Brothers killed in Texas fertilizer plant blast as investigations

Officials released the names of four volunteer firefighters killed in last week's deadly fertilizer plant blast in the close-knit town of West, Texas, on Sunday. Authorities have now also identified the center but not the cause of last week's deadly fatal explosion.

Meanwhile, hundreds of residents of the town, known locally for its Czech heritage, sought healing at church services.

Among the dead named at a news conference outside city hall in West, Texas, were brothers Doug and Robert Snokhous, remembered by their family as 'lifelong best friends' who lived half a mile from each other and worked together at an ironworks in nearby Waco.

Destruction: This apartment complex near the fertilizer plant was destroyed by the explosion on Wednesday

Reflection: Residents of West bow their heads in prayer during an open air Sunday church service four days after the deadly explosion

Assessment: Workers stand among debris at the remains of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas

'Doug and Robert could always be seen together, whether they were hunting, working on cars, golfing or cooking barbecue at the volunteer fire departments cook-off,' their family said in a statement read to reporters.

'They were always together and we were always comforted that they were together at the end.'

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The brothers were among 14 people, nearly all of them emergency responders, killed when a blast on Wednesday flattened the fertilizer plant and smashed several blocks of the small town, about 80 miles south of Dallas.

They are survived by their wives, children and grandchildren. The blast at the West Fertilizer Co. also injured 200 people.

Grief: A tear rolls down Vanna Wainwright's face as she hugs her daughter Breanna, 9, during a church service on Sunday

Taking stock: Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Jason Reyes walks past a damaged apartment complex

Lethal: The explosion on Wednesday killed 14 and injured 200 people

A liaison official for the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force, which cares for the families of fallen first responders, read a statement for Dane and Rhonda Chapman, whose son Jerry Chapman died in the blast.

The Chapmans - who stood silently, their heads bowed - remembered him as man who had 'found his passion and life.' His faith in God and his fellow firefighters 'gave him the strength to lay down his life for others,' they said.

Officials identified a fourth firefighter, Kevin Sanders. His family said he gave his life protecting others, adding simply: 'We love him and will miss him very much.'

The explosion at the privately owned West Fertilizer Co retail facility gutted a 50-unit apartment complex, demolished about 50 houses and battered a nursing home and several schools. Dozens more homes were reported damaged.

A reporter allowed into the evacuated blast zone on Sunday said the roof was torn off the apartment complex.

Large chunks of concrete hurled from the plant littered the complex grounds hundreds of yards away, and a basketball court was unrecognizable except for the toppled goals, according to a pool report.

Damage: An uprooted tree near the scene of last week's accident

Churchgoers huddle to pray after a service for the First Baptist Church in a field on Sunday

Wreckage: Homes and cars ruined by the blast

'This is like a war zone,' said Brian Hoback, a national response team investigator for U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, among more than 60 federal and state personnel working at the scene.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said a probe had identified a 'large crater at the seat' of the blast, but neither its cause nor the location of the fire that preceded it have been determined.

Authorities have said there was no indication of foul play at the plant, which was last inspected for safety in 2011, according to a risk management plan filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials said the death toll remained at 14. McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said he did not know of anyone still unaccounted for, despite persistent rumors.

Matt Cawthon, chief deputy sheriff for McLennan County, said two of the dead were near or in the apartment complex. He was unable to give their age or gender.

A male resident from the nursing home died en route to the hospital after being evacuated, although it appeared his death was not directly caused by the blast, Cawthon said.

Caution: The West Nursing home shows damage from the explosion at the neighboring West Fertilizer plant

Shock: Dee Davlin cries after seeing her house in West, Texas, on Sunday. Her home was close to the fertilizer plant explosion and sustained heavy damage inside and out

Flattened: This aerial shot shows the remains of the fertilizer plant

An elementary school in the town is due to reopen on Monday, with additional temporary classrooms for students from another local school closed since the blast.

Officials announced a memorial service would be held for the first responders on the Baylor University campus in Waco, about 20 miles to the south, at 2 p.m. CDT on Thursday.

As the probe into the blast continued, hundreds of residents of the town attended church services on Sunday.

About 200 people - including farmers, military veterans and migrant workers - packed into the Church of the Assumption in the center of the town for Catholic mass.

Father Boniface Onjefu offered prayers for the 14 dead and nearly 200 injured in the blast, urging the congregation to 'be strong and move our beloved city ahead. God is with us.'

Larry Kaska, who lost his home on the north side of town, said the mass led by Onjefu brought 'some healing' to residents as they started to rebuild their shattered lives.

