Sporty, eligible bachelors at the ready: the
lovely Pippa Middleton is reported to be back on the market.

She is unlikely to remain there for long. The
Duchess of Cambridge’s foxy little sister was the world’s most sought after
woman even when she had a boyfriend.

Singer Justin Timberlake, who has dated
Hollywood stars such as Cameron Diaz, admits to drooling over her.

‘We American males love Pippa… I’m going to
sound like a sleazeball!’ he told Esquire magazine. Websites and blogs, some
with unprintable names, are dedicated to her outfits, pert figure and spirited
exercise regime. And just to raise temperatures even further, newspaper reports
suggest she has split from her boyfriend, the handsome, square-jawed,
cricket-loving Alex Loudon, ‘after a blazing row at a wedding’.

Pippa is reported to have walked out on the
31-year-old Old Etonian after a string of rows. Now they are ‘barely


Friends of the couple have confirmed to the
Mail that they did, indeed, have a ‘blazing and very public’ argument at the
wedding of Pippa’s old Edinburgh University friend Humphrey Bowles in Whitby,
North Yorkshire, in September.

‘Pippa had been on the dancefloor without Alex
all night and he didn’t appear happy. They could clearly be heard arguing hammer
and tongs,’ says a source.

However, members of Pippa’s social circle
emphasised last night that the split must be very recent because most of them
were unaware of it.

And it may yet be that there is  a
reconciliation (perhaps over  the socially complex Christmas holidays). But the
feeling among their set seems to be that there is no long-term future for the

Oh dear. Not so long ago, Loudon was said to
be on the brink of proposing and hunting for an engagement ring on the sly.

William and Kate and the Middleton parents
were known to approve of the solid, good-natured financier, and all was looking
rosy for the nearly-weds.

Pippa had been presented with keys to his flat
in Parsons Green, South-West London, where she spent many nights away from her
own pad in Chelsea. And she was a regular guest at his parents’ beautiful Kent

In September, Pippa turned 28 and celebrated
her birthday at a low-key Italian restaurant with just Alex and the Cambridges.
She is just the right age, you might think, to accept a proposal. So, what went

It seems that Alex — who comes from the sort
of English gentry family who try to avoid being in the papers apart from their
births, marriages and deaths — struggled with Pippa’s sudden and unexpected

Apart from a brush with publicity thanks to a
brief stint with the England cricket team, Alex was content to live the
privileged and anonymous life of the upper classes.

But, last April, his girlfriend went from
being a pretty Berkshire Sloane to Her Royal Hotness, her silk-clad derriere
admired by billions around the world.

And not for the first time in the history of
love, the relationship couldn’t take the change in status.

There was a brief split in June (later denied)
when Pippa was much photographed on mini-breaks with her good friend George
Percy, the future Duke of Northumberland.

But tantalising though it was to speculate on
the Middleton parents having ‘double duchess’ daughters, Pippa soon got back
together with Alex and it looked as if marriage might be on the cards.

But after the reunion, whenever they were
photographed together, Loudon looked excruciatingly uncomfortable in the
spotlight. Unlike Pippa or, for that matter, Percy. Pippa and Alex are firmly in
the ‘wedding zone’ — that time between the ages of 28 and 32 when public school
and university-educated types must spend most of their  weekends at a wedding,
hen or stag night.

Typically, among this flurry of fascinators
and champagne-fuelled flirtation, the question of marriage tends to be thrust to
the forefront of a couple’s minds as they turn

The relentless recitals of those wedding
standards Sonnet 116  (‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds . . .’) and 1
Corinthians (‘Love is patient, love is kind . . .’) took their toll on Pippa and

They had that huge row (topic unrecorded) at
the Whitby wedding. Could the subtext have been that Alex was keen on marriage,
but Pippa wasn’t so sure?

You can see the emotional dynamic in those
perky pictures of Pippa a couple of weeks ago in her low-cut red dress being
raised aloft by children’s party entertainer Charlie ‘Sharky’ Astor at the
Boodles Boxing Ball in London.

A man already feeling uncomfortable about his
girlfriend’s globally publicised desirability could be forgiven for feeling
irritated by those photos. Another well-bred, tall Old Etonian lifting her up so
enthusiastically? A lesser man than Loudon might have been tempted to reward
‘Sharky’ with a shiner.

bliss in Anglesey and Kensington — they are
hardly out every night — and Prince Harry is flying helicopters and drinking in
Arizona, Pippa has become absolutely ‘it’ among the social set who congregate
around the young royals.

