When Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle announced their engagement on Monday, the UK’s souvenir firms sped into action. Royals are big business for the UK, and one analyst expects this year’s wedding will amount to £60m in additional sales.
“The design team have been working very hard,” said Pamela Harper, chair and chief executive of London-based Halcyon Days, which will release commemorative china products once the date has been set. Kensington Palace has said the wedding will be in May 2018, but the exact date hasn’t been announced.
Ms Harper learned about the engagement when a breaking-news alert buzzed her cell phone, but the announcement had been well-telegraphed by the press for weeks. Halcyon Days had been developing ideas for products, discussing colours and designs.
“Royal weddings tend not to have a long lead time,” she said. “We need to get ahead of the game.”
The haste to push out themed trinkets and tchotchkes is determined by the size of the potential prize.
The marriage of Harry’s older brother, William, to Kate Middleton in April 2011 boosted the number of visitors to the country by 350,000 that month alone, according to the UK Office of National Statistics.
That wedding accounted for a £527m increase in UK retail spending, including £199m on wedding souvenirs and memorabilia on the public holiday, according to an estimate from the Centre for Retail Research – although Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out a bank holiday this time around.
The centre’s director, Joshua Bamford, said the economic bump will likely be less pronounced for Harry and Megan’s big day. Unlike his older brother, Harry’s not the king in waiting. He’s fifth in line to the throne and will be sixth after Kate, now the Duchess of Cambridge, has her third child. Mr Bamford imagines there’ll still be £60m of shoppers’ cash up for grabs.
Royal Crown Derby, one of the oldest porcelain collectible shops in England, made its first commemorative item for the coronation of King George III in 1761. Business was still going strong 250 years later for the 2011 royal wedding, making up nearly 10 per cent of sales that year, said Steven Rowley, the firm’s sales and marketing director.
For Prince Harry’s engagement, the company started mocking up designs two months ago. “We’re now waiting for the date and the titles to finish the details of the design and get them into production as soon as possible,” Rowley said.
Within hours of the announcement, websites went live selling limited-edition commemorative porcelain plates featuring the couple’s official engagement portrait. Surrey-based collectables company the Bradford Exchange put 2,017 plates on sale for £59.98 each, not including shipping.
Halcyon Days’ products, made by 75 staff members at two production lines in the UK, won’t hit the market until after the Christmas rush. Half of the company’s products are exported, although Harper believes foreign tourists visiting Britain account for a higher proportion of overall sales.
The power of the royal stardust will be compounded by Markle, the star of USA Network’s “Suits,” and analysts expect her personal brand will draw even more Americans into the wedding fever.
“This is going to give us an additional opportunity to increase our sales and presence in the US market, which we’re very excited about,” Rowley said.
On an annual basis, the royal family provides a £550m uplift through tourism, estimates Brand Finance, a business valuation consultancy, with lines snaking outside Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and other current and former royal residences. In all, 4.4 million people visited royal sites across the UK in 2016, according to Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that manages them.
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