With last month’s birth of heir to the throne came a surge of interest in all things English in Santa Monica
By Michael Aushenker
President Washington may be pictured on the dollar bill, but it was a different George circulating dollars around Santa Monica late last month: George Alexander Louis.
In the aftermath of last month’s royal birth in England, vendors and patrons at local English businesses saw a surge in interest, according to vendors and patrons who spoke to The Argonaut.
On July 24, news broke from Buckingham Palace that the royal newborn George, the much-anticipated son of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Kate Middleton) had finally entered the world. In the week that followed, workers at Ye Olde King’s Head British Pub & Restaurants in Santa Monica said their complex – which includes the Gift Shoppe, the Bulldog Pub and a pastry shop – was teeming with media such as news teams from local channels 5, 7, 9 and 11.
“Last Monday, we were on royal baby watch, along with many ex-pats,” said Lisa J. Powers, operations manager at Ye Olde King’s Head British Pub & Restaurants. “We had news crews in all day long.
Santa Monica has a reputation of being home to ex-patriots from the United Kingdom, with British-themed restaurants and bars dotted mostly along Santa Monica Boulevard between Second and Fifth streets, as well as on Lincoln Boulevard. On Saturday night, July 27, people working at and frequenting English establishments in the area weighed in on the post-birth excitement.
“I was quite surprised,” said Connie McGibbon, a 30-year Santa Monica resident still speaking in a thick accent reflecting her native Glasgow. The Scottish woman was convinced Middleton was going to deliver a baby girl.
Anecdotally, the longtime Gift Shoppe staffers said they had received many calls and saw a 40 percent surge in business at the storefront, which sells flags, apparel and all things emblazoned with the Union Jack. Dympna Madeley and Frances Burns mentioned how, on the Tuesday George was born, they popped open a bottle of champagne and shared some bubbly with customers.
“We’ve ordered stuff but it will take three weeks to ship,” said Burns. Shoppers can expect tea cozies, tea towels, T-shirts, mugs and plates to arrive at the Gift Shoppe before month’s end. Burns added that they had no choice but to wait for the birth of the baby before ordering the merchandise, which will have George-specific details on it.
When asked if interest will wane while the store awaits the memorabilia, Burns responded not at all, as people still come in looking for items commemorating the April 2011 marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee last year.
Less interested in the baby news was a Ye Olde King’s Head restaurant hostess who originated from southern Ireland. However, she did acknowledge that British patrons at the restaurant were enthused about the news, as did a fellow hostess (an American).
“The royal baby definitely increased our business,” Powers concluded. “It was an exciting week for all things British.”
Two blocks away, Joseph Minenko, a gregarious chap with a colorful mustache visiting his sister Monica for four weeks from Australia, held court just outside Britannia bar. Chomping on a cigar, the jovial, beret-sporting Aussie called the birth of George “a great asset to the royal family.”
Facetiously boasting among his family members that he had predicted the royal baby’s first name, Minenko, a builder who used to be a café owner, said William and Kate have helped smash the barriers between “red bloods and blue bloods,” humanizing the royals and making them more relatable, a trend that began with Prince William’s mother.
“(Princess) Diana was a big influence on the monarchy,” Minenko opined. “She changed the way people think about the royals.”
Some of the businesses capitalized on the royal news. One restaurant held an afternoon tea last Tuesday through Saturday.
“We had a busy week as it put all things British in the media,” Powers reported. “We sold special ‘royal cupcakes’ in our bakery, which were very popular. We also named a drink after the new prince.”
Minenko believes countries such as his nation and Canada still enjoy their ties to Great Britain. He said that the day before, he had paid a visit to the Natural Science Museum near downtown L.A., where he saw the Endeavour space shuttle on display. The Melbourne native enjoyed the symbolism of the retired space shuttle’s name, as Endeavor was also the English vessel that discovered Australia. He added that he felt even many people in the United States maintained a respect for their former colonizing parent country.
“You see how Americans embraced the royal baby and the royal family,” he said, quickly adding, “but they do love their independence!”