Pippa Middleton's New Boyfriend?
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By Tom Sykes
Sorry, Harry, you're out of the picture pal.
For Pippa Middleton, recently dumped by her boyfriend of two years, England cricketer Alex Loudon, after a blazing row at a friend's wedding (Loudon could no longer put up with the "circus" that surrounds the younger Miss Middleton wherever she goes) she has chosen the shoulder of former college roommate Earl George Percy to cry on.
Pippa spent the weekend shooting grouse on the moors surrounding George's 50,000 acre country pile -- Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, better known to the world as the exterior of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films -- and, in what could be seen as a significant gesture, attended the Remembrance Sunday service at the parish church, with George and his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.
According to one congregant, their presence "caused quite a stir" at the church built by George's ancestors and where the family, in accordance with their elevated local status, have their own special front row pews.
The two traveled by train back to London on Tuesday.
The news that the pair spent an extended long weekend together is bound to fuel speculation that they are more than the "just good friends" they have always previously claimed to be.
During the summer, Percy, 27, and Pippa, 28, spent a weekend together in Madrid when Pippa had broken up with Loudon for the first time. They were spotted out and about together in London frequently over the summer, including at the Queen's Club tennis championships. The night before the tennis, Pippa and George enjoyed a three-hour dinner together at a London restaurant before returning to his flat (which George shares with another of Pippa's ex's, JJ Jardine-Paterson), eventually leaving at 2 a.m.
Percy is said to be one of the characters whose attentions to Pippa former boyfriend Alex Loudon was uncomfortable with.
But then again, who wouldn't be jealous of Earl Percy? When it comes to eligible bachelors, he is probably the most eligible man in England; clever, affable, involved in the alternative energy business and heir not just to a dukedom (marriage would make both the Middleton girls Duchesses) but also to a vast fortune calculated at some £300 million.
Alnwick Castle is, after Windsor Castle, the second largest inhabited castle in the U.K. George is known locally, as scions of the family have been for centuries, as "the Prince of the North," reflecting the fact that from Norman times onwards, the Percy family effectively ruled a large chunk of Northern England.
Pippa and George met at Edinburgh University, a short hop from Northumberland and not far from St. Andrew's where William and Kate studied. There, they shared a flat and hung out with a group of aristocratic undergraduates known as "the Castle Crew": a privately educated set of privileged students who spent their weekends at country houses around the U.K. rather than remaining on campus. "They liked shooting, drinking, games and outdoorsy life," an Edinburgh contemporary told the Daily Mail this summer. Some of the girls were known as "Brown Sign Hunters," referring to the brown signs that point from highways to Britain's stately homes.
In the years since they left university, Pippa and Percy have remained close friends, not least because Percy is a good friend of Prince William (the two went to Eton together) and is therefore inside the young royals' "circle of trust."
But don't expect to see the two out and about together this party season. Pippa has apparently been ordered by Clarence House (Prince Charles's headquarters) to keep a "low profile" up until Christmas.
The first casualty of the new low profile was revealed on Wednesday: Pippa had been due to attend the Square Mile Masked Ball at the Royal Courts of Justice next week, but organizers have now been told she is "unlikely to show up."
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