Solace: An elderly couple pray during an open air Sunday church service four days after the explosion

Abandoned: Wheelchairs sit outside devastated apartments

Collapse: Part of a destroyed nursing home that resulted from the explosion

'We're turning ... getting back to some normalcy again,' said Kaska, who is now living at his nephew's home. 'Just hearing his prayers and comfort, and (knowing) that people are being supportive ... help you out.'

But for some at the church service, it was too early to speak of healing. Among them was Silvestre Duran, a Mexican migrant whose wife, Lucy, had suffered flashbacks since being injured as the blast tore through the nursing home where she worked.

Her face was marked by burns, and she had multiple stitches in her right ear. Their daughter, who also worked at the nursing home, was injured in the explosion too.

'A lot of people have memories that will be with them for a long time,' Silvestre said.

Another churchgoer, who identified himself only as a farmer who had lived in West all his life, was still struggling to come to terms with the toll on the town.

'I lost three of my best friends ... I should have been maybe there with' them, he said, clearly shaken.
'I just consider myself and my family blessed ... If you don't have faith in the good Lord, you have nothing.'

Victims of Colorado's deadliest avalanche in 50 years

Not since 1962 has an avalanche in Colorado taken as many lives as the one that struck Saturday. Authorities have now released the names of the five victims of the 600-foot-wide slide.

Clear Creek County Sheriff Don Krueger identified the victims Sunday as Christopher Peters, 32, of Lakewood; Joseph Timlin, 32, of Gypsum; Ryan Novack, 33, of Boulder; Ian Lanphere, 36, of Crested Butte; and Rick Gaukel, 33, of Estes Park.

Another snowboarder, identified by friends as Jerome Boulay, was buried and survived, but authorities have not released his condition.


Sad: Rick Gaukel, 33, (left) one of the five victims in the April 20 avalanche, was a certified climbing guide and Ian Lamphere, 36, right with his infant child, was another victim and founder of a ski gear company

One survivor: Joe Timlin, 32, (left) helped organize and was himself a victim at the ill-fated gathering, while fellow snowboarder Jerome Boulay (right) was the sole survivor of the 600-foot wide avalanche

The sheriff said search and rescue crews recovered the men's bodies from a backcountry area on Loveland Pass several hours after Saturday afternoon's slide, which was estimated to be about 600 feet wide and eight feet deep.

All of the men were equipped with avalanche beacons.

The Denver Post reported Sunday the group of men, all experienced in extreme terrain, were participating in a snowboarding event called the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Bash to raise money for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center when the slide occurred.

Snowboarder Mike Bennett of Dillon told the newspaper he dug through hard-packed snow to help free Boulay before finding two others buried about two feet below the surface.

'They were wrapped around each other, below a patch of trees,' he said.

Bennett said four of the victims were snowboarders and one was a skier.

Meanwhile, Adam Schmidt, editor in chief of Snowboard Colorado Magazine, told The Associated Press the event organized by Timlin, 'ironically,' was aimed at promoting backcountry safety.

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'Joe is really about the snowboarding community in Colorado,' said Schmidt, whose magazine was an event sponsor. 'He really stressed making this event about backcountry safety. ... Unfortunately, if Mother Nature decides to throw something at you, you can never be too prepared.'


Deadly: Loveland Pass (pictured) in Colorado is a favorite spot for back country snowboarders

High: The tragedy occurred below Colorado's Loveland Pass, some 12,000 feet high in the Rocky Mountains

Identified: Clear County Colorado Sheriff Don Krueger, pictured, released the names of the victims and the lone survivor early April 21

The slide occurred on a spring weekend when many skiers and snowboarders took advantage of late season snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. Loveland Pass, which rises to an elevation of 11,990 feet about 60 miles west of Denver, is popular among backcountry skiers and snowboarders, but dangerous conditions are common in the area even in the spring.

Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said a systemic weakness in the snowpack was exacerbated by heavy snow that fell on the pass over the past week and a half.

'It's been something that's been giving us problems all winter,' he said. 'But the snow storms that have been coming in this spring have just created a large slab on top of it.'

Forecasters for the avalanche center warned skiers and hikers again Sunday of potentially dangerous backcountry conditions, saying the new snow has pushed the old snowpack to the breaking point.

On Thursday, a 38-year-old snowboarder died in an avalanche south of Colorado's Vail Pass. Eagle County sheriff's officials said the man and another snowboarder likely triggered the slide after a friend on a snowmobile dropped them off at the top of Avalanche Bowl.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, 11 people have died in avalanches in Colorado this winter season.

Greene said Saturday's was the deadliest in the state since 1962, when seven people were killed in a slide that wiped out several homes in the town of Twin Lakes near Independence Pass.

U.S. avalanche deaths climbed steeply after 1990, averaging 24 a year, as new gear became available for backcountry travel. Until then, avalanches rarely claimed more than a handful of lives each season in records going back to 1950.

