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‘Carole came out of it with nothing’: Inside demise of £30m Party Pieces, inspired by Kate, by the man trying to save it



PARTYWARE business Party Pieces, although not holding an official royal warrant, has a significant connection to the British royal family. It is the family business of the future Queen, Princess Kate Middleton.

Founded by Kate’s mother, Carole Middleton, Party Pieces provided Kate with her first work experience and generated the funds to send her and her siblings, Pippa and James, to the prestigious Marlborough School. This educational opportunity propelled all three children into the upper echelons of society, paving the way for Kate’s eventual meeting with Prince William at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Without Carole’s entrepreneurial success with Party Pieces, a business that sells a wide range of party supplies from plates and cups to balloons and banners, and was once reported to be worth £30 million, Kate’s royal fairytale might not have unfolded.

Interestingly, Carole Middleton has attributed the inspiration for starting Party Pieces to her daughter Kate. In an interview last year, she revealed that she couldn’t find suitable partyware for Kate’s fifth birthday party, prompting her to recognize a gap in the market for affordable yet stylish party supplies, ultimately leading to the establishment of her successful business venture.

The Middleton family’s Party Pieces business has been a significant part of their lives. Founded and operated as a partnership between Carole and Michael Middleton, the company’s success enabled them to purchase their family home, the £4.7 million Bucklebury Manor in Berkshire. Prior to her marriage into the royal family, Kate Middleton worked at Party Pieces as a project manager, where she played a role in developing the company’s birthday and baby product categories. Despite its royal connections, Party Pieces faced financial difficulties and went into administration in June of this year, accumulating £2.6 million in debts. This left suppliers unpaid and the company’s workforce of over 30 employees uncertain about their future prospects.

The company in question was acquired for £180,000 by entrepreneur James Sinclair, who continues to operate the business. Sinclair’s decision to step in and purchase the brand was motivated by his recognition of its established legacy.

However, the acquisition was structured as a pre-pack administration deal, which meant that Sinclair was not liable for any existing debts incurred by the previous owners. This situation led to ongoing repercussions from creditors, culminating in posters appearing on lampposts around the former owners’ home, demanding that they personally pay the outstanding debts.

Reports indicate that James Middleton, who resides nearby with his wife Alizee, became enraged upon seeing these posters and proceeded to remove them. It is important to note that the former owner, Carole, made concerted efforts to try and save the company, and the entire family is saddened by the business’s eventual failure.

The article provides insights into the concerns faced by Carole Middleton, the mother of the future queen, regarding her long-standing business, Party Pieces. Here are the key points:

Carole Middleton had a deep emotional attachment to Party Pieces, having built it from the ground up over three decades, with the entire family’s involvement. As the new company boss, James, a former kids entertainer, reveals that Carole was particularly worried about the staff whose jobs were threatened when the business started to struggle.

Carole sold half of the company to investors, and a new management team took over, leading her to step away from the business as she wanted to retire. Despite Party Pieces being in a healthy position when Carole stepped away, James believes that the new management team overstretched and spent too much money, despite their good intentions.

The passage provides insights into the difficulties encountered by a long-standing family business during a transitional phase and the emotional attachments involved. It highlights the efforts made by Carole, a key figure, to stabilize the company’s operations when she was asked to return in November of the previous year. Her role is likened to a “lifeboat” and a “force of personality,” suggesting her attempt to rescue the situation. However, the passage implies that her efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, as it states, “it was too late.”

The passage also addresses the misconception that Carole benefited financially from the situation, stating, “Everyone thinks she came out of it with a big fat cheque, but quite the opposite is true, she came out of it with nothing.” This clarifies that she did not gain any financial advantage from the company’s struggles.

Furthermore, the passage touches on the expectation that Carole or her family should bear the financial burden, but it refutes this notion by stating, “People expect her or her family to foot the bill, but they haven’t got the kind of the money people think they have.” This suggests that the family’s financial resources may not be as substantial as perceived.

Overall, the passage provides an informative perspective on the challenges faced by a family business during a transition period, the emotional ties involved, and the misconceptions surrounding the financial situation of the key individuals.

James, an entrepreneur with a diverse portfolio of businesses catering to children and families, was approached in June by an intermediary regarding the potential acquisition of a partyware company. Given his expertise in the industry, he seemed like an ideal candidate for the opportunity.

James’ Partyman Group encompasses a range of businesses, including soft play centers, a nursery chain, a make-your-own teddy bear venture, and various children’s attractions across Essex, such as Lee Valley Adventure Park and Marsh Farm.

After signing a non-disclosure agreement, James learned that the business in question was Party Pieces, a well-known brand in the industry. Recognizing the potential, James couldn’t resist the opportunity, aware of the famous family behind the brand.

Within 15 minutes of the initial discussion, James found himself on the phone with Carole Middleton, the founder of Party Pieces, further solidifying his interest in the acquisition.

The acquisition of Party Pieces was a swift process that allowed the company to continue operations despite entering administration. James’s investment secured substantial assets, including seven lorry loads of stock, the brand, some staff members, the website, and the infrastructure.

Carole Middleton, the founder, made concerted efforts to prevent creditors from incurring losses, although this ultimately proved unattainable. Her primary concern was ensuring the business’s success after James’s acquisition to safeguard the jobs of employees she deeply cared about.

James facilitated the relocation of staff from Berkshire to the new offices in Essex, recognizing the emotional attachment Carole had developed with the company she had nurtured for three decades. Party Pieces was an extension of her identity, and she was determined to prevent its abrupt demise, a sentiment shared by her family members who had been involved in the business.

According to James, Party Pieces is currently thriving, with business booming under the new ownership and management structure.

The Middleton family’s Party Pieces business has undergone a revival under the leadership of James Middleton, the brother of Kate, the Princess of Wales. He has taken over the reins of the party supplies company founded by his mother, Carole Middleton, in the 1980s.

One of James’s key initiatives has been to reintroduce the popular catalogues that Carole pioneered in the 1990s but were discontinued when she stepped away from the business. Carole has acknowledged the valuable role her children have played, stating, “Their honest feedback has been invaluable in helping to shape the business.”

James has not only brought back some of the successful elements from Carole’s era but has also introduced innovations like personalized birthday cards and cakes. He recognizes the importance of the company’s legacy, saying, “I could see what the problems were, and I wanted to repair the company because of the legacy it has.”

While James remains discreet about whether Party Pieces will supply party supplies for royal events, he admits to being a big fan of the royal family and is pleased to have saved a company that played a role in modern royal history.

The Middleton influence is set to continue, with Carole expressing her approval of the direction James is taking the business, as he aims to blend the company’s successful past with fresh ideas for the future.

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