Christopher Howse admits he would rather not party with Pippa Middleton, reviewing Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends.
Pippa Middleton has “always loved to write”, indeed it is a “passion”, so it is sad that she has had to wait until the age of 29, four years older than Keats at his death, to achieve publication. In her first sentence she sportingly refers to the “global recognition” attained by her bottom.
Her opinions, however, remain unpredictable . “I don’t think,” she declares, “there’s a right way or a wrong way to celebrate.” This is surprising. If she doesn’t think there’s a wrong way to celebrate, we might have expected more photographs of her in the cheaper celebrity magazines.
The chosen celebrations mark the seasons, with nods to the comfortably named Bonfire Night and Pancake Day. There are plenty of photos of Pippa: Pippa carrying some smoked salmon and beetroot “crostinis”; Pippa threading a conker; Pippa in dark blue shorts being treated as a wheelbarrow on the beach by some chap in light blue shorts; Pippa helping a little boy paint an egg; Pippa helping a little girl stir a Christmas pud. I made it 53 photos of Pippa, some full-page. Yet the globally recognised bottom hardly gets a look-in, making a half-hearted entrance on page 163, and exiting with another plate of canapés on page 164.
The flavour is of a twentysomething, smiling, prosperous, interiorly designed life, with other people’s children, surely, as accessories. Some 40 pages are devoted to the ideal children’s party, held in the sunny outdoors. If you’re stuck for an idea, try a “sack race”. It works like this: “Everyone stands along a starting line and, on ‘Go’, players start jumping in their sacks towards the finish line. Over-enthusiastic racers will most likely get themselves in a tangle and fall.” Yes, I think I get the idea. But how can you tell who has won? “The first person to cross the finish line is declared the winner.”
And for grown-ups, quite like what does nothing say summer? A barbecue. “Nothing says summer quite like a barbecue,” we are told. “Even with cloud-ridden skies, there is always a good British cheer that the weather has held and – most importantly – it’s not raining!” Isn’t it? “Most guests will, without doubt, still relish the chance of eating outside wrapped up in blankets and coats.”
But what about decorations? “There is no real need for decorations when throwing a barbecue party – let the summer garden, in all its vibrant and luscious splendour, speak for itself.”
Then there are picnics. Pippa Middleton has a strange theory about these: “The decline of coaching inns – until then relied upon for a decent meal – meant people had to cater for themselves.” In the hamper, what better than the Cornish pasty? “This traditional British pie has attained iconic and protected status and is instantly recognisable by the distinctive shape.” But is the recognition global, like Pippa’s? Then, for the more adventurous, camping is “rather like a picnic, but it brings an extra sense of camaraderie”.
What is the point of this thick, colourful book, except as a sort of cultural tea bag for the American market? Who will rely on its recipes for cooking a turkey, a Victoria sandwich or a leg of lamb?
In a way, though, it is an autobiography. There is a breathing human life hidden behind the team effort of the photographer, props mistress, recipe tester, “craft and creative companion”, two historical researchers, a cocktail consultant and a florist, all duly thanked, and Sarah Reynolds, the mysterious “ear to my ideas and eye to my words”, a “stalwart travelling companion on this literary journey”.
And at the edge of the soft Home Counties focus, there are worrying hints. Pippa’s grandmother convinced her that the currants in rabbit-shaped biscuits were squashed flies. Pippa’s favourite pudding at school was “birdseed”. Even at picnics there is “wildlife passing close by”. A cocktail called Blood and Sand is photographed with an edible ant floating in it. At least I hope it is edible. The next book (“I’m having new ideas all the time”) might well fall into the misery lit category. A good title would be “The Wrong Way to Celebrate”.
Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends
by Pippa Middleton
416pp, Michael Joseph, t £23
(PLUS £1.35 p&p) Buy now from Telegraph Books (RRP £25)