Dangerous beauty: Rustic backcountry of places like Colorado's White River National Forest (pictured) lure more adventurers to their doom each year as avalanche deaths continue to rise

Cost of everyday items falls at Europe's most popular

Holidays are set to get cheaper for British holidaymakers this summer as prices plummet at popular resorts across Europe.

Despite the falling value of the pound, European resorts are desperately trying to entice British holidaymakers back in the wake of the Eurozone crisis.

With prices down by up to 20 per cent in Spanish holiday hotspots and 15 per cent in the Algarve in Portugal, they have topped the list as the cheapest holiday destinations this season according to the Post Office Holiday Costs Barometer.

Top spot, lowest price: Albufeira in the Algarve (pictured) is the cheapest of 20 holiday destinations as resort prices plummet across many European hotspots

Measuring the cost of ten typical holiday items – including coffee, beer, cola, wine, mineral water, suncream, cigarettes and a three-course meal for two – the barometer found that Albufeira in the Algarve, Portugal was the cheapest of 20 holiday destinations because of its meal and drinks, closely followed by Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca in Spain.

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The cost of the ten items is now £46.34 in the Algarve, £46.50 on the Costa del Sol and £47.14 on the Costa Blanca.

Andrew Brown of Post Office Travel Money said: ‘The pound may be worth less in Europe than a year ago but fierce competition means that lower prices in several of the resorts we surveyed can easily offset the falling value of sterling.

Stretching the holiday budget further: Costa del Sol (pictued) and Costa Blanca in Spain were also among the cheapest holiday spots according to the Post Office Holiday Costs Barometer

‘Taking some time to check out resort costs and add them to package prices to find the best overall deal will pay dividends this summer.

'Be prepared to swap destination or switch to a cheaper resort within the same country.’

Typical items: The Post Office Holiday Costs Barometer compared the cost of ten holiday items including beer, suncream and a meal for two

Prices also fell by 5.2 per cent in the Croatian coastal city of Split while the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh fell by more than 17 per cent in the last year, making it 39 per cent cheaper than Dubai.

In America, even though sterling is 4.1 per cent weaker than last year against the dollar, holidaymakers heading to Orlando, Florida will find prices much lower in the theme park capital. The ten typical holiday purchases surveyed now cost 21.2 per cent less than in 2012 (£58.16).

Back in Britain, Blackpool made 11th place with items costing £65.96 and Bournemouth was 14th place at £78.01. Bargain hunters staying in the UK this year will find the North Country favourite is 15 per cent cheaper than the south coast resort.

Tuscany and Sorrento continued to be the most expensive European resorts surveyed – more than twice the price of the four best value destinations at £94.92 and £101.79 respectively.

Break the budget: Tuscany (pictured) and Sorrento in Italy remained the most expensive resorts costing more than twice the price of the four best value destinations

Mr Brown said: ‘With the continuing volatility of sterling, holidaymakers should budget carefully and take enough spending money to cover all the costs they are likely to incur while abroad.

‘Running out of cash and having to use an overseas ATM or pay on a card that incurs extra charges could pack an unpleasant punch when the bank or credit card statement arrives.
'Allow time to buy foreign currency before leaving home because changing money at the airport means losing out by getting a poor rate.’

Mother, 40, arrested after 'having sex with her daughter's 15-year-old friend'

A mother is accused of having sex with a 15-year-old friend of her daughter.

Police arrested Tiffany Maydew, 40, after high school officers were passed information about the alleged relationship with the teenage boy.

Maydew, from Troutdale, Oregon, faces third-degree rape, sodomy and sex abuse charges.

Investigators accuse Maydew of having sex with the boy throughout the city, according to KPTV.

The age of consent in the state is 18 years old.

The allegations were made when staff from the Department of Human Services contacted a Sam Barlow High School resource officer from the Gresham Police Department.

When the teenager was contacted by the officer, he initially refused to discuss the allegations.

The boy's mother was then contacted.

Police told KPTV that he then admitted having sex with his friend's mother in her car and at his home.

Maydew was arrested on Wednesday and later released.

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Local media report that the boy admitted having sex with Maydew at various locations in Troutdale, pictured

'Sometimes I wish I'd never won': Lottery winning bus driver plans new life

From his lavish contemporary mansion to the Aston Martin sports car parked outside it, Lottery winner John Noakes is surrounded by the trappings that come with having millions in the bank.

As part of a syndicate of 12 struggling bus drivers who shared a £38million jackpot, Mr Noakes, from Corby, thought all his dreams had come true when their numbers came up a year ago.

