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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Maddy Mussen

Lady Rose Hanbury: Kate Princess of Wales' party-loving close friend, and her Saltburn-esque upbringing

Behind every good royal, there is a party-loving aristocrat with personal connections as sprawling as their country estate. For the Princess of Wales, that aristocrat has long been known to be Lady Rose Hanbury, former model and Marchioness of Cholmondeley.

Just last summer, some five months before the Princess's planned abdominal surgery, Lady Rose and Kate were reported to be partying it up at Houghton Festival in Norfolk — a 24-hour rave weekend hosted on the country estate owned by Hanbury and her husband, David Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley (pronounced “Chumley”, by the way). The Princess of Wales and her group of friends, known colloquially as the “Norfolk set” or “Turnip toffs”, sipped on spicy margs and AIX rosé as part of a private dining experience in the festival grounds.

Lady Rose Hanbury, Prince William and Princess Kate in 2016 (PA)

It might all sound very unlike Kate, but she and Hanbury have never been that similar. As royal expert Ingrid Seward once put it when speaking to The Sun, "They were not childhood friends. They are from very different backgrounds. Rose is an aristocrat in her own right and something of a free spirit.”

Free spirit indeed. Hanbury started dating her current husband, David Cholmondeley, in 2003, when he was 45 and she was just 22 years old. She once got Tony Blair into hot water after she was photographed next to him wearing a bikini, and her upbringing was definitely more on the wild side of liberal. Here’s everything you need to know about Kate’s look-alike best friend, Lady Rose Hanbury.

Raised by fun-loving parents with links to the royals

Born on 15 March 1984 to Timothy Hanbury and Emma Longman, Sarah Rose Hanbury entered the world as the Hanbury’s second daughter. She was preceded by her elder sister, Marina, who was born two years before, and later followed by a younger brother, David Mark James Hanbury, born two years afterwards.

The Hanburys were both designers, though in very different fields: she in fashion and interiors, he in building websites. Longman’s fashion brand Marosa was once so successful it was worn by the likes of Sienna Miller and Kate Moss, until it eventually closed down in 2019. And while Eton-educated Hanbury may have built his career on the internet, he is also descended from brewery wealth, as part of the Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co brewing family.

The family had links to the royals long before Lady Rose Hanbury met William and Kate, too. Rose’s maternal grandmother, Lady Elizabeth Lambart, was one of Queen Elizabeth’s bridesmaids at her wedding to Prince Philip.

Rose and Marina Hanbury (DAVE BENETT)

In his youth, Timothy ‘Tim’ Hanbury himself was known to be a party boy, said to have tales of wild nights at Annabel’s in Mayfair, so he and Emma raised their brood with a similarly care-free attitude. According to socialite Violet Naylor-Leyland’s book, Rare Birds True Style, the Hanbury kids had their family home, Holfield Grange in Coggeshall, Essex, “transformed” for wild parties. As reported by the Mail, Rose told the author, "Mum turned the basement into a nightclub for us, painting the whole place herself and hanging Moroccan lanterns and suzanis from the walls [...] It felt a bit like an opium den."

Stories from these "dangerous" soirees include one tale of attendees using flaming loo roll, doused in petroleum, as a hockey ball, only for the game to be cut short when someone's hair caught alight. It’s all sounding very Saltburn.

From Stowe to Storm modelling agency

Rose Hanbury, Marina Hanbury, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Petrina Khashoggi at an event in 2002 (PA)

Hanbury boarded at the prestigious Stowe School in Buckinghamshire, where annual tuition fees are around £38,000 for boarders. After leaving Stowe, she undertook an Open University degree and found work as a model. Hanbury was reportedly signed to Sarah Doukas’ cult modelling agency Storm aged 23. The likes of Kate Moss, Carla Bruni and Monica Bellucci have all been on Storm’s books. Doukas is responsible for discovering Moss, along with Cara Delevingne, Behati Prinsloo, and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Much of Hanbury’s 20s were like that of any other aristocrat or socialite. She lived a life of launch parties and charity dinners. She made headlines in 2005 after she and her sister Marina were pictured wearing bikinis and standing next to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in the grounds of infamous “aristocratic playground” that is Villa Cetinale, in Tuscany. The 17th-century Baroque villa has seen royals dine in its gardens, French models sunbathe topless by its pools, and even played host for the season three finale of hit HBO show, Succession.

