Carole Middleton and the skiing trip freebie fur hat meant for Kate"s engagement

Carole Middleton and the skiing trip freebie fur hat meant for Kate's engagementDuchess of Cambridge's parents joined Royal couple at exclusive French resort of Meribel

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UPDATED:

07:12 GMT, 9 April 2012

Given that the Duchess of Cambridge frequently raids her mother’s wardrobe, perhaps this is Carole Middleton’s way of getting her own back.

The 57-year-old wore an unusual fur headband around her white safety helmet during a family holiday to the upmarket French ski resort of Meribel.

While Kate, 30, and her husband were both sporting rather more mundane black protective headwear, Mrs Middleton’s choice of fluffy accessory made her stand out on the slopes.

Turning heads: In her distinctive headband, Carole sits next to son-in-law Prince William on a ski lift in France

Turning heads: In her distinctive headband, Carole sits next to son-in-law Prince William on a ski lift in France

Freebie: Carole's helmet headband was originally destined for Kate's head when it was sent to the Middletons from British firm Fosi

Freebie: Carole's helmet headband was originally destined for Kate's head when it was sent to the Middletons from British firm Fosi

Family affair: Carole Middleton, left, enjoys a quiet moment on the ski lift with the Prince William and her daughter Kate, centre, aswell as her brother James, right.

Family affair: Carole Middleton, left, enjoys a quiet moment on the ski lift with the Prince William and her daughter Kate, centre, aswell as her brother James, right.

Function over fashion: Kate opted to ski in a rather more mundane black helmet when she took to the slopes

Function over fashion: Kate opted to ski in a rather more mundane black helmet when she took to the slopes

But it seems the fake fur band was originally destined for Kate’s head – and was sent to her by British firm Fosi, via her parents’ company, after her engagement to Prince William was announced in late 2010.

It was a canny marketing ploy by the Plymouth-based skiwear accessories firm, whose motto is ‘drab to fab in seconds’, as anything Kate wears, from dresses to wellington boots, usually sells out instantly.

It is not clear whether the Duchess, an accomplished skier, ever got to try out the gift, which sells for 29.99. But it certainly found favour with her mother – before finding its way into her suitcase for the recent holiday.

Unusually for a family that prides itself on its discretion, Mrs Middleton even sent a letter to Fosi’s founder, Barbara Lees, to thank her for the present.

Handwritten on headed paper sent from the family’s 1.5million home in Bucklebury, Berkshire, it warned Mrs Lees that ‘we’ – presumably meaning Carole and her husband Michael – ‘do not normally accept gifts’. But it went on to describe the ski helmet band as ‘lovely’ and wished Mrs Lees, who set up the company in 2010, success in her venture.

It read: ‘Thank you very much for the helmet headband.

Family fun: Pippa, left, appeared comfortable on the French slopes, while her sister Kate, right, has a reflective moment during the break

Family fun: Pippa, left, appeared comfortable on the French slopes, while her sister Kate, right, has a reflective moment during the break

Family fun: Pippa, left, appeared comfortable on the French slopes, while her sister Kate, right, has a reflective moment during the break

On the climb: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge climb to the top of a slope during their extended Easter ski break

On the climb: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge climb to the top of a slope during their extended Easter ski break

In control: Pippa looked calm and composed as she showed her skills on the slopes

In control: Pippa looked calm and composed as she showed her skills on the slopes

‘We do not normally accept gifts and would be grateful if you could not send anything else, but I think it’s a lovely product and wish you every success.’

While secretly delighted to have received the letter, Mrs Lees thought nothing more of it until she saw photographs of Mrs Middleton wearing the ‘Lynx’ headband on a ski lift with the Duke of Cambridge in the Trois Valles.

‘I was astonished and couldn’t be happier,’ she told the Mail.

Leading the way: Carole and Kate head down the slopes, while Prince William hangs back slightly uphilll

Leading the way: Carole and Kate head down the slopes, while Prince William hangs back slightly uphilll

Laying low: Prince William crouches down while demonstrating some less conventional skiiing skills in Meribel

Laying low: Prince William crouches down while demonstrating some less conventional skiiing skills in Meribel

‘We are a new business in a very competitive market so it was a massive boost to Fosi to see her in it. Carole Middleton is a very stylish woman and we think it looks great on her.’

The Middletons wrote a handwritten letter to Mrs Lees thanking her for the fur hat

The Middletons wrote a handwritten letter to Mrs Lees thanking her for the fur hat

Mrs Lees, who has skied since she was a teenager, created the product after being forced to wear a helmet when she took up snowboarding.

‘The main reason I didn’t wear one before was vanity, I suppose,’ she explained.

‘Unless
you really do look like Kate Middleton, then they really aren’t very
flattering. I had a lovely collection of fur hats that I used to wear
and so decided to create something based on them that made the helmet
look better.

‘The Fosi is
non-slip and can just be attached around the helmet. It cost me 40,000
to set the business up but we have been growing steadily.

‘That
said, to see Carole Middleton wearing it is such an unbelievable boost
and just goes to show that nothing ventured, nothing gained.’

Designed
to encourage more women to wear helmets, the Lynx headband worn by Mrs
Middleton is one of the firm’s best-selling products.

Should
she feel so inclined, the royal in-law could also buy a matching
helmet tail, scarf, cuff, snood or even faux fur boot toppers to
complete the look. Unlike members of the royal family, the Middletons do
not have to declare any gifts given to them.

Kate seemed happy to stick to her own headwear rather than borrow her mother's, while Pippa was happy to go without any protection on her head at all

Kate seemed happy to stick to her own headwear rather than borrow her mother's, while Pippa was also safety-conscious

Kate seemed happy to stick to her own headwear rather than borrow her mother's, while Pippa was also safety-conscious

Leg work: Kate maintains her balance as she ascends another slope in the Trois Vallees

Leg work: Kate maintains her balance as she ascends another slope in the Trois Vallees

Time with the in-laws: Prince William skis in front of his mother-in-law Carole, while Kate looks on. Kate, right, later took in the view as she climbed back to the top of the slope

Time with the in-laws: Prince William skis in front of his mother-in-law Carole, while Kate looks on. Kate, right, later took in the view as she climbed back to the top of the slope

Time with the in-laws: Prince William skis in
front of his mother-in-law Carole, while Kate looks on. Kate, right,
later took in the view as she climbed back to the top of the slope

And their daughter only has to record on the official Royal Gift Register details of items received during the course of her public duties since marrying Prince William last year.

Mr and Mrs Middleton are entrepreneurs themselves and run a hugely successful internet-based firm, Party Pieces, which sells children’s party goods.

The couple have been repeatedly accused of cashing in on their daughter’s association with the royal family, although sources close to them insist they have done their best to manage their long-standing business without causing embarrassment to the Duke and Duchess.