But the multi-millionaire, who still lives in the Northamptonshire town with his second wife Jean, has told how the windfall brought with it hardship as well as happiness, adding: 'Sometimes I wish I'd never won.'

'Tough': Former bus driver John Noakes, seen with his wife Jean, said there have been some downsides to scooping a share of a £38million Lottery fortune

The former Bus Driver of the Year, 50, told the Sunday People how the members of the syndicate - who each scooped over £3million - had been beset by problems since their win; from family feuds to health scares.

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Mr Noakes told how various troubles forced four of the former colleagues to move out of the Northamptonshire town - with two leaving Britain altogether. He and Jean are now preparing to leave Corby for a new life in Cyprus.

'Becoming multi-millionaires changed our lives – but not all for the good,' said Mr Noakes, who said he recently started smoking again due to stress.

While he is 'glad' he won the money, 'the transition from being broke to rich has been tough', he said.

'Tough': John Noakes said he and his wife Jean have not forgotten their former frugal ways

Pros and cons: Mr Noakes, who has a racing car simulator, left, and a pet parrot, right, at his Corby home, said many of his old friends 'don't want to know' since his Euromillions windfall

The former Stagecoach driver said he has had to learn to keep track of his money to ensure it lasts, and that many of his old friends now 'don't want to know'.

He said he is approached by strangers in the street who ask him for money, and claims his former employers snubbed his offer to help out free of charge during last year's Olympic Games.

Mr Noakes added that it was 'tough' trying to be 'equally fair' to members of his family without upsetting anybody. He and his wife are now planning to start a new life in Cyprus.

Lavish: The couple have bought six houses with the proceeds of their lottery win, including their contemporary Corby mansion

Luxury: The snooker table at the couple's Corby home is overlooked by prints of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn

The 50-year-old, who quit his £18,000 a year driving job after scooping £3,169,553, insists he hasn't changed a bit since the win, and claims he and wife Jean still shop at Poundland.

His Aston Martin is second-hand, while Mrs Noakes said she still looks for bargains when clothes shopping.

Life-changing: Mr Noakes is seen on the left with other members of the syndicate celebrating their huge Euromillions win in March last year

Nonetheless, Mr Noakes' life today is almost unrecognisable from his days of driving buses.

The couple have bought six houses, including their own contemporary mansion complete with tennis court, and four for their children from previous marriages.Another member of the syndicate, Alex Robertson, 58, is moving to Spain to escape family feuds after the lottery win, according to the report.

Hundreds of pro-cannabis campaigners descend

Thousands of youngsters openly smoked cannabis in a Central London park this weekend.

As they lounged on the grass amid a fog of marijuana smoke, it resembled a scene from the Woodstock music festival.

Up to 2,000 gathered in Hyde Park on Saturday to campaign for the legalisation of cannabis.

Groups of teenagers smoked what appeared to be cannabis joints as parents with young children played nearby.

Scroll down for video

Protest: A group of young people holding up a pro-cannabis sign in Hyde Park

A handful of police officers made no obvious attempt to arrest anyone for drug offences.

Yesterday Scotland Yard said just two arrests had been made in Hyde Park for possession of cannabis.

A 16-year-old boy was stabbed in the leg at 5.20pm close to the pro-cannabis gathering. Officers are trying to establish if the stabbing was linked to the rally. Yesterday a regular jogger in Hyde Park said: ‘I think it’s outrageous that people are allowed to come to the park and take illegal drugs.

‘It felt like the small number of police who were there were turning a blind eye.

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‘As far as I’m concerned they should have been arrested. They are drug takers, not people making a serious political point.’

The gathering was organised by a group called the London Cannabis Club, which invited almost 17,000 via Facebook. The organiser wrote: ‘This event is going to be the largest public cannabis rally and smoke up in the UK.’

Pictures of teenagers posing in Hyde Park with what appeared to be cannabis plants were published on the club’s Facebook page. Others images show young men inhaling smoke from devices used for smoking cannabis. Before the event Peter Corcoran wrote on Facebook: ‘Basically... if I don’t see you in Hyde Park today you’re not a real stoner!’

The event, known as the 4/20 Rally, was one of hundreds held across the world in support of cannabis use.

Demo: Many of those who attended the annual 4/20 rally are calling for the legalisation of cannabis

Fancy a toke: A group of young people who attended the 4/20 protest in Hyde Park

Gunfire disrupted a pro-cannabis event on Saturday in Denver, Colorado, leaving two people injured.

Earlier this month, two major research studies found Labour’s liberalisation of the cannabis laws was a disaster that pushed up drug use and crime.

They found that after police were told to go easy on cannabis smokers, there were increases in assaults, theft and car theft, burglaries, vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

The chance that a young person who had never smoked cannabis would try the drug went up by a quarter after it became unlikely they would get more than a warning if caught by police, one project found.