‘In any given night in Chelsea, you’ll find
Pippa having dinner with socialites Astrid Harbord, Arabella Musgrave or other
girls from that royal inner circle,’ says one member of that scene.

After that revealing red dress, Pippa wore a
more covered up (though still tight-fitting and fetching) frock to her last big
public outing, the Too Many Women charity event at Petersham Nurseries near
Richmond upon Thames.

There, Pippa danced with her friend Katie
Readman (who works for the Issa design label favoured by Kate) and sat next to
Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross, who has a long-term girlfriend and knows
the Middletons from holidays on Mustique.

So Pippa is socially feverish — but what next?

Though she still juggles working for her
parents’ Party Pieces company with her job at Table Talk, the London caterers,
there were recent rumours of a book deal for Pippa to write a party planning

How To Get My Figure might have sold more, but
you can see that a Party Pieces tie-in publication is a safer prospect and has
logic to it.

We can expect lots of jolly imaginative
suggestions about how to turn your kitchen into a faux rainforest with just a
few banana cupcakes. She can, of course, expect a huge advance.

As for men, if she does embark on 2012 as a
single girl, she is likely to want to follow her sister’s example and not leave
marriage too late.

Timberlake, Daniel Radcliffe, singer Joe Jonas
of the Jonas Brothers and others who have expressed their admiration publicly
can dream on — Pippa will probably choose her future husband from a small, safe,
inner circle of courtiers.

Suitors must be well-connected, rich,
anti-drugs, Conservative- leaning, keen on the country, but be presentable in

Blue blood combined with an entrepreneurial
streak — something that is fashionable and Middleton-style — would be good, as
would a love of sports, particularly tennis, skiing and triathalon.

A past involving university pranks and
high-jinks — wrapping yourself in loo roll and downing vodka from the bottle,
for example — is fine, but any kind of brush with the law involving illegal
substances is not.

It would be easier for everyone concerned if
the suitor was from the royal court, because having a future king as
brother-in-law will be a daunting option for many.

The last time Alex Loudon vanished, George
Percy bravely stepped up to the role of Her Hotness’s escort.

The future Duke of Northumberland — Pippa’s
flatmate at Edinburgh University and now an energy entrepreneur — eagerly rowed
the brunette from Bucklebury around a lake in Madrid and took her to the tennis
at Queen’s Club in London.

It is said by their friends that the chemistry
isn’t there, but that could be a cover story.

Her other Edinburgh flatmate, Lord ‘Ted’
Innes-Ker, a golfer and duke’s son, is promisingly single.

Otherwise there is William’s friend Thomas Van
Straubenzee, who works for a smart estate agent, or the handsome, smiley William
Van Cutsem, a chartered surveyor and property entrepreneur, whose father is an
old friend of Prince Charles.

Then, of course, there is the Boodles Ball
chap who danced with her, Charlie ‘Sharky’ Astor, who is half of children’s
entertainers Sharky and George. That might not be a lifelong career choice, but
for a girl who is rumoured to be about to get a million-pound advance for
writing about children’s parties, it could be helpful. And he is an

Racier options include banking heir James
Rothschild — though he is seeing Paris Hilton’s sister Nicky — and Arthur
Landon, heir to the ‘White Sultan’, the British military commander who once
arranged a coup in Oman.

Arthur has a £200  million fortune and royal
connections, but he, too, has a girlfriend.

Other men who would be suitable but are
currently taken include Richard Branson’s handsome son Sam and brewing heir
James Tollemache.

Should their relationships not lead to
marriage, they could be good options for Pippa. ‘I know some people who will
make themselves single for Pippa,’ says one girl.

Whatever her choice, for now the
Chelsea/Clarence House royal set will be rallying around, inviting her for
supper and consoling her with masses of attention.

Well-meaning Alex Loudon will carry on carving
out his quiet  City career and Pippa will enjoy her blossoming social life and
try  to work out how to enjoy her burgeoning fame without being accused of

After all, she is inundated by freebies from
everyone from fashion houses to leading sporting events. Of course, she has to
be careful about what she accepts, but as that possible book deal shows, the
winnings will be there for her.

And at some point — if it is not to be Alex
Loudon — a husband will be, too