Rush to push out royal wedding souvenirs

Royal postcards with Britain’s Prince Harry on display for sale in a store in Windsor on Nov 29.
Royal postcards with Britain’s Prince Harry on display for sale in a store in Windsor on Nov 29. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement on Monday (Nov 27), Britain's souvenir firms vied to be the king of online sales.

Within hours of the news, websites went live selling limited-edition commemorative porcelain plates featuring the couple's official engagement portrait. Surrey-based collectables company Bradford Exchange put 2,017 plates on sale for £59.98 (S$109) each, not including shipping.

Royal events are big business and one analyst expects next year's wedding will amount to £60 million in additional sales.

"The design team has been working very hard," said Ms Pamela Harper, chief executive of Halcyon Days, which will release commemorative china products once the date is set. 

Kensington Palace has said the wedding will be in May, but the exact date has not been announced.

Ms Harper learnt about the engagement when a breaking-news alert buzzed on her cellphone, but the announcement had been well-telegraphed by the British 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 is determined by the size of the potential prize.

The marriage of Prince Harry's older brother, Prince William, to Kate Middleton in April 2011, boosted the number of visitors to the country by 350,000 that month alone, according to the United Kingdom's Office of National Statistics.

That wedding accounted for a £527-million increase in British retail spending, including £199 million on wedding souvenirs and memorabilia on the public holiday, according to an estimate from the Centre for Retail Research.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government has ruled out a bank holiday this time around.

The centre's director, Mr Joshua Bamford, said the economic bump will likely be less pronounced this time. Unlike his older brother, Prince Harry is not the king in waiting. He is fifth in line to the throne and will be sixth after Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, has her third child.

Mr Bamford imagines there will still be £60 million of shoppers' cash up for grabs.

Royal Crown Derby, one of the oldest porcelain collectable 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 Mr Steven Rowley, its 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," he added.

Halcyon Days' products, made by 75 staff members at two production lines in Britain, will not hit the market until after the Christmas rush.

Half of its products are exported, although Ms Harper believes foreign tourists visiting Britain account for a higher proportion of overall sales.

The power of the royal stardust will be ramped up by Markle, the star of USA Network's Suits.

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," Mr Rowley said.

Each year, the royal family provides a £550-million 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 Britain last year, according to Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that manages them.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2017, with the headline 'Rush to push out royal wedding souvenirs'. Print Edition | Subscribe