The likelihood that they would smoke it on a regular basis went up by 8 per cent.
VIDEO Hazy! Pro-cannabis campaigners descended on Hyde Park

Pro-cannabis campaigners at Hyde Park for National Pot Smoking...

Rally: Many argue that alcohol and tobacco cause far much more damage to society than cannabis has done

According to a second study, an experiment in relaxing cannabis laws on the streets of South London led to a rise of 40 to 100 per cent in the numbers of men admitted to hospital due to their use of harder drugs.

That report, by researchers from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: ‘We find the depenalisation of cannabis had significant longer-term impacts on hospital admissions related to the use of hard drugs.’

Brian Paddick, the police commander responsible for the experiment, ran for office as Mayor of London last year with posters declaring, with deliberate double-meaning: ‘Police are wasted on cannabis.’

After a flirtation with drug liberalisation when he first became an MP, David Cameron has said he is opposed to the legalisation of drugs.

Supt Jon Morgan, Westminster and Royal Parks, said: 'In anticipation of increased numbers of visitors we had extra officers in place, including Special Constables on patrol in the area.

'In previous years we have had a couple of hundred people attending the park, wanting to support this event, on this occasion numbers in the park were far greater but it is difficult to tell who was there to mark the event and who was just enjoying the sunshine.

'However, regardless of their reason for being in the park, anyone seen by officers openly smoking cannabis in Hyde Park or elsewhere in Westminster would be dealt with in the same way, either by means of a cannabis warning or an arrest.
'In Hyde Park on Saturday, 14 cannabis warnings were issued, two arrests were made for possession of cannabis and one arrest for robbery.'

Four in ten students may default on their loans

Four out of ten student loans may never be repaid, amid fears that university funding is becoming unsustainable.

The Treasury is said to be concerned that the new system – which sees students borrow up to £9,000 a year for their course fees – will not recoup its costs.

Officials anticipated that 28 per cent of loans would never be repaid. It is now understood that their estimate stands at 40 per cent.

Growing debts: New estimates from Treasury officials estimate that 40 per cent of university graduates will not be able to repay their loans

From last September, the maximum amount universities could charge for tuition was nearly trebled from £3,290 to £9,000. This leaves students with the prospect of £36,000 of debt for a four-year course, before living costs are taken into account.

And graduate salaries have fallen dramatically in recent years, impairing their ability to repay the loans when they start work.

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Ministers said it was necessary to put higher education ‘on a more sustainable footing’ – but some claim they fear the loans could increase the cost to the taxpayer in the long-term.

A senior source said yesterday: ‘The Treasury are all over this and are extremely worried about the viability of the system. They are taking a very long-term view but their estimate for non-repayment keeps going up.

‘It is not helped by the recession, which means graduate incomes are going to be lower than they hoped.’

Payback time: Since the cap on fees students face £36,000 in debt before living costs

An independent schools expert also raised fears that teachers are not giving pupils and parents enough information about the debts they could accumulate by going to university.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council and a former headmaster of Harrow, said students on four-year courses would have debts of up to £80,000 on graduation, once borrowing for living costs was included.

He added: ‘If you were an adult taking on this size mortgage you would go through a rigorous process which guarantees you understand what you are taking on. That is not happening with 17 and 18-year-olds.’

And Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University and a former president of Universities UK, said it was ‘inconceivable’ the Government could reopen the issue of university fees before the next election.

He said: ‘The only way you can save money is to cut student numbers going to university or alter payment terms. Either is a political no-go area before an election.’

Currently all UK and EU students can apply for a loan, paid to their university or college, of up to £9,000 which they pay back.

They can also get a loan for living costs of up to £5,500 – or £7,675 a year if they live in London.

Students must pay back the loans only when they earn more than a certain amount, which is currently £16,365.

For those under the fee system who will graduate in 2015-16, the threshold will be £21,000 and they will have to pay back their loan at a rate of 9 per cent of their earnings every year.

A Treasury spokesman said: ‘The Coalition transformed university funding to make it more sustainable, progressive and transparent.

‘According to the OECD, we have the most advanced student support system of any comparable country.’

Gary Goldsmith: That cocaine sting in the Villa Bang Bang

In the popular imagination, Gary Goldsmith is the bête noire of the Middleton clan – tattooed, shaven-headed, an embarrassment to his sister Carole with his louche antics.

When undercover reporters filmed the Duchess of Cambridge’s uncle apparently cutting up lines of cocaine at the colourfully named La Maison de Bang Bang – his eight-acre hideaway on the party island of Ibiza – it seemed that the string of lurid headlines that followed would see him banished by his image-conscious family.

