Welsh isle dreams of fame as royal love nest
Tuesday 05 April 2011
The island of Anglesey has about as many sheep as people, but it is dreaming of international renown when newlyweds Prince William and Kate Middleton come to live there.
Perched at the far end of Wales, it has little to offer tourists except wild heather battered by icy sea winds, rugged coasts and the village with Britain's longest name: LLanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
But after the royal wedding in London's historic Westminster Abbey on April 29, glory awaits Anglesey: for it is in this remote spot that the couple will make their first home.
William, 28, has been based as a search and rescue helicopter pilot at a Royal Air Force base on the island since late 2010, bringing a flood of journalists and tourists in his wake.
"It's been mad," says David Robertson, landlord of Ye Olde Bulls Head Inn, a pub-cum hotel in the town of Beaumaris. "CNN, NBC, ABC, the Japanese, the Australians... There's been a tremendous impact."
"The eyes of the world are on us now", adds Jane Blakey, head of the Anglesey Tourism Association.
She said the prince's arrival last year "opened up the island for a lot of people to see" and boosted the number of tourist arrivals by as much as 20%.
James Stevenson, the boss of Adventure Elements, a group specialising in waterborne sports and activities for tourists, said he had seen a 30% jump in visits to his website.
"There's a buzz", he says, adding that he is "a lot busier than previously".
"It has put us on the map," adds Stevenson, not even trying to hide his hopes that one day Prince William will come and rent one of his kayaks.
Selwyn Williams, head of Anglesey's local council, predicting a fillip for the tourism business, which is the second biggest employer here.
"We're now a royal island," he says.
It is manna from heaven for this largely rural island with a total population of around 68,000 people, which was badly hit when its large aluminium factory closed.
In 2009 1.4 million tourists visited Anglesey, generating £215 million (245 million euros, $345 million) in revenue.
Conversations here are filled with rumours about the next "royal tour" showing Japanese, Australian and European tourists around places frequented by the royal couple.
"It's a good idea," adds Williams, citing the example of a similar tour in Middleton's home village near London.
But not everyone agrees, with many residents believing the couple should be left alone.
"I don't want that to happen," responds Jane Blakey. "We're not exploiting people here... The prince coming to the island was a gift and we give it back to him in respecting his privacy."
That will be music to the ears of the publicity-shy William, whose late mother Diana faced a media storm before, during and after her marriage to the heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles.
"We are left alone, it's good," William said on Friday when his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, visited his base at RAF Valley.
Indeed, a code of omerta seems to be in place in most parts of Anglesey when it comes to the future king and his bride-to-be.
"No comment," says Adrienne Owen, manager of the White Eagle pub near the base, when asked about reports that William and Kate were locals.
"We're very respectful to privacy," she adds.
The welcome was also chilly in a village in the southeast of the island near where William is renting a seaside house.
"I know where he lives but I won't tell you," says a local passerby, even though a source close to the local authorities had confirmed that William was living there.
Another key destination for journalists on the well-trodden trail in search of William is "The Flaming Grill", a burger van in a parking lot just a stone's throw from the RAF base.
"He was here a year ago," said Alison Williams, moving between her grilled panini and vats of hot water filled with hot dogs.
Leaving the base after a training session, the princely pilot had bacon and eggs for £2.20, she reveals - before cutting short the conversation because she is "fed up with those reporters who keep asking me questions".
"I didn't even recognize him anyway," she adds. "Just realised afterwards."
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