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Kate's mother Carole Middleton 'bombards staff with emails, docks their pay for going to the

On the face of it, working for Carole Middleton sounds like a lot of fun. For one thing the future King's glamorous mother-in-law is in the party business.

From hen-night kits and whoopee cushions to giant confetti balloons and ice cream-shaped children's sunglasses, her firm meets every conceivable whim.

She likes to throw parties, too, and confesses to being a 'chatterbox'. And whenever she's pictured in public – whether it's rubbing shoulders with the Queen or shopping with her daughters – she always appears jolly and down to earth.

Indeed, eschewing an office, Mrs Middleton, 64, chooses to sit among her 20-strong team on the open-plan floor of Party Pieces HQ, a converted cow barn in a hamlet in a quiet pocket of Berkshire.

She likes to 'listen to what people are ordering and how they are going to use it'.

Last year, in a rare stab at self-promotion, she gave interviews to two magazines, declaring in one: 'If I come across as normal, that would be great, because that's what I am.' Of the business, she added: 'It's still a big family thing.'

But not everyone who has worked for her shares this rosy assessment, though they do not doubt that it was Mrs Middleton's dogged dedication that made the business thrive.

She started Party Pieces three decades ago, initially supplying homemade goody bags to the parents of her children's school friends.

But a number of former employees interviewed by The Mail on Sunday say success has come at a price.

They suggest there is another side to the company and offer examples of what they describe as Mrs Middleton's high-handed management style.

One employee is said to have received 71 emails from her in one day, an amount many might consider excessive, even for a busy working office.

Party Pieces, the Middleton family business, near Upper Basildon, Berkshire

Other staff said that she would occasionally click her fingers to get someone's attention when she was under pressure, which was seen as irritating.

For some staff even the 'sound of her Range Rover pulling up' outside the office was enough to set them 'on edge'.

Anyone running their own company will occasionally have to deal with disgruntled staff, of course, however petty and unjustified their complaints might sometimes seem. And faced with a strong boss, some employees are more sensitive than others.

Yet those we spoke to gave similar accounts – independent of each other – of working in what at times was a stressful environment made worse over the past year as the company fought to hold its place in a challenging market.

Michael Middleton, though, who keeps a close eye on the financial side of the business, emerges as the perfect foil for his driven wife.

Staff variously describe the 69-year-old as a father figure, a mediator in internal disputes, a shoulder to cry on and a 'lovely bloke'.

Carole Middleton with her husband Michael Middleton arrive at the day five of Wimbledon Tennis Championships 2014

Mike and Carole, as Prince William calls them, founded Party Pieces in 1987 when she was a flight attendant and he a British Airways dispatcher. It has given them a comfortable life: holidays in Mustique, skiing trips in the Alps, and a Marlborough College education for all three Middleton children. And where once they lived in a modest semi, they now have a secluded seven-bedroom Grade II-listed manor hous

The Party Pieces sign. Now based in a warehouse in Yattendon, three miles from the family's five-bedroom home

All the children have worked for the business. Mrs Middleton told Good Housekeeping: 'Catherine started the First Birthday brand – she chose the products and looked after all the imagery and the catalogue production. Pippa set up the blog... James came up with the idea of personalised cakes.'

The business is a 15-minute drive from their home. Staff arriving for work are required to enter a personal code into a computer. It logs exactly when they come and go and ensures that they have worked their allotted hours.

The company accountant may then send Mrs Middleton the names of anyone who might have fallen short of their quota. Sometimes they may be emailed and given the choice of having money deducted from their pay or making up their hours.

Even time off for a dentist appointment might count against staff, claimed one ex-employee. 'I could understand having to clock in if you are being paid by the hour – but we were salaried staff,' he said.

In the main room, which features exposed wooden beams but otherwise unadorned walls, are the marketing, buying, merchandising and customer service teams. Mr Middleton's office is at the bottom of some steps. Outside there is a large warehouse and a shed where items are packaged up ready to be dispatched.

In one interview, she gave late last year, Mrs Middleton said she was a huge fan of the festive season and loved to fill her home with Christmas trees, with one in each of the grandchildren's bedrooms.