But predictions of Goldsmith’s downfall have proved to be wide of the mark.

For as he reveals today in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, the reaction of the Middletons was not to cast him off – but, extraordinarily, to apologise for all the trouble they had caused to him.

He says: ‘People like to think that I’m this black sheep, a bad boy. I’m not really. I’ve had my moments – I’m not totally innocent – but am I disliked by my family? No, that is simply not true. I’ve got a good heart and I care about people. We have never fallen out.

‘The minute that story broke, Carole was on the phone apologising to me on behalf of the family, specifically Kate, about me being suddenly thrust into the limelight.’

Later, there was speculation – incorrect, again – that he would be banned from Kate’s wedding to Prince William in Westminster Abbey in 2011.

On the day he was accompanied by his ex-wife Luan and their 11-year-old daughter, Talullah.

My second wedding: Shy teenagers Kate and Pippa, far right, at Gary's wedding to Luan in 1997

...And My First: Carole withh 11-year-old Kate, right, and sister Pippa, nine, at Gary's wedding to Maranda Foote in 1991

At the reception, Goldsmith found another, even more surprising source of sympathy – the Duchess of Cornwall.

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Camilla went out of her way to welcome him, saying she knew all too well what it was like to be vilified for supposed past misdemeanours. ‘Camilla made a beeline for me,’ he recalls. ‘She was absolutely adorable. She stretched out her hand and said, “It’s Gary, isn’t it?”

‘I couldn’t believe she knew who I was. We made small talk – about how fabulous the room was, that sort of thing.

‘Then I plucked up the courage to say, “I’m sorry for the bad press”. She just smiled and said, “Don’t think twice about it. I get the same myself.” She was beyond amazing.’

So far as Gary is concerned, the wild days are well behind him and, rather than being an embarrassment to his family, he has in fact impressed them by winning acceptance from the Royals.

On the day of the wedding, he earned the approval of the Duchess of Cornwall by exchanging seats with her daughter Laura so that she could get a better view of her own daughter, Eliza, three, who was a bridesmaid. ‘So we ended up sitting with Tara Palmer-Tomkinson in front and the Beckhams at 11 o’clock,’ Gary says.

His past, he readily admits, has had moments of excess, but he insists they have been blown out of any reasonable proportion.

‘I was manipulated and set up,’ is how he prefers to put it, even if, for an obviously canny businessman, a multi-millionaire in fact, you might have thought he would know better.

Revealing all: Kate's Uncle, Gary Goldsmith, says he is amazed at how she has flourished in the spotlight

Hideaway: The colourfully-named Ibiza villa La Maison de Bang Bang where Kate and William visited Uncle Gary

Introductions: William first met Gary when he visited his villa in Ibiza with Kate in 2006

But on the key allegations, he is clear: ‘I didn’t take drugs or pimp for anyone. I was asked if I knew where to find a hooker. All I said was I’d heard of a taxi driver who could help with anything they wanted on the island.’ He adds: ‘I did say I had a wing in Buckingham Palace, but that was a joke.’

Despite the experience, and an understandable degree of caution about discussing his relatives, he says he now feels ready to talk about his bond with nieces Kate and Pippa, nephew James and his new nephew-in-law, Prince William – who all, affectionately, call him Uncle G.

Gary says he never doubted for a moment he would be on the invitation list for the wedding. After all, when he met Prince William – who spent a holiday with Kate at Maison de Bang Bang in 2006 – their introduction was no different from that of any large and loving family.

‘William was unfailingly polite,’ Gary says. ‘The first thing he said to me was, “I’m so pleased to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.

‘Thank you very much for letting us stay in Ibiza”.

My Second Mum: A beaming smile from baby Gary in the arms of big sister Carole, who is ten years older than him

‘So I just sat down on the sofa and chatted to him and Pippa while Kate cooked. Pippa and James treated William as if he was their sibling. At one point one of them said to him: ‘Go and make the tea.’ So off he went to make it. He was just like one of the family. He was so relaxed in his own skin, but he does try very hard to be a gentleman.

‘It was a very funny supper and everyone was just cracking jokes. He was very attentive to Kate. He was very much at home in the whole family setting.’

By the end of the evening Gary was so relaxed with his Royal guest that he indulged in some banter. ‘Some ornaments – large glass pyramids – had been broken when a ball was thrown around,’ he says. ‘I jokingly accused William and he immediately jokingly dumped the blame on James. It was all good-natured fun.’

As for the wedding itself, Gary recalls a carefree day, punctuated with lots of family laughter.

He says: ‘I didn’t meet Prince Charles but he gave a wonderful speech at the reception.

‘It was just like that of any other father of the groom. He told a lovely story about buying William an electric car when he was a child and having to chase him around the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Apparently William managed to hit the only tree by mistake.