Around this time in her life, Rose was said to have met a man at a party in Villa Cetinale who was twice her age — one David George Philip Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley. At this point he was better known as David Rocksavage, a “promising” filmmaker in his 40s who was said to be friends with Johnny Depp and Kate Moss. Hanbury and Rocksavage officially started dating in 2006, when she was 22 and he was 45.

It wasn’t just Rose that had a penchant for older men, either. Rose’s sister Marina later courted the former defence minister and Earl of Durham, Edward ‘Ned’ Lambton, who is 22 years her senior, and also happens to own Villa Cetinale. It will surprise many that Rose was once rumoured to be engaged to Ned Lambton’s son, Fred!

A two-day long public engagement before a quiet wedding in Chelsea

David Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley (PA)

It’s clear Rose Hanbury and David Cholmondeley couldn’t wait to tie the knot, as they announced their engagement just a matter of days before a wedding at Chelsea registry office in June 2009.

And what a relief for the couple’s friends and family, who didn’t think the Marquess was “the marrying kind.” “Until Rose came into his life, friends had almost given up hope of the peer finding the right girl,” the Daily Mail reported at the time.

Meanwhile, Hanbury was working as a political assistant to then-Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove at the time, but had to give up her role because she was pregnant with twins, with an expected due date of January 2010.

There was a brief scare around October, when it looked like Rose may have to deliver three months prematurely, but Marina assured the press at the time that all was going to be okay. “Rose is absolutely fine now,” she told the Daily Mail on 7 October 2009. “It was one of those complications you get with twins [...] All twins arrive slightly prematurely, and that will be the case for Rose.”

True to their aunt’s word, Earl of Rocksavage Alexander Hugh George and Lord Oliver Timothy George arrived prematurely, just five days after that article was published. The couple welcomed one more child into the world, their daughter Lady Iris Marina Aline, in March 2016. Luckily, they aren’t exactly short on bedrooms.

Hostess to a 100+ room lavish manor and neighbour to Kate and William

Prince William, Princess Kate and Lady Rose Hanbury at an event held at Houghton Hall in 2016 (PA)

After marrying David Cholmondeley, Lady Rose eventually settled into her role as lady of Houghton Hall, a historic Palladian mansion in Norfolk that was originally built for Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, in the 1700s. Rose herself has admitted that she doesn’t know how many rooms they have in total, but it’s reported to be around 106.

“Moving anywhere feels awkward at first, and it took me a while to adjust and feel at home,” she told The English Home in a rare interview. “We use the ground floor, and the second and third floors, where the bedrooms are. The first floor is mainly occupied by the State Rooms. I don’t know how many rooms we have in total.”

“Of course, a house changes as you add a family. Family life brings a new dimension and some things need to adapt. One of the first things I did was to add a family kitchen,” she said. “I wanted it to be very cosy and relaxed, so it has a fireplace, a television, a big sofa, and we can cook and eat there. Prior to that it was all very functional, and David and I had to eat in the dining room every night. Adding a family kitchen has allowed us to live in a much more informal way.”

Lady Rose Hanbury (left) attends a morning church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk. (PA)

And what could be more homely than good neighbours? As it happens, the Royals’ Sangringham estate was just a 15-minute drive from Houghton Hall, and so the two couples are said to have struck up a fast friendship during times when Kate would visit Sandringham to see her future husband.

Then, following the royal wedding in 2011, the couple were gifted their own Norfolk Mansion (good luck putting that on your own registry) — Anmer Hall, a section of the Sandringham Estate given to them by the Queen. This is said to have only reinforced the neighbourly bond between the Cambridges and Cholmondeleys, and the couples developed a strong friendship.

While there were rumours of a rift in 2019, these were later lambasted by friends as “false” and “mad.” A family source allegedly told the Daily Mail, "These hurtful rumours of a fall-out are simply false."

And if their spicy margarita-fuelled party session at Houghton Hall’s annual festival last year was anything to go by, Kate and Rose are clearly just as close as ever.

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