treehouses, nature safaris, birdwatching and forest bathing. It boasts a ‘holistic approach’, adding: ‘We are so proud to be working with such dynamic, diverse and driven clients.’
Last month, some of the final details for Pippa’s Playground were signed off by the council and a full approval is expected imminently.
A regular visitor to the farm told the MoS: ‘By the end of this summer, it will be full steam ahead.
‘They want to expand the glamping, the family area, the restaurants and they’re keen to make use of it as an events space. They’re going to completely transform it. The staff describe it as “Pippa’s project”.
Bucklebury is fast becoming a Middleton empire. ‘So far, they have done what they can to refurbish the main visitor barn within planning constraints and it’s looking so much better. If phase two is anything like what they have done already, it will look very stylish.’
Pippa is also very busy on the personal front. She’s just given birth to her third child – a girl named Rose – and is in the process of relocating from Chelsea, South West London, to a large Georgian property 14 miles away from the Berkshire farm which she and James bought for its proximity to the business, as well as for its prestigious fishing beats.
Pippa has fought against what was seen as an unfair public image as a party girl and once said: ‘People see me as someone privileged who has used my position to advantage; that I don’t really work, that I am a socialite – that word really irritates me – and that I’m a party girl without any substance.’
Having studied English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, she became a ‘celebrity’ columnist for Waitrose Kitchen and Vanity Fair magazines and a Sunday newspaper.
Earlier this year her spokesperson told The Mail on Sunday that she was once again focusing ‘on her studies’, amid whispers she has taken a business course.
She was given a £400,000 advance by publishers ten years ago to write a book, Celebrate, about the art of entertaining, and bravely fought off teasing about some of her advice, such as that the correct method to slice a sandwich with a bread knife is ‘with a single up and down cutting motion’.
Undaunted, the future queen’s younger sister is keen to prove herself as a businesswoman in her own right and take up the reins of Pippa’s Playground with gusto.