‘As for Kate and William, I have never seen smiles like it. They were laughing and giggling throughout the day.

‘I bought them a Backgammon set from Asprey, which was on their list at Clarence House, and Kate sent a beautiful hand-written thank you card with some cake.’

Gary makes no secret of the fact that he is thrilled Kate will be a future Queen, and believes she is ideally equipped for the role.

He says: ‘When Kate and William first began dating, Carole telephoned the immediate family to warn them that the relationship would likely become public. I was so delighted that, at a business meeting, I pushed a piece of paper across to a colleague which read: “I think I am going to be the uncle of the future Queen of England.”

‘I’m amazed at how Kate has flourished in the spotlight.

‘For a girl who is pregnant, who is having her first baby, and who hasn’t had the easiest pregnancy, she has worked incredibly hard. It could be quite daunting but she has taken to it like a duck to water.

‘I think it is marvellous news that Kate will be living with Carole when the baby is born. Carole is a wonderful mum and she is going to make a fantastic grandmother.

Making an entrance: The blue Bentley which Gary turned up in for Kate and William's wedding

Mr Goldsmith attending the Royal Wedding in April 2011: He said he gave James Middleton advice on his reading during the service

‘Family is very important to Kate. She is incredibly close to her mother and sister. They are a very strong unit and look after each other. I think that gives them strength and gives Kate the confidence both to fulfil her role as a future Queen and to become a great mum.’

As for Pippa, Gary says the Royal connection could limit her ambitions for the future. ‘Poor Pippa,’ he says. ‘Realistically, what job can Pip do now? She can’t go and work in an office or be a PR person. If this hadn’t happened I’m sure she would have been earning £200,000 a year in her own right. She has probably taken a significant pay cut.’

Gary is keen to talk about the close relationship he has always shared with big sister Carole, who is ten years older than him and has always been something of a second mother.

He believes that, despite external appearances, they are cut from the same cloth.

‘Carole and I are both headstrong and can bicker, as all siblings do. But we are very close,’ he explains. ‘We tease each other relentlessly.

‘In many ways we are very similar: we’re both ambitious with lots of drive, we made our money young, are very loyal to our families and want the best for them.

‘But I’m the City yuppie and she’s the country girl. While I was driving a Lotus Esprit in my Gucci shoes, she had an Alfasud and wore Hunter wellies. I used to call her the original Sloane Ranger while she called me a tearaway or scamp.

Always there: Gary aged 12 with Carole aged 22 having fun together with a family pet

‘I’m a Thatcher child. I’m Captain Ambitious. I belong to a generation in which class does not exist.’

Dapper in a grey Savile Row suit and brown Prada shoes, a raffish yellow handkerchief tucked into his pocket, Gary, a recruitment consultant, looks younger than his 47 years as he sits in the Union Club, a town house in the heart of Soho, where he is a member. He has a hint of a London accent and is not as plummy as Carole. He is very jokey and chatty and speaks in an open manner.

And he is a rich man.

He lent nephew James £11,000 to help him set up his company selling cake-making kits. On his wrist he sports a £7,000 titanium Panerai diving watch and on the fourth finger of his left hand a wedding band, a symbol of his fourth marriage last year to former clerk Julie Ann Brown.

He has come a long way from his suburban upbringing as the son of a painter and decorator from West London and grandson of a miner from the pit villages of Durham.

He recalls: ‘My parents were incredibly happy together. My dad doted on my mum and she really respected him.

‘It was very sweet. Carole and her husband Mike have an amazing relationship too. They have nurtured three amazing kids.

‘I should have taken more lessons from them on how to make a marriage work.’

When Gary was eight, Carole left high school and joined British Airways as a stewardess. He laughs: ‘I remember her training. She used to practice doing her announcements and record them on a tape recorder, much to my amusement.’

He adds: ‘Carole was a huge influence on me musically. The first record I ever bought was the Best of James Bond, but she was mortified so she began introducing me to soul music, which is still very important to me. She was massively into Stevie Wonder and I remember her owning his record Innovations. She also loved Barry White and Earth, Wind & Fire. When she moved out, she offered me a couple of albums and, when she wasn’t looking, I stole a few more.’

Their attitudes to hard work did differ, however.

Perfect couple: Gary said he had 'never seen smiles like it' at Kate and William's wedding

Family ties: The 47-year-old is Carole Middleton's younger brother and godfather to their son, James. The family are pictured leaving the Goring Hotel the morning after Kate and Williams' wedding

‘Carole has always been more serious than me,’ he accepts. ‘I think life is for living and having fun, but Carole was more studious, worked harder than me and did better than me at exams.’

