Tear down the bunting, blow out the candles and spike the confetti canon. The party is over for Party Pieces, the festive supply company that was founded by the Princess of Wales’s mum at the Middleton kitchen table in 1987, and where Kate briefly worked after university.

Carole and Michael Middleton have reportedly sold Party Pieces Holdings to entrepreneur James Sinclair of The Partyman Group after they were unable to “prevent it from collapsing into administration.” Translation: The business went bust, and they sold it for parts, basically.

The business, which Carole started after she couldn’t find what she was looking for when organizing Kate’s 5th birthday party, reportedly struggled during the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. According to ‘Sky News,’ which broke the story, it lost over money in the last financial year it filed its accounts.

While the collapse of the future Queen’s family’s business would likely be in the headlines anyway, this story is rapidly evolving into a scandal. That’s because, per the ‘Daily Mail,’ many of the business’ creditors are “in disbelief” at the amount of debt that Party Pieces managed to rack up, a sum amounting to over $4 million that it looks “increasingly unlikely” they’ll be able to recoup.

“What hurt me the most was that I trusted her as the mother-in-law of the future king — and she just betrayed me,” said a spokesman for a supplier of helium for balloons.

The biggest creditor, however, may be the British government: There’s a loan for support during COVID, for example, and a bill for the U.K. equivalent of HST that’s around $1 million.

Speaking to the ‘Daily Mail,’ a “close friend” said that Carole was “upset and deeply disappointed in the situation.” According to this friend, Carole had actually stepped back from day-to-day management of the business over the past few years, and she only became aware of how bad things were when it was too late. “Carole believes in accountability and accepts she had been a little naïve to step back and trust someone else to run the business she had spent decades nurturing and it’s been desperately sad to see the company sold off in this way.”

This, however, is not the story being told by at least one supplier, who told the ‘Daily Mail’ that he’d had “personal reassurances” from Carole herself that Party Pieces would repay him “in full” this year.

All in all, it’s murky stuff — and a potentially embarrassing situation for the royals by association.

The Middletons, of course, are fixtures at royal events — at the King’s coronation, they were seated just a few rows back from the royals themselves. They have tastefully parlayed their proximity to the throne into high-profile careers of their own, like Pippa Middleton’s column for an upscale grocery chain’s magazine, or Carole’s occasional media interviews incorporating friendly coverage of Party Pieces along with sweet anecdotes about her royal grandchildren.

The whiff of sordid dealings — or at the very least, incompetent management — casts a shadow over the image of the Middletons as the wholesome, well-adjusted contrast to the dysfunctional Windsors.

It’s no coincidence that any time we hear from “sources” about Kate’s family, it’s about how stable, close-knit, warm and down-to-earth they are. Their substantial wealth, built through Party Pieces’ success and not titled inheritance, is often glossed over, even though it’s the means by which Kate came to be in the same moneyed sphere as her future husband. (If theirs is a fairy tale, capitalism is the fairy godmother.)

This, of course, is strategic. Kate’s “humble beginnings” — her mother being born in government housing, the middle class family coming into so-called “new” money — were once held against her in certain quarters. As time has gone on, however, Kate’s relatively “normal” background has become a central part of her public persona, her superpower in a family and institution increasingly dogged by resentment of their immense, unearned privilege.

Party Pieces, the family business built from the ground up, was the heartwarming core of that narrative, an aspirational success story that set Kate apart from all those Windsors living off their inherited millions. Sure, she went to one of the most expensive private schools in the country, but did you hear her mom was a girl boss?

The Middletons, crucially, have often been cast as a kind of moral centre for William, Kate and the kids; their comfortable, unpretentious home a safe haven from the cut-and-thrust of palace life. For that cosy decency to be revealed as a facade masking sketchy dealings would be nothing short of disastrous — particularly when Kate’s struggling with her own reputational fallout from Prince Harry’s memoir ‘Spare,’ which painted her as a mean girl with a petty streak.

Which brings us to how Kate is dealing with all of this. Officially, there’s no comment from the Princess of Wales, via the palace, and it’s not likely there will be. Unofficially, however, she doesn’t appear to be publicly distancing herself from her family, despite the fact that some creditors, like the helium supplier, seem to be suggesting that her royal status helped the Middletons get their business into so much debt in the first place.

In fact, Carole and Pippa were glimpsed among the guests at the Jordanian royal wedding William and Kate attended last week, presumably invited because of the Middleton family’s connection to the country where they lived for a few years when Kate was a child.

For once, though, it does seem like Kate’s Middleton family connections aren’t exactly cause for celebration.

Sarah Laing is a Toronto-based freelance contributor for The Kit, writing about about celebrity and culture. Follow her on Twitter: @sarahjanelaing

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Kate Middleton Family Business Party Pieces Goes Bust
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