April 17 2014 Latest news:
by Joshua Fowler
Sunday, February 2, 2014
It’s been more than three years since The Only Way is Essex (Towie) first emerged to immortalise the phrases “well jel” and “creepy sick”.
With 10 series of the ITV2 reality show in the can, the public appetite for the Essex elite is yet to wane, with cast members Sam Faiers, Gemma Collins and Amy Childs cropping up on TV shows Celebrity, Big Brother, Splash! and The Jump respectively over the past few weeks alone.
But it’s not just television land in which these local celebrities are making waves; the show continues to provide an economic boom for Havering and Brentwood.
The show’s latest outfits, haircuts and handbags become must-haves, with bars such as Oliver’s, in Hornchurch High Street, and Kosho, in Romford, attracting crowds through regular appearances from cast members.
Shops have even pinched the show’s title to draw in custom, such as The Only Way Is Tanning, in Hornchurch, and The Only Way Is Elegant, a beauty salon in Chadwell Heath High Road.
But there are few high streets more vibrant in Essex on what has been labelled “Tourist Saturdays” than Brentwood’s, and stores don’t come much busier than Minnie’s Boutique, in Ropers Yard.
Run by sisters Sam and Billie Faiers, alongside their mum, Sue, and aunt, Libby Low, the clothes store is a weekend hotbed for schoolgirls and hen parties hoping to spot their favourite star.
“The girls work every Saturday, providing they’re not filming,” explains Libby.
“It’s obviously the biggest day on any high street, but we have a big influx of tourists because of the show.
“Lots of the other cast members have shops like ours now and it’s great for Brentwood to have a bustling high street – especially in this current climate.
“Billie and Sam love it and to see the amount of fans that flock here on a weekend is just overwhelming.”
Minnie’s, which opened three years ago, has had visitors from as far away as Australia pop in during day trips away from their London holidays.
In fact, the tourist trade in Brentwood is booming enough for Towie tours to have become a surprise hit – with bus loads of reality show fans taken up and down the high street, as well as into Loughton and Buckhurst Hill.
Lewis Swan, who runs Brit Movie Tours, is the brains behind the “Towie safari” and says the likes of Joey Essex and Amy Childs opening up stores was catalyst for his eureka moment.
“It is a way for them to meet their fans,” he explains. “We are already fully booked until April and we’ve been going for a couple of years now.
“The people vary, but we do get a lot of hen parties and they come from all over the country.
“It works well for the stars, they get a bus load of people through their doors every Saturday –it’s win-win.”
Many of the stars left jobs as beauticians and bank clerks to join the show, or in the case of 19-year-old Harry Derbidge, dropped out of college.
He appeared in the first three series of Towie, alongside cousin Amy, and is one of those with a Brentwood shop – Harry’s World, in Ongar Road.
Queues regularly stretch along the pavement to rummage through his rails on a weekend, and he says Friday nights are certainly the calm before the storm.
“It’s just mental here on a Saturday, we have people waiting right down the street to get in,” he says.
“I definitely look forward to it on a Friday and we get people coming in with presents for me, wanting their picture taken with me and just wanting to buy something.”
Harry was just 16 when the show started, but his leap of faith to leave his Dagenham college behind paid off and gave him the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Tom Hanks.
“That has to be the highlight of it all,” he reveals.
“We were all just normal people when they approached us. Filming was very tough, we would finish at 3am and have been at it all day. But you can’t knock it because it’s given us all so much.”
The likes of Sugar Hut, Fusey and Lucy’s Boutique may have turned the high street in to somewhat of a Towie theme park – but the huge increase in footfall is proving that’s no bad thing.
With little sign of fans losing interest, the Towie effect is sure to spread a little further before it ever disappears.