Can it really be ten years since we were all preparing to watch Kate Middleton marry Prince William? According to the bride’s Uncle Gary — who was at Westminster Abbey to witness her walking down the aisle and into the history books — it seems like yesterday.
‘Maybe royal years are like dog years, they whoosh by,’ quips Gary Goldsmith, younger brother of the Duchess of Cambridge‘s mother Carole. ‘When you think about it, that was three children ago for Kate.
‘The ten years have been incredible for her. She’s taken to that job — and it is a job, her success comes from the fact she recognised that — like a duck to water, and emerged as the best thing that could have happened to the Royal Family. She’s their biggest asset at the moment. She was a breath of fresh air then and she hasn’t put a foot wrong since!
‘When you look at what happened with Meghan, you realise how easy it is to marry into that family and get it completely wrong.’
He gives a little laugh as he refers to ‘our Kate’ (by contrast, the Duchess of Sussex and her husband are ‘those muppets’).
Gary Goldsmith, younger brother of the Duchess of Cambridge’s mother Carole, says of Kate: ‘The ten years have been incredible for her. She’s taken to that job – and it is a job, her success comes from the fact she recognised that – like a duck to water, and emerged as the best thing that could have happened to the Royal Family’
‘Obviously I’m biased. I’m her uncle. I love her dearly and I’ve known her since the day she was born, but I genuinely think she’s an exceptional person doing a brilliant job, and recent events have only served to highlight that.’
In fact, if they put Uncle Gary in charge (which they won’t, but it’s a tantalising thought), the Duchess of Cambridge would quickly get a promotion. He believes it would be for the good of the country, and the Royal Family, for Catherine to be Queen sooner rather than later.
There is a point in our interview when we discuss the fast-becoming-iconic picture of his famous niece looking out of a car window on the day of Prince Philip’s funeral. Clad in black, with only her eyes visible, she looked more regal than the royals-by-birth.
She was also the one, on that day, who seemed determined to smooth over the cracks in the royal relationships, stepping in to speak to Prince Harry and then leaving the warring brothers to walk together. A class act, says her uncle.
Above, the fast-becoming-iconic picture of Gary’s famous niece looking out of a car window on the day of Prince Philip’s funeral. Clad in black, with only her eyes visible, Kate looked more regal than the royals-by-birth
‘She doesn’t just look the part, she’s living the part,’ he argues. ‘She acts like you’d want a royal to behave. She has that poise of the public servant, yet she also has the common touch — or the Diana touch, as I think of it. It’s a difficult balance, being someone people can identify with but also look up to, but she’s got it. I think she’s the Queen’s protégée’.
While the Duchess of Cambridge has never looked more poised or capable, it didn’t escape Gary’s notice that during Prince Philip’s funeral the Queen looked suddenly and shockingly frail. Understandable in the circumstances, of course, but with questions about the future of the monarchy swirling, he has an interesting but controversial take.
‘Obviously, I’m a massive fan of the Queen and it’s amazing that her reign has been the longest in history, but wouldn’t it be great if William and Kate had the opportunity to have perhaps an even longer reign?
‘We are in an era of change for the Royal Family. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and if Her Majesty was to step aside, it’s my opinion William and Kate would give the whole country stability.’
Gary may know about the jobs market (he made a multi-million-pound fortune in the recruitment world), but in this case there is no vacancy. The Queen was back at work five days after the funeral, and has he forgotten that the Prince of Wales — the actual heir — is next in line for the throne?
‘Well, I personally didn’t think it was right the Queen was back at work. That was such a burdensome thing for anyone, never mind someone of her age. I think she should take some time out.’
‘Obviously I’m biased. I’m her uncle,’ says Gary Goldsmith (above). ‘I love [Kate] dearly and I’ve known her since the day she was born, but I genuinely think she’s an exceptional person doing a brilliant job, and recent events have only served to highlight that’
Abdicate? ‘Well if there was a good time to step down, maybe it is now. I think Prince Charles is a credit to the nation and I’m sure he would do a great job as King. And I have a huge amount of time for Camilla.
‘She actually made a point of coming over to talk to me at the wedding, and she was very kind. I won’t hear a word said against her. But — and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this — I think that when the Queen steps down, things need to pass to William and Kate.
‘To give you a football analogy, they are ready to have their foot on the ball. Charles would do a good job, of course, but in terms of freshening things up it would be better with William and Kate. With them the monarchy would thrive, rather than just survive. Charles could be found another amazing role.’
You truly feel your niece is ready to be Queen? ‘Kate was born ready,’ he says. Meaning? ‘That she looked like a princess from the off. Well, she was an ordinary girl, a bit of a tomboy, always in the middle of the rough and tumble, so I don’t mean that she looked prim and proper, but at the same time she had . . . values. She was kind, just a lovely person.