Gary was 15 when Carole and Michael asked him to be an usher for their wedding ceremony at the Parish Chapel of St James the Less in the village of Dorney in Buckinghamshire. The reception on June 21, 1980, was at nearby Dorney Court, a sumptuous Tudor mansion.

‘Mike and Carole’s wedding opened my eyes,’ Gary says. ‘It was a real departure for our family, everything my mother could have wished for.

‘It was natural, informal and classy but wasn’t pretentious or ostentatious – very unlike the weddings I was used to, which were big booze-ups in a Heathrow hotel with round tables and dodgy speeches. The house had a minstrel’s gallery and people wandered around with champagne flowing and canapés. Afterwards we went back to Mike’s brother Simon’s for a big chilli and a party.’

Within a year Carole was pregnant – news met with joyful excitement, says Gary: ‘I remember when she phoned to say she was expecting a baby. The whole house just erupted.’

With a family to think about, Carole took a £5,000 redundancy package from British Airways and set up her party-planning business, Party Pieces.

‘She was pregnant and she was going to leave, so she took redundancy and the business flew instantly,’ Gary says. ‘It was a business ahead of its time, which meant they could work hard and invest their money in the family, a new house and the nicest schools.’

Kate was born on January 9, 1982, when Gary was 17. Twenty months later Pippa arrived, followed by James in 1987.

‘After the children were born we always went to Carole and Mike’s for Christmas. But Carole had different ideas from me on how to spend the day. There would be no telly, we would walk for miles and would not be allowed to open our presents until after supper.

‘I used to go to Hamleys and get a personal shopper to buy the kids everything they could want, and we used to play with them in front of the fire.’

Kate was a tomboy, he says, but that didn’t stop him buying her first designer handbag – from Gucci – as she grew into a teenager. And family life did not prevent Carole from taking an important interest in her younger brother’s career.

Different personalities: Of the Middleton sisters, Gary said Kate always worked hard while things come more easily to Pippa

‘I effectively had two mums because of the age gap,’ he says. ‘Carole talked to me specifically about taking higher education after I had done my A-levels – I got maths and physics by the skin of my teeth, after a year of retakes.

‘She was desperate for me to go to university and be a helicopter pilot in the Services. But I didn’t want to go to university. I wanted to work in technology because I thought it looked more fun at the time.’

In the summer of 1983 Gary left school and got a job working as an IT operator. ‘I earned £19,000 in my first year,’ he brags.

‘Every three months I would go to my boss and say, “What do I need to do to get a pay rise?”

‘I was incredibly pushy, did every bit of overtime that you could possibly imagine and ended up being the youngest shift leader they ever had.’

By the time he got married, in 1991, to his first wife, sales executive Miranda Foote, he was a 26-year-old recruitment manager, living in a £70,000 one-bedroom flat in a mansion house in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, and driving a Lotus. But the marriage broke up within two years.

Shortly afterwards he joined Computer Futures, the IT recruitment company that would make his fortune. Within six months he was a director and owned shares.

He bought a five-bedroom house in Maidenhead, Berkshire, with a swimming pool and snooker room, invested in a boat, and drove a series of flash cars, including a Ferrari, Porsche 911 and Rolls-Royce Phantom.

‘Barclays bought-in to help us grow the business and it became hugely successful with 11 companies and 2,000 staff.’ He married his second wife Luan in 1997 and moved to Knutsford, Cheshire.

But that marriage broke up after he put his career above his family.

‘I hold my hands up,’ he says. ‘I’m not the easiest person in the world to be around. I became a workaholic. It is one of the few regrets in my life that I don’t live with Lulah [daughter Talullah] every day.’

He says it was the death of his parents – his father in 2003 and his mother three years later – that provoked his wild behaviour.

In 2005, he sold his shares in Computer Futures for £17 million, bought his villa in Ibiza and swapped work for pleasure. He married – and divorced – his third wife Julia Leake, a 32-year-old accountant, then dated a former lapdancer.

Before long he spiralled into depression, which culminated in what he describes as his ‘annus horribilis’ (a phrase that has Royal heritage, of course).

‘I felt very alone and down so I ended up at a party and got introduced to drugs in a moment of weakness. It was the worst thing anyone could do, but I did do it,’ he says.

‘I’m not making excuses. I went off the rails for a bit and didn’t put any effort into anything.’

Eventually work proved to be his salvation and he is now married to his fourth wife Julie-Ann.

‘I’m really happy now,’ he says. ‘I’ve grown up, got rid of all the flash cars and drive a Land Rover.

‘I’m incredibly proud that my family is going to be part of history. Yes, my sister is mother of a future Queen. Kate will be that Queen, with William by her side. I am blessed to be part of a loving family.’