As wedding nears, Kate Middleton’s home town of Bucklebury is protective, proud

Prince William fancies mint ice cream! Kate Middleton craves gummy candies!

These are the kind of scintillating details on tap here in Bucklebury, a town 55 miles west of London along narrow, winding roads that on a recent day were blocked temporarily by a slow-walking pheasant.

Middleton grew up in this picturesque parish village, and until recently worked out of her parent’s mansion for Party Pieces, the family business. The town is famous for being fiercely protective of Middleton, who is known mostly as “Kate,” though “Catherine” vexingly slips its way into conversations as well.

But the town appears to be reconciling a preference for privacy with a natural pride in the local woman whose wedding to Prince William will take place Friday.

Hash Shingadia, a grocer who is attending the royal wedding, is one of the locals handing out innocuous scraps of details to the many reporters roaming the town like hungry hyenas.

The first time Prince William popped by his tiny grocery store, Shingadia said, the second in line to the British throne inquired about Wall’s Vienetta mint ice cream.

“Now we make sure it’s always stocked for him,” Shingadia explained to journalists from Australia, Belgium, Japan, England and the United States. (He also confirms that Catherine, as he has called her for the 13 years he’s known her, loves Haribo gummy candies. He sent her a box as a wedding gift.)

Bucklebury, population 2,000, is a discreetly wealthy village with enormous houses on enormous plots of land. It’s the kind of place where Prince William can land a Chinook helicopter in the field behind his girlfriend’s house, repeatedly taking off and landing as part of a military training exercise or an elaborate attempt at flirtation, and keep it secret from the tabloids. For two weeks anyway, in 2008.

But lately the media have become a part of the fabric of the town. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and CNN’s Piers Morgan dropped in this week, hot on the heels of BBC Vietnam.

“I’ve been totally besieged,” said John Haley, 55, who has been pulling pints for 15 years as the owner of the Old Boot Inn, the Middletons’ favorite pub.

Locals chat breezily about how Middleton, 29, attended schools in nearby Pangbourne and Wiltshire, excelled at sports and traveled to Italy and Chile after high school, but no one dishes on anything with a whiff of controversy. 

“We’re very protective,” said Haley, who happily offers benign details, including where Prince William and Kate, as he has always called her, like to sit in the pub (at the front of the bar, next to the fireplace).

At one point, a German film crew strolled into the pub. Somehow they had heard that Haley does a thing with Top Trumps, a deck of playing cards popular in Britain that features celebrity faces, and could he show them?

“There’s one particularly famous guy in here,” the affable publican said. He flicks through the cards like a casino dealer, past a picture of the Queen, Charles, Kate, flick flick, Diana, the corgis, flick flick, and then suddenly John Haley is staring at a picture of John Haley.

“Why do they want me on there?” he said, grinning in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t mind too much.

Haley will be at the wedding and then racing back to Bucklebury after the ceremony for a party at his pub at which he will hand out prizes for the best-dressed princes and princesses.

The rest of the village is going party bonkers, too: Among the many events, the village is hosting a fair on the green next to the Middletons’, replete with morris dancers, champagne tents, sausages from the butcher (once he returns from the wedding) and duck racing.

“Sheep racing is better, but since it’s lambing season, we’re having ducks,” said Simon Kelly, the owner of the Bladebone pub, where Middleton’s dad orders fish-and-chip takeaways. After the fair, revelers are invited to Kelly’s pub for a “knights and maidens” theme party. 

 The village is tightknit and normally tight-lipped, said Sarah Clay, 21, a university student who looks eerily similar to Chelsy Davy, on-off girlfriend of Prince Harry. “That’s why they chose the countryside,” she explained of the people who live here. And yet, she said, people are proud of their local princess-to-be, just in a British way, meaning they don’t gush with enthusiasm but will drink a lot on the big day. 

For her part, Clay hopes the blaze of publicity will somehow find its way to Prince Harry. “I just want Prince Harry to come here and marry me,” she states matter-of-factly, knowing that a similar fate is about to be bestowed on one of the town’s recent residents.

Karla Adam is a reporter in the Washington Post’s London bureau. Before joining the Post in 2006, she worked as a freelancer in London for the New York Times and People magazine.

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