Mother-in-Law Carolyn Bourne's Nasty Email Goes Viral; Brits Boycott Her

VIDEO: A British woman sent future daughter-in-law an email criticizing her manners.PlayABCNEWS.com
WATCH Mother-in-Law's E-mail Goes Viral

She has been called Momzilla, the British mother-of-the-groom who sent a scathing e-mail to her future daughter-in-law after the bride-to-be committed a few social faux pas during a weekend visit to her country home.

Carolyn Bourne, 60, sent shock waves across the Atlantic after she chastised her son's fiancee, Heidi Withers, for "rude behavior" that apparently included sleeping late, asking for seconds at the dinner table and bad-mouthing the future in-laws at the local pub.

Bourne teed off on Withers for being what Brits might call "a little madam," demanding the family cater to her needs and exhibiting "uncouthness" and "lack of manners."

Read Bourne's full-text e-mail.

She even suggested that Withers consider finishing school to polish up her savoir faire. "It's high time someone explained to you about good manners," Bourne wrote. "Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you."

Withers, 29, is a production assistant in London and was so upset that she sent the nasty note to her friends. The story soon went viral and has dominated the British media for days.

Now, an online group is urging people to boycott Bourne's family-owned flower shop, Whetman Pinks Nursery, in the southwestern coastal town of Dawlish in Devon.

"If Mrs. Bourne apologizes, we will remove the boycott," wrote the group, Universally Aware. "We are here to raise the consciousness of all people."

Bourne's e-mail went on to say it was "unfortunate" that her son Freddie, who runs a bicycle shop, had fallen for Withers.

"Freddie being Freddie, I gather it is not easy to reason with him or yet encourage him to consider how he might be able to help you," she wrote. "It may just be possible to get through to you though. I do hope so ... One could be accused of thinking that Heidi Withers must be patting herself on the back for having caught a most eligible young man. I pity Freddie.

"No one gets married in a castle unless they own it," Bourne wrote. "It is brash, celebrity-style behavior. I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters' marriages.)"

Withers' father, Alan Withers, 64, has even weighed in, lambasting Bourne's "lack of grace." He told the Sun newspaper, "I think she has her head stuck so far up her own a** she doesn't know whether to speak or fart. Heidi was very upset and the two of them obviously don't see eye to eye."

He and his wife, Sylvia, were laid off from a nursing agency in January.

"I met Carolyn and her husband Edward for dinner at a pub in London last year," he told the Sun. "Edward [her husband] was a jovial chap but Carolyn was quite snotty. She had a look about her which made us think she thought she was better than us. ... Ever since that meeting we call her 'Miss Fancy Pants.'"

He claims Bourne sent the e-mail twice -- once to Withers' personal account and then to her work e-mail. When she asked her father what to do, he replied, "I told her the best thing to do was not respond to it at all and take the moral high ground."

Bourne, who manages a large nursery and is known for her prize-winning flowers, did not return calls from ABCNews.com. To the British press, she said, "I have nothing to say."

Nor did her son, Freddie, who works at Capital Cycles in Putney. Neither Withers, nor her sister, September Withers, could be reached.

Americans were horrified by Bourne's own bad behavior.

"Whoa, what a bitch," said Catherine Drake of Allentown, N.J., who is only a month away from her own daughter's wedding. "It's really sad that everybody has lost such perspective here. It's the wedding process that can make that happen.

"The huge mistake was that this woman put it in writing," said Drake, who admitted both sides in the wedding party think ill thoughts from time to time.

U.S. Reaction: 'What a Bitch'

"If I had a problem with my in-laws-to-be, I would vent it with a friend or a sister or a husband," she said. "But I would not put it in writing. This will haunt her for the rest of her life."

Drake said she had her own "brouhaha" with her daughter Thursday about whether she would be escorted down the aisle. "Am I being left out?"

"The great American wedding these days has so many details and so many opportunities to hurt people's feelings," Drake added. "It's supposed to be a joyful experience to bring together family and friends on this journey – instead, it's a reminder that everyone gets lost in the details. It's a stressful process."

