Rotherham, my poor, battered, bruised and beloved home town, got itself reight excited this week.
The Holy Mother of retail, the nation’s queen of shops, plain-speaking Mary Portas was coming to town to give her expert view on how it could save itself from extinction.
The carrot-topped retail guru is touring the nation’s town centres to tell them how to pull the shoppers back in. And Rotherham was on her to-do list. Probably in red ink.
See, in February it was portrayed as a town centre on its knees; a place with more boarded-up shop fronts than any other in the UK. Walk up its once beautiful old high street, which in my childhood was the place to shop, and you expect tumbleweed to come barrelling down.
All hail Mary, and any profound advice she could proffer, then.
But the woman loved by millions of telly viewers for her common-sense and scything through over-stuffed egos and pompous waffle faster than you can say ‘pass me a size 16’ came, saw, but didn’t conquer. Not plain-speaking, ordinary Rotherham folk, any road up.
Portas was surrounded by an entourage of journalists and town big-wigs the whole time.
The shoppers and the traders – the lifeblood of the town? She didn’t talk to any of them. Surely their views need to be heard. And anyway, aren’t they the very people she insists shop-owners who feature in her TV show get out there and consult?
I can’t imagine the big-wigs were all that impressed, either. Mary pointed out beautiful old buildings and said they should be made more of. She urged officials to promote small, niche businesses, make parking easier and pull in some big retailers. Which is precisely what they’ve been busily trying to do.