World

Barbies, beer fridges and collectibles have Britons opening their wallets for the Queen's Jubilee

People in the U.K. are expected to spend the equivalent of more than $1.6 billion Cdn to mark Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee, from taking extra holidays to buying up souvenirs.

Celebrations to mark 70 years of Queen Elizabeth as monarch generate big revenues for U.K. retailers

Jubilee-themed tea towels are among the souvenirs retailers are selling to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's unprecedented 70 years on the throne. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee are expected to inject a royally large boost into the British economy — up to $1.6 billion Cdn, according to some valuations.

And a sizable nugget of that amount has already landed at Stuart Morris's printing business, near the eastern English city of Ipswich.

For the past few months, his printing machines have been turning out an assortment of Jubilee-themed tea towels, aprons and other souvenirs to commemorate the Queen's unprecedented 70 years on the British throne.

"The Jubilee has definitely given us a bit of a kick-start," said Morris, who for the past 40 years has run an 18-employee printing and design operation from the village of Hadleigh.

"I would say at this time of the year, [the Jubilee] has led to a 30 per cent increase in our production," he said.

"We've done tea towels, we've done tote bags, shopping bags, we've done aprons, we've done associated ceramic products, which we do with another company, and silk scarves." 

Stuart Morris holds up a souvenir tea towel from his printing press in Hadleigh, near Ipswich, England, that are being made to mark the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. (Lily Martin/CBC)

On the day a CBC News crew visited earlier this week, Morris's team was rolling off tens of thousands of commemorative tea towels emblazoned with the images of a young and older Elizabeth.

Commissioned by the Daily Mail newspaper and intended as gifts for readers, Morris said the contract was worth £80,000 or $140,000 Cdn.

Regent Street in London has been decorated in British flags to mark the Queen's Jubilee. (Chris Brown/CBC)

Jubilees "seem to get bigger every 10 years. So let's hope there'll be another one,"  he said chuckling, acknowledging that planning another celebration for the Queen, who's 96, five or 10 years from now may be a stretch.

One of Britain's biggest retailers confirms the popularity of Jubilee-themed items.

  • WATCH — CBC News Special: The Queen's Jubilee, Trooping the Colour, June 2, 5 a.m - 8:30 a.m. ET on CBC-TV, CBC News Network and CBC Gem

Department store John Lewis reports its limited edition Barbie Signature Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Doll sold out in just three minutes.

Online searches for other items to mark the Jubilee holiday long weekend were also up, including a 56 per cent increase in people looking to buy beer fridges, the retailer said in an email to CBC News.

Michael Josem of Brand Finance, a brand and business valuation consultancy in London, says 'the monarchy is great value for money.' (Lily Martin/CBC)

Valuation expert Michael Josem, with the London-based firm Brand Finance, has calculated that $1.6 billion Cdn figure for Jubilee revenue based on merchandise sales from previous celebrations and by analyzing the spikes in visitors associated with past royal festivities.

"The monarchy is great value for money," Josem told CBC News in an interview. 

"We estimate about one per cent of British tourism spending is connected to the monarchy. And that's not just people coming solely to view Buckingham Palace, but rather, seeing the various palaces, seeing the theatrics of it all as part of the rest of their tourism."

Overall, Brand Finance calculates the total revenue generated by the monarchy in a Jubilee year at about £3.5 billion, or $5.5 billion Cdn.   

Staff at Morris's printing and design plant are busy printing souvenir tea towels. Even after the Jubilee long weekend passes, there will be months of work ahead creating collectible fabric towels, tote bags and other souvenirs. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Offsetting the income are costs borne by British taxpayers that Josem estimates at around £500 million or $800 million Cdn.

That figure includes what's known as the Sovereign Grant provided by U.K. taxpayers of £85.9 million, which includes money to maintain and modernize Buckingham Palace. The rest of the expenses come from security, staffing and other costs involving members of the Royal Family.

  • WATCH — CBC News Special: The Queen's Jubilee, A Service of Thanksgiving, June 3, 5:30 a.m. - 9 a.m. ET on CBC-TV, CBC News Network and CBC Gem.

Additionally, Bloomberg Economics reports that the extra statutory holiday associated with the Jubilee celebrations will knock half a per cent off the country's GDP due to lost output from factories and offices closing. 

Still, the consensus in the travel industry is that the extra-long Jubilee weekend is offering British citizens and their neighbours another reason to get travelling again, especially after the sustained downturn caused by COVID-19.

Graham Smith, CEO of Republic, stands next to one of his organization's anti-monarchy billboards in Reading, England. (Lily Martin/CBC)

A survey by VisitEngland revealed 5.3 million people plan to take an overnight break at some point during the Jubilee — and up to 19 million people will take part in some aspect of the celebrations, including coming out to some of the estimated 16,000 street parties being hosted around the country over the next five days.

Still, critics of the monarchy see lots of guesswork in the financial numbers and doubt the dollar value of the Queen and her family is as mighty as the brand valuators believe.

'Numbers are fantasy'

"Those numbers are fantasy," said Graham Smith, CEO of Republic, a lobby group that's pushing to replace the monarch as the British head of state with an elected president.

"We've challenged VisitBritain who promote Britain as a foreign destination, and they rarely mention the Royal Family as a key part of their promotional material," said Smith.

"And they have admitted that if we get rid of the monarchy, there's no evidence that tourism will go down."

A painting of the Queen on the side of a building in Hadleigh. (Ashley Meneely/CBC)

Republic is marking the Jubilee by putting up a dozen billboards around the country, with the slogan "Make Elizabeth the Last."

The slogan is printed on an attention-getting solid red background that also features the images of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, the next in line Prince William along with Prince Andrew, the Queen's second son.

Andrew recently settled a civil sexual abuse case with Virginia Guiffre, who accused the prince of assaulting her when she was 17 years old.

His legal problems led to Andrew being dropped from royal duties, although he is expected to be seen publicly later this week during the Jubilee festivities.

On one Republic billboard CBC News visited near the city of Reading, outside London, Andrew's face had been ripped off.

A man sells merchandise outside a shop near Windsor Castle in Windsor on Tuesday, ahead of celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee this weekend in London. (Tom Nicholson/Reuters)

Smith said he's unsure who is responsible for vandalising the sign but putting Andrew's face on the billboards was important.

"He's on the poster for a reason. Which is that when the Queen's gone, Andrew, William and Charles will be the only royals left that anybody can think of."

"Charles is not particularly popular. William bores the pants off everybody. And Andrew is still facing serious accusations for which he has paid 12 million pounds to avoid a court case."

The Queen may be celebrating 70 years on the throne but this tea towel featuring one of her pet corgis is a top seller for Morris. (Lily Martin/CBC)

A poll released earlier this year showed 22 per cent of those surveyed felt Britain would be better off if the monarchy would be abolished — a seven per cent rise from four years earlier.

Still, more than twice that many — 46 per cent — said they felt Britain would be worse off without the Royal Family.

In Reading, down the street from the poster, people CBC News spoke to appeared to be relatively ambivalent about the future of the Royal Family — but entirely supportive of the long weekend set aside to celebrate the Queen's long reign.

"Well, every country now needs tourism after what's happened in the last two years of COVID," said Simon Mallock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Brown

Foreign Correspondent

Chris Brown is a foreign correspondent based in the CBC’s London bureau. Previously in Moscow, Chris has a passion for great stories and has travelled all over Canada and the world to find them.

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