And she understands how Withers' attitude could grate Bourne. "Sometimes, I feel a little taken for granted," she said.

"Obviously, these people aren't perfect and kids these days are very entitled. This generation is, 'What can you do for me?' That is how we raised them. Everyone gets a trophy."

And what is the proper etiquette for a house guest, particularly when visiting the in-laws?

"House guests should be respecting the views and habitat of their hosts, and likewise hosts should respect their guest's wishes and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible," said William Hanson, a British protocol and etiquette consultant. "This way everyone is looking out for everyone else and all bases are covered."

He defended Bourne on one count: "From an etiquette perspective, everything she said was technically correct."

"Guests should 'fall in line with house norms,' as Mrs Bourne wrote," said Hanson. "If breakfast is at eight then they should present themselves, washed and dressed, at eight sharp. With family guests the relationship becomes more casual, but that does not excuse an absence of common sense, respect or civility on anyone's part. Over time the host/guests will get to know each other's general habits and preferences and a compromise should be sought."

But was it socially correct for Bourne to send that snarky email?

"No!" he said firmly. "It is what I call the politeness paradox. It is technically rude to point out people's bad manners... Mrs. Bourne's tone and manner of handling this affair were quite rude, the very thing she accuses Miss Withers of being!"

At least one thing crosses the pond loud and clear, according to one expert: Bourne's future relationship with her daughter-in-law is dead.

"What's interesting in this story is that the woman isn't a mother but a step-mother to the affianced young man and it certainly sounds as though what's at stake is territory -- the future mother-in-law isn't about to cede a inch to the young woman of whom she's profoundly jealous," said Peg Streep, author of "Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt."

"This dynamic, alas, isn't limited to just stepmothers and fiancees who are perceived as interlopers but even happens between mothers and daughters as well," she said. "The arc of the young woman's life -- the fiance who dotes on her, the grand wedding, the sense of future possibility -- throws what's wrong or what hasn't happened in the older woman's life into high relief and sets off a self-serving rant which would be funny if it weren't meant to be hurtful.

"It's true enough that the girl should have written a thank-you note but, even if she had, it wouldn't have made a whit of difference," said Streep.

Full Text of Bourne's Email

It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.

Unfortunately for Freddie, he has fallen in love with you and Freddie being Freddie, I gather it is not easy to reason with him or yet encourage him to consider how he might be able to help you.

It may just be possible to get through to you though. I do hope so. Your behaviour on your visit to Devon during April was staggering in its uncouthness and lack of grace.

Unfortunately, this was not the first example of bad manners I have experienced from you.

If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste.

There are plenty of finishing schools around. You would be an ideal candidate for the Ladette to Lady television series.

Please, for your own good, for Freddie's sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.

Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:

When you are a guest in another's house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat - unless you are positively allergic to something.

You do not remark that you do not have enough food.

You do not start before everyone else.

You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.

When a guest in another's house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early - you fall in line with house norms.

You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.

I have no idea whether you wrote to thank [your future sister-in-law] for the weekend but you should have hand-written a card to her.

You should have hand-written a card to me. You have never written to thank me when you have stayed at Houndspool.

[Your future sister-in-law] has quite the most exquisite manners of anyone I have ever come across. You would do well to follow her example.

You regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why.

It is tragic that you have diabetes. However, you aren't the only young person in the world who is a diabetic.

I know quite a few young people who have this condition, one of whom is getting married in June. I have never heard her discuss her condition.

She quietly gets on with it. She doesn't like being diabetic. Who would? You do not need to regale everyone with the details of your condition or use it as an excuse to draw attention to yourself. It is vulgar.

As a diabetic of long standing you must be acutely aware of the need to prepare yourself for extraordinary eventualities, the walk to Mothecombe beach being an example.

You are experienced enough to have prepared yourself appropriately.

No-one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behaviour.

I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters' marriages.)

If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes.

One could be accused of thinking that Heidi Withers must be patting herself on the back for having caught a most eligible young man. I pity Freddie.