James Middleton on the sweet gesture that ensured Kate’s kids share his love of dogs
With a successful career, picturesque home in the Berkshire countryside and close royal connections, James Middleton has admitted in the past that he’s led “a richly blessed and privileged life”.
But things have not always been easy for the 36-year-old entrepreneur, who grew up in a happy household with older sisters Catherine, the Princess of Wales, and Pippa and their parents Carole and Michael.
Opening up about his mental health struggles, he reveals he has faced a dark and difficult battle with depression that left him unable to communicate even with his family.
“During the day I’d drag myself up and go to work, then just stare with glazed eyes at my computer screen, willing the hours to tick by so I could drive home again,” he previously wrote.
“I couldn’t respond to the simplest message so I didn’t open my emails. I couldn’t communicate, even with those I loved best – my family and close friends. Their anxious texts grew more insistent by the day, yet they went unanswered as I sank progressively deeper into a morass of despair.”
Coping with what he called “a cancer of the mind”, James tells OK! he has his beloved dogs to thank for his recovery and even saving his life. Speaking ahead of the Goodwoof event for dogs and owners, which took place earlier this month, the Pets As Therapy charity ambassador reveals it was his four-legged friends who pulled him back from mental illness.
“It’s still challenging to talk about it, but actually the role that my dogs played was fundamental in my recovery and my rehabilitation,” he says. “My dog Ella, in particular, was my reason to get up in the morning, my reason to get dressed and go outside and go for a walk – even if it was pouring with rain.
"You go outside for 10 or 15 minutes, get that fresh air and you suddenly forget what was traumatising you. That respite from the thing that was banging away in my mind and causing me to not function properly was unintentionally helped by Ella and the rest of my dogs.”
Reflecting on their special bond at his greatest time of need, he quickly corrects himself. “Actually I do think it was intentional,” he says. “I think Ella knew that I wasn’t functioning to my full capacity and she was trying to give little encouraging signs to get me to look after myself because I had a responsibility to look after her too.
"I think they played such an important role to the point that I do think they’ve saved my life.”
As anyone who follows James on Instagram will know, furry family members play a huge part in the idyllic life he shares with his wife of two years, Alizée Thevenet. In fact, Ella the spaniel played matchmaker in 2018, when she made a beeline for the financial analyst in a bar and James went to retrieve her.
He’s previously revealed, “Alizée thought I was the waiter and ordered her drink while continuing to stroke Ella, who at this point was on her back lapping up the attention.”
Growing up, James tells us that he didn’t have dogs, which “devastated” him, so he would “write letters to my parents to try to convince them to let me have one”. He admits his childhood fixation may have played a part in how much he values their company now.
When he was a teenager, the Middleton family finally got a dog of their own. Tilly – who was one of the dogs photographed with the Prince and Princess of Wales as they cradled a new-born Prince George for an official photo – made a huge impression on him and was the first in a long line of golden retrievers – and spaniels – to share his home.
Recalling their relationship, James says, “I found a lot of solace in my dog, Tilly, particularly when I was a young teenager. She knew all of my secrets at the time – who I fancied and all of those little tricky parts that come with growing up that I never told anybody.”
Tilly, who died six years ago aged 17, is great-great-grandmother to his dog Mabel, one of the faithful pack who now accompany James every day and feature in his social media posts.
When William and Kate decided the time was right for them to get their own dog in 2011, it was Ella’s puppy Lupo who stole their hearts and moved into Kensington Palace.
When he died nine years later, Orla the black working cocker was gifted to George, Charlotte and Louis by their Uncle James. “I’m really pleased that they are able to enjoy and have the benefit of a dog in their lives,” he says. “I see them being lucky that they have a dog in their life.”
Can we expect more babies of the non-furry variety in James’ immediate family? “We don’t have children yet, but it’s an exciting thing to look forward to in the years to come,” he says.
Referring to those youngsters who may feel scared of dogs and Kate’s ground-breaking work in the field of early years development, James explains, “The experiences that can happen as a child can change and shape you for the future and that’s actually an element of what my sister and her early years development work involves.
"The things you know in your early childhood that you might not mentally remember – emotionally and physically you can remember them but they stay with you because you’re told them and you build on them. It’s amazing.”
While James has a series of successful businesses, including his dog food brand Ella & Co, he is also involved in several dog charities, including his role as an ambassador for Pets As Therapy. Like his royal sibling, James uses his public profile to support causes close to his heart.
Playing a key role for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, he is also involved
with Guide Dogs and last year donated a puppy to them with a very special name. “He’s called Bertie after the late Queen’s father,” he says, smiling.
“Then I also opened up the dog centre in Cardiff, which is state-of-the-art. These dogs fundamentally change lives. At a charity event recently, I learned about the work Save The Rhino does and I was thinking what do rhinos have to do with dogs? But dogs can track the poachers and the illegal exports of the rhino horns.
"And then you have the medical detection dogs who have been trained to detect cancer. The more we can actually utilise dogs within our lives, I think the better off we’ll be.”
James enjoys the annual weekend of canine capers at Goodwoof on the Duke of Richmond’s estate near Chichester. He recently attended the event, joining in to help “celebrate our canine companions in spectacular style”. He tells us he most enjoys watching the sheepdog trials.
“I’m always blown away by their demonstrations because it’s a real celebration of dogs and the different abilities that they have and how they work,” he says. “Humans work as a team and what you can achieve with humans and dogs together is incredible.”
Reflecting on how his own pets – past and present – have supported him and given him strength, he says, “They gave me the confidence to be able to talk about it [depression]. And this was where my pivot in life was. I recognised how much my dogs have given me and I’m just trying to give them an ounce back.
"Unfortunately they are with us for such a short amount of time. They just want you to love them and to look after them and care for them to the best of your ability. And, with that, you get an unlimited supply of love.”
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