‘I think she’s quite unique. I’ve said it before but I mean it, she’s as beautiful inside as out. And she knows about duty and putting others before herself. Kate is a giver, not a taker.’
‘When you look at what happened with Meghan, you realise how easy it is to marry into that family and get it completely wrong,’ adds Gary Goldsmith. He gives a little laugh as he refers to ‘our Kate’ (by contrast, the Duchess of Sussex and her husband are ‘those muppets’). Above, Harry and Meghan during their Oprah interview
Does this bring us neatly on to the subject of Meghan and Harry? It does, rather.
‘There isn’t any self-interest about Kate’s work. I wish I could say the same about Meghan,’ says Gary.
He adds that he was ‘livid’ when he watched the Oprah interview, in which the Duchess of Sussex claimed it was Catherine who made her cry in a row over bridesmaid dresses.
He doesn’t know the truth about the debacle, but says ‘there is no way the Kate I know would do that. I just don’t believe a word of it. The whole interview beggared belief. She didn’t know the words to the national anthem? Please! Harry has been singing it since he was five. The Palace refused her help when her mental health was suffering? I don’t buy it. Harry is patron of a mental health charity.’
That interview did pose genuine questions about how supportive the royal machine can be, though. Did Harry’s comments about other members of the family being ‘trapped’ make him worry about Kate’s position?
‘It was not a Cinderella story,’ Gary says. ‘Kate, Pippa and James had a privileged life, but I do think Carole did a great job in making sure they never took it for granted. She knew her roots.’ (Above, Kate waving, with sister Pippa as young bridesmaids)
Gary practically laughs. ‘Never. I know she feels loved and supported in that family. With Carole and Mike — and William’s immediate family — around her, she’s in safe hands. I don’t think William would allow her to be used or abused in that way.’
Watching Harry, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, at Prince Philip’s funeral made him more sad than angry.
‘I was angry at them over there [in California] slagging off our Royal Family. There was no reason for them to betray the family trust in the way they did. But seeing him at the funeral, I was just sad. He looked lost. I feel quite emotional even talking about it, but we’ve all been thinking about mental health, and here we are, watching someone crumbling in front of us. It’s not right.’
He talks of the ‘happy days’ when William, Harry and Kate had formed a sort of public trio.
‘Look at how happy they were. You can’t fake that. Kate adored him and everyone only wanted him to be happy.
‘When Meghan came along it should have been more fun. Kate would have been welcoming to her, because she would have wanted Harry to be happy. If Harry is happy, everyone is happy.
‘But at the end it became about Meghan. It’s all about Meghan. I was disappointed. I thought she was given quite a hard time from the Press, but perhaps the Press got it right quicker than we did.’
‘We are in an era of change for the Royal Family. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and if Her Majesty was to step aside, it’s my opinion William and Kate would give the whole country stability,’ says Gary. (Above, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Air Cadets in East London on April 21)
The Duchess of Cambridge may cringe at her uncle’s overt cheerleading of her (and public dissing of her sister-in-law) but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Her flamboyant Uncle Gary, with his fast cars and his bling-bling suits, never did things by half. Often lost in the reporting about him was the fact that he was a very successful businessman, who — like his sister — came from humble stock, and yet ended up worth £30 million.
He still has business interests (working as a recruitment consultant and running a networking club), and currently lives in London but also spends time at his home in Ibiza. It clearly rankles that he has been depicted as something of a joke figure over the years. ‘I’m not that caricature,’ he insists.
Interestingly, he has sympathies with Thomas Markle, Meghan’s father, who found himself in the spotlight (‘like a rabbit in the headlights’) when his daughter married into the Royal Family. Gary knows the feeling.
‘With me, though, Carole warned me. She tried to prepare me.’ He feels grateful that the Middletons subsequently apologised when his life was splattered over the papers. ‘Meghan’s father didn’t have that. The Palace should have done more. Meghan should have done more. Maybe they should hand on a manual for people on the periphery.’
We keep coming back to the Middletons and their quietly steadying influence. Outwardly, Carole seems the chalk to Gary’s cheese. She is discreet, rarely giving interviews, certainly never appearing flash. Yet, in some ways, she and Gary are quite similar. They are certainly both self-starters.
‘Kate has that poise of the public servant, yet she also has the common touch — or the Diana touch, as I think of it. It’s a difficult balance, being someone people can identify with but also look up to, but she’s got it. I think she’s the Queen’s protégée,’ says Gary. (Above, Princess Diana in 1990)
It is true that Carole once worked as an air stewardess, but it was at the helm of the family party business that she made her fortune. Likewise, Gary made his millions through his own initiative. He argues today that Kate’s success can be traced back to this work ethic. ‘It’s in the DNA,’ he says.
