IT’S a celebration that would have Rabbie birling in his grave. Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s younger sister, has written a 20-page guide to Burns Suppers that turns the annual commemoration of Scotland’s bard into an event with pompom thistles and a game of cards.
Middleton, 29, reportedly received a £400,000 advance for her first book, Celebrate: A Year Of British Festivities for Families And Friends, which includes a chapter on hosting the perfect Burns Supper.
In the guide, Middleton compares the Immortal Memory to “a best man’s speech”, recommends making pompom thistles for the table and suggests rounding off the evening with a quiet game of cards.
She also writes about a friend’s “signature dish” of haggis and chicken, but appears to fail to realise that it is the Royal favourite, Balmoral Chicken, created for her brother-in-law’s grandmother, the Queen, by a Ballater butcher.
Middleton’s sanitised guide has horrified the stalwarts of the Burns community who prefer a more robust version of the annual dinner.
“Pippa Middleton’s twee view of four people round a table winding up the evening playing ‘a game of cards with a whisky’ pushes my ‘it’s up to you’ belief when it comes to Burns Suppers to its limits,” said Clark McGinn, veteran Burns Night expert and author of The Ultimate Burns Supper Book.
“Whether it’s reducing the heartfelt Immortal Memory to what Pippa calls a ‘best man’s speech’ or inviting people to ‘link arms’ for Auld Lang Syne, this chapter succeeds in what I would have thought was impossible: it stifles the life out of the concept – and Burns is all about life.”
Middleton, who grew up in the Home Counties, admits that her Scottish chapter may seem like an “unusual addition” to the book, but confesses that she has “come to treasure Scotland, a land cloaked in nostalgia and history”, after studying at Edinburgh University, and says that Scotland’s “epic and rugged landscape” has become “like a second home to me”.
She adds: “My love of the country stems from my days at Edinburgh University and is thanks to the hospitality of Scottish friends who, in the spirit of their country’s traditions, encouraged my enthusiasm for practices such as eating haggis, enjoying a Scottish reel or two and listening to nerve-tingling tunes on their bagpipes and fiddles.” She also reveals she studied Scottish literature as part of her degree.
Mary McGowne, the organiser of one of the country’s biggest annual parties, the Scottish Style Awards, said the book was unlikely to win many fans north of the Border.
“It reads like a well-funded exercise in stating much of the obvious,” she said. “Saying things like ‘the Scottish countryside feels wild and romantic’ – it’s pretty rudimentary. How much of an essential guide companion can something like this be?”
Middleton also provides a Burns night menu featuring Cullen skink, haggis and clapshot, and cranachan, adding: “Haggis doesn’t have to be only for Burns Night; enjoy it all year round by storing it in the freezer.”
Television chef John Quigley, who runs the Red Onion Restaurant in Glasgow, said: “As far as her Burns menu is concerned, its dull as ditchwater and wholly uninspiring. It’s unimaginative. With Burns Suppers, you’ve got to have a few twists and turns here and there, you’ve got to liven it up a bit. This just doesn’t do that.”
McGinn added: “Like Burns’s life and works, or as Pippa calls them ‘lovely stories’, the Burns Supper can be many things to many folk, but please not the bland recipe, even if festooned with home made pompom thistles.”
The book was launched in front of eight television crews and dozens of photographers at a bookstore in London on Friday and will be published in the US next week, where it has sparked considerable interest.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the book, Middleton said: “It’s incredibly exciting and I feel really lucky to be in this position to publish a book, so that’s great.
“It has been a crazy couple of years since my sister’s wedding, but it’s had its upsides and downsides. I just feel really fortunate to be able to build a career as a writer.”
She describes her credentials for penning the tome as “my experience in my family’s business, Party Pieces, and work for London-based events company Table Talk”.
Since appearing as her sister’s bridesmaid at her wedding to Prince William in 2011, where she was seen by millions in a slim-fitting white dress, Middleton has become a celebrity in her own right, followed by paparazzi and feted by businesses and magazines across the world for her royal connections.
However, McGowne said the book could easily backfire on Middleton.
“The British public are historically wary of what some might perceive as having a financial head start by royal association, so the sensitivity of the matter should not be over looked with future Middleton commercial endeavours,” she said.