- She’s ‘snobbish and uncaring’ and ‘won’t go anywhere brother Gary goes’
Under fire: Carole, seen arriving at Prince George’s christening, is said to have ‘shunned her family’
When Joanne Callen found herself seated prominently amid the expectant hush of Westminster Abbey, she was understandably on edge – and more than a little excited.
Who wouldn’t be? Cramming the medieval aisles from wall to wall, niche to niche, the pick of the British Establishment had gathered for the wedding of a generation.
Joanne is not a leading figure in society, nor is she enobled. Rather she is an unassuming recruitment consultant from a village near Watford. Yet, for all the grandeur of the occasion, she was in familiar company.
Her parents and grandparents were sitting just ahead of her, and just in front of them was her godmother, Carole Middleton.
At the back of the Abbey, waiting patiently to make her entrance as the maid of honour arranged her train, was cousin Kate, the soon-to-be Duchess of Cambridge and Joanne’s childhood friend and playmate.
Few will have heard of the Callens, but they and the Middletons are close family. Or, rather, they were.
Because now it seems that some in Joanne’s family are deeply disappointed with their more illustrious cousins – and not only because the wedding was the last they ever saw of Kate.
In the eyes of Joanne, at least, Carole has become too grand to care about Joanne’s family.
Invitations to family occasions have gone unanswered, elderly relatives remain unvisited. Carole no longer bothers with her godchild.
The Callens have never even met Prince George.
Joanne’s mother, Alison, is Carole Middleton’s first cousin. So close were the pair that they grew up almost as sisters. And later their families shared Christmases and holidays.
Yet in the three years since the wedding, Joanne says, the Middletons have steadily cut her side of the family adrift.
Carole’s colourful brother Gary, her only sibling, might well sympathise. Because, according to Joanne, he too has now been so comprehensively ‘dropped’, that his sister refuses to be seen in his company.
In speaking out in this way, Joanne, 33, is going very much against the wishes of her own family, who would rather remain discreet.
But Joanne’s account offers a quite extraordinary insight into Prince William’s in-laws – and the strange pressures exerted by their new-found way of life.
‘When I was a child Carole was really good to me,’ she explains. ‘She was a very good mother, a lovely godmother, and I liked her. But she has always been a social climber and now I feel she is snobbish.
‘She behaves as if we are not good enough for her now – so she does not need to respond to us or have any care. At the end of the day, I’m not sure what the word goddaughter means any more.
Gary remains close to Joanne’s parents.
She says: ‘Carole doesn’t reply to invitations and doesn’t turn up at any family events. She claims that she won’t go anywhere where Gary is but I think she is just making excuses.
‘The real reason is that she is above us now.
‘We’re not in her social circle. It’s as if we are not good enough now and she’s embarrassed by us. She is now even grander than the Queen.’
The Middletons have been endlessly lauded as a dose of domestic normality for Prince William and the Windsors; but for Joanne, at least, the legacy of that Friday afternoon at the Abbey is a once-close family now painfully divided.
Carole, 59, is technically Joanne’s first cousin once removed. It makes Joanne and Kate second cousins.
The Callens have never spoken a word of criticism about their famous relatives and Gary, who has done several interviews with this newspaper, has kept a determined silence about his on-off relationship with his older sister. But the family is clearly hurt.
The effect of being ignored, says Joanne, is devastating.
Family fun: Young Kate (left) and Joanne meet up for Christmas in 1991 with Carole and her mother Dorothy
It obviously rankles that none of the Callens have seen their new relative George – despite many opportunities for an invitation.
The baby prince spent the first month of his life with Kate and William at Carole and husband Michael’s new multi-million-pound mansion in Bucklebury (where Michael took the first photograph of the young family), and Carole cared for George when the Royals were on holiday in the Maldives in January.
Joanne continues: ‘I was so excited when George was born. I watched Kate leaving the hospital looking lovely and have read about him in lots of newspapers and magazines. But none of the family has met him and we have barely seen Carole since the wedding.’
But it is the way Carole has behaved towards Joanne’s grandparents, Ruth 81 and Ivor, 86, who live barely 30 miles away from her in the suburban town of Ruislip, Middlesex, that she seems to find particularly upsetting.
Joanne says Carole has twice promised to introduce the grandparents – Carole’s aunt and uncle – to George but they still have not seen him. In the run-up to last Christmas, Carole rang Ruth and offered to send a car to pick them up.
Ruth promptly went out to buy a present for George, but the car never came. ‘Carole said a car would pick them up in the next couple of weeks to meet Prince George,’ says Joanne. ‘She said that she would call later and organise a time and a date. So my grandmother went out and bought George an outfit.
‘When I asked her later if she had met George, she made an excuse for them saying, “They must be very busy.” But I felt terrible for her because she had gone out and bought a gift for him and was so excited about meeting him – not because he was Prince George but because he was family.
Cut adrift: Recruitment consultant Joanne says her godmother Carole ignores her family
‘I still feel sad thinking of them sitting there waiting for the call with the present all wrapped up waiting for them.
‘Then Christmas came and it obviously wasn’t going to happen. Our family is deeply saddened. There is no need to upset anybody. She should certainly have a good deal more respect for Ruth and Ivor.’
‘If Dorothy Goldsmith [Carole’s mother] were alive she would be devastated by how Carole has treated Gary and my grandparents.’
Dorothy was the sister of Joanne’s grandmother and so was Joanne’s great aunt.
The second occasion was on June 26 this year, which was Dorothy’s birthday.
Ruth, Ivor and Alison were having lunch after visiting the cemetery when Carole called and told them that if they waited for a few hours they could see Kate and George.
