Wannabe Mrs Middletons stand down: Britain’s most eligible bachelor is off the market. Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster (who became the richest man in the world under 30, when his father died last year) has found love in the form of Harriet Tomlinson, with whom he went to boarding school.
A source close to the young duke remarks: “Hugh and Harriet are blissfully happy. They have a lot of shared interests and are both very down to earth and family orientated. She’s a really lovely girl and very much the love of his life,” albeit a relatively young life, both parties being a whipper-snapperish 26.
Ms Tomlinson – like the artist formerly known as Kate Middleton – is from a distinctly non-U sounding background; mother Louise used to work at Boots, while father Grahame owned a curtain factory in Chester, not far from Eaton Hall, the Duke’s 11,000-acre family estate.
She attended the University of Wales in Cardiff to study teaching, progressing into estate agency via a Party Pieces-type gig in events management. A keen runner, like Kate, her demeanour suggests sporty girl-next-door: a sensible, middle-class brunette, providing a stabilising influence in the wake of his loss.
Had they not been at school together, the pair would be unlikely to have crossed paths. Not that their alma mater, Ellesmere College in Shropshire, is famed as a bastion of privilege, only entering Tatler’s Schools Guide in 2016. A local source reveals: “The perception was always that it was for well-off, sporty, possibly less academic sorts. Leavers were more likely to go to Oxford Brookes than Oxford University.”
If Mr and Mrs Tomlinson do boast any Ma Middleton-type ambitions, then, they should be congratulated in pulling off this victory; not least as by the time one’s child is at secondary school, much valuable time may already have been lost in the sourcing-an-eligible-match stakes. Posh pair bonding – or at least setting the ground for future pair bonding - starts young.
A county Etonian tells me: “The truth is, we meet the same way as everyone else: through family friends, at school, at uni.” This observation is telling, not least because most people do not meet their partners through their parents, prep schools and secondary establishments, and only a fifth at university.
It is only oiks and toffs who find themselves inheriting their parents’ social circles: the middle classes meet their spouses in offices, pubs, online, and at the gym. In contrast, said Etonian’s former loves are all women that he has known since birth, massed in large, extended families (meaning one knows their stock) and including not merely kissing, but positively pawing cousins.
This, obviously, is why all the so-called “elite” introduction agencies are full of self-made nouveaus rather than old-school blue blood. As a well-born Derbyshire source - who met her husband at a hunt ball - declares: “We all meet first as nippers at county dos, pony club, and ballroom dancing classes, Feathers Ball (I think it now happens at the Ministry of Sound!), or 21sts with a marquee in the garden. Rumour has it that at Feathers there are orthodontists on stand-by to separate train-track braces that get caught up snogging.”
Rumour has it that at Feathers [ball] there are orthodontists on stand-by to separate train-track braces that get caught up snogging
Feathers Charity Ball has been running for over 60 years, and is a rite of passage for Hooray youth. “It’s a black tie bash for teens aged 14-16,” our source continues. “A sort of posh prom, and a cross between a deb thing and some crap provincial nightclub. Very, very exciting. Everyone smokes like chimneys and it’s extremely awkward. The cool thing is to attend with members of the opposite sex, only no one knows any. Everyone goes – well, everyone from public schools.”
Regarding these schools, a safer bet than Ellesmere in terms of posh coupling might have been Marlborough, the establishment that spawned those ever-ascendant wisteria sisters, as well as Princess Eugenie, and Samantha Cameron. Bedales is known for its life-long, boho-toff clique; Westminster and St. Paul’s as breeding grounds for the establishment, many of whom end up arguing together forever after.
When we were 16, our housemaster realised that we just weren’t meeting girls, so he had 20 or so bussed in for the evening from St Mary’s Ascot
Housemasters and mistresses may set up impromptu fraternising opportunities. Another former Etonian recalls: “When we were 16, our housemaster realised that we just weren’t meeting girls, so he had 20 or so bussed in for the evening from St Mary’s Ascot. It was excruciating, not least after he informed us that there was to be ‘no ungentlemanly behaviour,’ and that our bedrooms would remain locked until the fair sex departed.”
Some schools also come with effective familial links. “The girls I grew up with all went to Cheltenham Ladies College, their brothers to Eton, so the two felt very linked,” one former pupil explains. “So many of us ended up with our former teenage crushes.”
University-wise, the motto of the extremely posh appears to be “Go North”. Hugh Grosvenor went to edgy choice Newcastle with Princess Eugenie and Prince William’s dad-dancing chums James Meade and Thomas Van Straubenzee.
Edinburgh, where Pippa Middleton launched her charm offensive (and shared a house with Earl Percy, the future Duke of Northumberland, and Lord Edward Innes-Kerr, younger son of the Duke of Roxburghe) has been found to be the British university at which one is most likely to discover the love of one’s life; still more likely for aristos, the place being so terribly well positioned for shooting weekends.
Even the tightest clique will adopt the most fun, clever, and entertaining outsiders to join it
St Andrews has attracted nice boys and gels looking for love ever since Kate and William met there, “Also because there’s nothing else to do,” adds one alumnus glumly. Southern options mean London, Bristol, or Southampton. Oxford and Cambridge only score as also-rans as one first has to be bright to get in.
Still, all is not lost for those that leave it still later: country house parties, the right kind of skiing, and festivals such as Port Eliot and Pylewell still provide ins. As one arch social commentator observes: “It remains a bit Brideshead, but a chance meeting where someone pukes on you at a party can be the means by which someone introduces you to their world, family, and friends.
“Even the tightest clique will adopt the most fun, clever, and entertaining outsiders to join it,” he continues. “Some of us have even been out with you, and you’re a scumbag. Not that we’d marry you, of course.”
Top notch dating tips
1) Start young, ideally 800 years ago. It helps if your families are so close it feels as if you’re related. After all, you probably are.
2) Parents’ friends are key: it’s their offspring you’ll be pairing off with in 30 years. Prep schools are similarly important, aristos often being too lazy to make more than one set of friends.
3) The middle classes are fair game – and quite good at all that emotional stuff Mama and Papa missed out - so long as they know how to behave, a la the Middletons.
4) Know your history. The Duchess of Cornwall’s reputed pick up line to Prince Charles – “My great-grandmother and your great-great grandfather were lovers — so how about it?” – has much to commend it.
5) Age is no impediment. After you have exhausted your own age group, look to the next generation. Compare Kate Moss shacking up with Debbie Von Bismarck’s firstborn, and the chaps who are suddenly super keen on setting up internships for their daughters’ pals.