‘Both Carole and I made our first millions, in completely different fields, by the time we were 30. I put that down to our mother.
‘We come from very humble stock — Dad, the nicest man on the planet, was a painter and decorator. Mum had several jobs. She was an accounts clerk and she worked for British Leyland.
‘We didn’t have much growing up, but she did pass on that great work ethic. She taught us to work. She also taught us that if you want something, you go for it. Whatever you want to do in life, do it to the best of your ability.’
His mother, Dorothy, was also (and, yes, he admits these things assume new relevance later) a huge royalist (‘not to mention a bit of a lush’), who went by the nickname ‘the Duchess’.
‘It’s one of my biggest regrets —and my sister’s, too — that she didn’t live long enough to see her eldest grandchild marry the future King of England,’ he says. ‘She would have loved that.’
Of course, when the romance between Catherine and William became public knowledge, much was made of Catherine’s humble roots. But Carole’s financial success — and determination that her children should have the best — had meant she had a very different sort of upbringing. Her childhood was about private school and ponies.
‘It was not a Cinderella story,’ Gary says. ‘Kate, Pippa and James had a privileged life, but I do think Carole did a great job in making sure they never took it for granted. She knew her roots.’
Although relations are more tricky now, it sounds as if they were a very close family when Catherine was growing up.
Gary was a frequent visitor to the family home in Berkshire, and remembers them holidaying in the Lakes ‘where it was all Outward Bound stuff and no running water’.
Carole was definitely the head of the household.
‘In Carole’s house it was Carole’s rules,’ he says. ‘Sometimes, as her younger brother, it used to drive me mad. When I went there for Christmas, we couldn’t open our presents till after 6pm. What was that all about? But at the same time, she was a brilliant mum.
‘She was loving and supportive but driven, too, and outdoorsy. It was all about challenges and doing your best.’ Mostly, being a guest in the Middleton home was about pitching in.
‘It’s no surprise that when I first met William he was making a cup of tea in Carole’s house. He just said: ‘Hi, I’m William.’ I can guarantee you that now when he is there, he will be given roles, because that’s how Carole is. Everyone gets a job. He’ll be on emptying-the-dishwasher duty like everyone else.’
This sounds like a perfect family environment, to be honest — about as far from the dysfunctional and often cold royal households as possible.
‘It was,’ says Gary. ‘I think of them as the Bisto Family on steroids. Perfect.’
I can’t tell whether this is said with a slight air of resentment. Perhaps jealousy?
‘Ah, sibling rivalry!’ he jokes, ‘but no, I mean it. They have a close family where everyone pitches in and everyone knows what their responsibilities are.
‘There is no bickering. There never was. I never saw Kate have to be Kofi Annan [former Secretary-General of the United Nations] when the others were arguing. And wouldn’t we all like to have that Utopian ideal in our family life?’
Gary never did. He won’t be drawn on his failed marriages today (and, let’s face it, we’d be here all day) but says pointedly that Carole worked hard to make her home life work.
‘She was always more grown-up than I was. To this day I’m a bit of a joker and I never took things seriously. I probably let myself down there, but you do grow up.
‘I think it’s also true that because Carole was ten years older, our relationship was more like a mother/son one than sister/brother. I felt I had two mums. I suppose in some ways I railed against the authority.’
There was a question mark about whether he would be invited to the wedding, but he was. He says he still ‘pinches himself’. What on earth did he buy them as a wedding gift? ‘An engraved backgammon board. I doubt William will ever have won because our family is so competitive.’
He makes a joke about how driven everyone in his family is. ‘It’s a joke with my daughter Tallulah — she’s one of the four grandchildren. The first one is going to be Queen; Pippa has done well, too — the world knows who she is and she has written books; and James has his own business. I’ve said to Tallulah: ‘There’s nothing for it. You are going to have to be the first woman on Mars.’ ‘
His mother would be proud of everyone then? ‘Yes. Not in terms of who they married or what jobs they have, but her thinking was always, whatever you want to do in life, be the best at it. Leave a mark.’
Gary is tight-lipped about how much he sees the Middletons nowadays but did let slip that he is in touch with James, his godson, and congratulated Pippa on baby Grace. ‘I haven’t seen them for a while, like most families recently,’ he says. ‘But my daughter and I met Prince George. He was so cute, charming and beguiling all in one.’
From what he’s seen, he thinks Charlotte is the royal child who has the most Goldsmith blood in her. ‘She is really cheeky and confident, just like the rest of the family. I think she’s the one I’m most excited to watch grow up!’