‘Mum took grandma and grandfather to visit grandma’s sister’s grave in Pangbourne Cemetery, which is just up the hill from the church,’ continues Joanne.
‘They thought they might meet Carole for lunch but Carole could not make it and suggested they might like to wait for a few hours to see Kate and George. Mum told her, “My parents are elderly. They can’t wait that long. Can we just pop in on our way home instead? It would be lovely to see you – even if Kate and George are not there.”
‘But Carole said, “I’m sorry but I’m at work.” So they went home again – without having met George.’
‘I suppose Carole may feel that the Palace doesn’t want her to see her wider family regularly now she is grandmother to the future King.
‘Perhaps she is complying with what she thinks is their wish but it doesn’t make it easier.’
It is not just Carole’s behaviour towards her aunt and uncle, Ruth and Ivor, that has caused offence. When Joanne’s sister Catherine celebrated her wedding at the 18th Century Hampton Court House in Surrey last month, none of the Middletons attended or sent presents.
Alison had texted Carole asking if she could make it back in April, but in Joanne’s eyes at least, Carole’s response was beyond impolite.
‘Obviously Catherine wanted the Middletons there as they are our only family on our grandmother’s side so she sent an invitation to them at Bucklebury and to Kate at Kensington Palace.
'But I believe they didn’t even send a card and certainly not a wedding present. The Palace responded on behalf of Kate, who was unable to attend.’
There had been signs of tension at the Royal Wedding, on April 29, 2011. Although the Callen family were treated well, Kate’s Uncle Gary was not invited to stay with the rest of the family in the Goring Hotel and was not given a reserved seat in the church.
Joanne recalls: ‘A car picked us up and drove us to the Goring Hotel, where the family was staying the night before.
‘As we drew nearer, the streets were lined with thousands of people, the roads were blocked and photographers were holding their cameras against the car to take pictures.
‘I felt really excited but my stomach was churning and I felt nervous for Kate.
‘We didn’t see any of our side of the family – Kate was in a suite on the top floor with her mother and Pippa – but we saw Mike’s family in the bar. I remember wondering why Gary wasn’t there. Someone told me he wasn’t invited.
Staying away: The Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George. Joanne has still never met her new relative
‘When we walked into the Abbey, my mum and dad, grandma and grandad had seats at the front, just behind Carole. Jessica, my other sister, and Catherine and I were near the front and Boris Johnson was right in front of me. I remember laughing at his wild hair.
‘Then Gary walked in with Luan and Tallulah [his ex-wife and daughter]. He walked straight down the aisle towards mum and dad – I could hear his shoes tapping – but he hadn’t got a seat reserved with his name on.
‘He had to sit right at the back and watch it on a screen. He has never talked to the family about it but I felt really embarrassed for him because he is Kate’s uncle and her brother James’s godfather and he should have been at the front.’
Little did Joanne realise that the Royal Wedding day would be the last time she would see her cousin Kate – a particular shame, she says, given their closeness as children.
Carole was a bridesmaid when Joanne’s mother was married at St Mary’s Church, Northolt, in 1976. Carole then became godmother to Joanne, Alison’s first child.
Carole returned the favour by inviting Alison to be a bridesmaid at her 1980 wedding to Michael Middleton at Dorney Parish Church, in Windsor. Joanne’s father Robert, now a 61-year-old solicitor, was made Kate’s godfather at her christening.
Blanking? Carole ‘won’t go anywhere where her brother Gary goes’, it has been claimed
‘Our families were always extremely close,’ Joanne says. ‘I think Mum and Carole were even in a nightclub together when she first met Dad.
‘Carole was a bridesmaid at Mum’s wedding. When Carole and Mike got married four years later, they chose my mum as a bridesmaid. She was four months pregnant with me.
‘Then Carole was my godmother when I was christened at St Mary’s Church, in Ruislip. She gave me a silver bracelet.’
As their two families expanded, they spent some Christmases and summer holidays together.
‘Kate was the nicest one,’ says Joanne. ‘She doesn’t have a bad bone in her body. She was very sweet to my youngest sister Cat, who looked up to her, and would write letters to her.’
In the summer of 1987 – when Joanne was six and Kate was five – they went to the Lake District together. ‘Kate and I had a lovely time,’ she recalls.
‘There was a steep stream there and we would slide down to the bottom of it on the slippery rocks. She was very active and very good at everything. In fact she was the best. If we did swing ball, she would win at that, if we did running races, she would win them.’
Four years later, they spent Christmas at Bude, in Cornwall. ‘We hired a complex of different cottages,’ she recalls. ‘We all had separate ones – Mum and Dad and us children, Carole, Mike and their children, Ivor and Ruth, Dorothy, her husband Ronald and Gary.
‘We used to go to the beach a lot – even in the rain – and come back drenched. Carole was really house proud and she would tell us off for not taking our shoes off and getting sand all over the floor.’
When she got older Joanne and her sisters went to the local Church of England secondary school, near their home in Eastcote, Middlesex, while Kate, Pippa and James went to top public school Marlborough.
But they remained close and met up at family events such as Ruth and Ivor’s golden wedding anniversary party at the Barn Hotel, Ruislip, in 2003.
‘We hadn’t seen each other for a while and were sitting at a table chatting about school and sport,’ says Joanne. ‘Three years later I saw Kate at Dorothy’s 70th birthday party and she was referring to her boyfriend Will as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
‘It was Dorothy’s last birthday before she died and it was a really poignant occasion.
‘I remember Gary turning up and giving Dorothy a Cartier watch – he is such a generous man and was exceptionally good to his parents.
‘She would have been heartbroken to see how he is being treated.’