'Face of Burberry' refuses to join jobs battle in homeland

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They'll keep a welcome in the hillsides, as the old Welsh song goes, but only up to a point.

One person for whom the welcome is conditional is Ioan Gruffudd, the Welsh actor. He has become the new face of Burberry - "high class" purveyor of luxury goods, couturier to chavs across the United Kingdom and the main employer in Treorchy, in the Rhondda valley, south Wales.

Burberry is threatening to close its factory, condemning more than 300 people to the dole queue, which presents the Cardiff-born actor with a bit of a PR problem. It is even more of a problem for the Burberry employees. Rhondda is not the kind of place where jobs grow on the Forestry Commission conifers that overlook the plant.

So far, intermediaries for Mr Gruffudd have said he is "sad" about the job losses but unable to back a campaign to save the factory.

A letter from his public relations adviser yesterday, marked "not for publication", says that because the actor is contracted to the company it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment. He hopes, however, that "everything works out".

Leighton Andrews, a member of the Welsh Assembly for Rhondda, said the workers were hoping for a little more from the actor who starred as Horatio Hornblower in the ITV adaptation of the Forester novels and played Lancelot to Keira Knightley's Guinevere in the recent film about King Arthur.

John Harris, a union official at the plant, said of Mr Gruffudd's response: "We understand his position but he's a Welsh megastar and we were hoping that he would be more supportive."

Under pressure from the workforce, Burberry has put back the closure date. First it was to be by Christmas, then early in the new year and yesterday March 2007 was mentioned.

Campaigners are busy trying to sign up other celebrities to their cause.

They have their sights set on the Cardiff singer Charlotte Church, who has been known to wear the distinctive check. They are even targeting English notables, including Victoria Beckham.

If that doesn't work, Mr Andrews and the GMB general union, which represents the Rhondda workers, plan to appeal to a considerably posher set - including Princes William and Harry who have been known to wear the "quintessentially British" clothes. The nuclear option would be a direct approach to the Prince of Wales. The company holds a royal warrant.

Most of the clothes are actually made thousands of miles away and the expected closure of the plant in Treorchy will further dilute the "quintessential Britishness". The Rhondda employees, who make polo shirts, form about a third of the company's British workforce. There are also two plants in Yorkshire, employing about 600 workers.

At the heart of Burberry's decision is the fact that while it is estimated it costs about £12 to make the shirts in Rhondda, it will cost less than £4 in the Far East, to which production is likely to be switched, boosting profits by £4m a year.