Sales hype falls flat at the posh people's store

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When they called Harrods the posh people's store, they probably did not have this in mind. The nouveau riche one from a fractured girl band, four Scots pipers, a drummer, an opera singer, a rich Egyptian in pursuit of a British passport and scores of stampeding photographers pushing terrified shoppers out of the way. Welcome to the 2002 Harrods sale.

"It seemed the world had stopped what it was doing to travel to Knightsbridge to watch Victoria Beckham open the world's most famous sale," the store's press blurb read yesterday. If the population of the world were about 100, then that would be true. However, despite the draw of Posh Spice and Lesley Garrett, the opera singer, the cold ensured that the usual shopping frenzy was eclipsed by an unruly media scrum.

An hour before the start of the sale, fewer than 50 people were queuing for bargains. Two hours before, and only a handful of people were there. And between 11.55pm on Tuesday night and 5.30am yesterday, just three had braved the sub-zero conditions in search of savings of up to 50 per cent.

The sense of anti-climax was palpable at 8.35am when Ms Garrett stepped on to a makeshift stage outside Door 5 to sing three songs to an audience comprising more media types than shoppers. Wearing a fur-trimmed suede jacket, she appeared to have registered the size of the crowd when she announced she would sing "The Impossible Dream".

Mohamed Al Fayed, the store's owner, dressed in a grey check suit, appeared to have noticed, too, although he put on a wide grin when, from around the corner, the pipe band struck up and accompanied Posh, sans Becks, to Door 5. Dressed only in a tiny bustier, a thin pair of white trousers and a white woollen coat, she shivered as her Harrods landau, pulled by two horses, came to a halt.

In spite of her well-known penchant for all things designer and expensive, Posh was there for another reason; to hand over a £20,000 cheque to Kirsty Howard, a six-year-old with an incurable heart condition who has raised £1.2m for the Francis House hospice in Manchester, which cares for her.

Once the preliminaries were over, the doors were opened to the public while the most remarkable walkabout began, with Mr Fayed, Ms Garrett and Ms Beckham surrounded by a dozen shaven-headed security guards making their way into Shoes, past Men's Pyjamas, through Men's Casuals, via Cosmetics and the Food Hall to Fine Jewellery, accompanied all the way by the pipe band and the combative media caravan.

Here, Ms Garrett was given an Escada 9.02 carat necklace to wear, usual price £50,640, sale price a snip at £40,500, while Posh was shown the biggest mark-down in the store, a Kojis sapphire and diamond necklace, ring and ear-rings, reduced from £380,000 to just £300,000. Both women appeared loath to leave behind the trinkets as the second leg of the walk began.

This time, it was up past Linen and Towels, through Oriental Carpets, Glassware and Crystal, to Luggage where, inexplicably, the party did a U-turn, resulting in consternation on the faces of the security heavies, one or two off-notes from the pipers and a pile-up among the photographers. The shopping public watched in astonishment.

As the by-now huffing procession chased after the diminutive but fast-paced Mr Fayed, there were a number of bottlenecks on the escalators as it climbed to the fourth floor, not least when one broke down, throwing the Egyptian off balance. Then it was through Jeans, Men's Clothes, Children's Books and Teddy Bears, into the Toy Department, where, under two signs that appropriately read "Circus", the two singers and the millionaire businessman had their picture taken with a 4ft-high teddy dressed in a green suit.

Mr Fayed did not speak during the whole ceremony, save to warn the photographers "gently, gently", and to express his anger at the lack of government support for children's hospices such as Francis House. When Susie Mathis, a campaigner for Francis, said Tony Blair had promised to help last year but had subsequently failed to do so, the shop owner shouted: "And this is the Prime Minister of this country." Mr Fayed's contribution to the hospice is thought to be £250,000.

Back on the sales floors, the real crowds had begun to gather by 11am. The first through the doors was Pat Hard, 41, from Biddeston in Avon. After queuing for nine hours, she bought a Celine handbag reduced from £250 to £125 and a pair of Prada shoes reduced from £200 to £125.

* Contributions to the Kirsty Howard appeal can be made on 08000 971197.