However, one former staff member said there wasn't so much as a bit of tinsel at the office. He added: 'It was miserable. You would think a company selling party items would be full of cheer. Carole once spoke about us playing rounders in a field near her home, but it failed to materialise.'

(L-R ) Pippa Middleton, James Middleton, Carole Middleton and Michael Middleton sighting on October 25, 2012 in London

Another former employee said: 'If you disagreed with her then she would bestow her favour on someone else, whoever happened to be flavour of the month.

'She would go out for lunch with them and be very friendly towards them. You would then find you were being cut out of emails that were within your speciality.

'Once she clicked her fingers wanting someone to come over to her desk, which I thought was demeaning and unprofessional. I saw her doing it to others as well.' Staff with a problem would invariably seek out her husband. An ex-employee said: 'He is an absolutely lovely guy and is seen as a bit of a father figure to everyone. One year we had a fantastic Halloween campaign, our best ever.

'Mike sent a lovely email around congratulating everyone but his wife followed it up with an email reminding everyone there was too much stock left over – even though we had broken sales records.

'We would often go to Mike if something was wrong. He'd roll his eyes and as if to say 'What has she done now?'

'Then he'd go and have a word with her and joke that Carole causes chaos and confusion.

'Mike would be full of praise and appreciative of our efforts. She would expect us to respond to emails at seven or eight at night. And they weren't simple – it would be her demanding, something to the effect of 'I need you to do this and send it back to me tonight'.

'Often we would have to work late or over the weekend because she hadn't signed something off until very late. She insisted on signing off everything but often she would disappear for hours. She was once needed desperately to sign something off but no one could get hold of her. I then saw her on the TV at Wimbledon.

'Carole's main job was to produce the quarterly catalogue – and she did a good job of it, but there were two occasions where people had to work throughout their weekend putting it together because she insisted on last-minute changes. There was never an apology, she just expected people to do it.'

Earlier this month it emerged that Party Pieces had laid off more staff amid fears for its future. A company spokesman said its structure was being 'reviewed to align with its financial targets'.

While Mrs Middleton has wisely avoided exploiting her quasi-Royal status, the business – for a while at least – unquestionably benefited from it.

Catherine Middleton (M) is seen arriving with her mother Carole Middleton (R) and sister Pippa Middleton (L) at the Goring Hotel ahead of her wedding in 2011

Staff say sales 'soared' after Kate and William's wedding in 2011, for instance.

But an insider said the company is now having to contend with the buying power of Amazon and Tesco, both of which are selling party goods.

One staff member said: 'Recently there were bans introduced on buying new stock – there was no money to buy anything in so we had to try and get rid of the stuff that hadn't sold, rather than buy in what was popular.' One senior manager who spent two years at the firm said that the pressure-cooker environment eventually forced him to quit in 2014.

'I couldn't handle it,' he said. 'It got to the point when I was stressed... it was more or less taking me over, really. They kept promising me pay rises but it was all take, never give.

'I was quite high up and I'd be sat in meetings with Carole and there would be what seemed like full-on family arguments.

'It should be a professional environment and I was hearing things, personal stuff, that I shouldn't, things that should have been left at home.'

Another staff employee, who worked at the company for six months last year, said: 'I do think she could have worked more collaboratively. I've been in meetings where someone would leave, and they have clearly been upset, and Carole would turn round and say, 'Did I say that wrong?'

'Her communication style is curt... you will find people who take offence at that, and she should be better at adjusting to her audience.

'It bordered on clumsy and not reading the audience necessarily well, but it was not rude or nasty.'

It remains to be seen how Party Pieces will fare in the challenging months ahead.

For now, though, Mrs Middleton shows no sign of slowing down. She says: 'I enjoy working and value what I have done.'

Read more from Daily Mail

My view: We are not surprised that some p

eople are leaking stories that'll make Kate Middleton look bad, but the dirty campaign is not working, because everyone knows, the people leaking and working very hard to dig up more dirt. If you have Hillary Clinton’s Former Campaign Advisor as your PR guru, then you get stuff like this. Political PR gurus are very brutal, they are there to make their boss look good and seek for public sympathy and make their opponent look bad. For years we didn't hear any bad thing about Carole Middleton, all of a sudden she's now this 24 carat witch, give me a break. And leave the woman alone.

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