After the initial surge of bargain-hunters, and away from the Cirque du Soleil stage, the crowds in Knightsbridge were modest
Kailing Cao had her heart set on a £5,000 Gucci handbag. A tube strike wasn’t going to stop her.
Cao, a 23-year-old art student from Glasgow, had travelled to London with three friends on Christmas Eve. Her first Christmas in the capital had been fun, she said, but it was the Harrods sale that she had really been looking forward to throughout. It hadn’t been any sacrifice to go to bed early on Christmas Day so she could start queuing on the cold, dark pavement at 5.30am on Boxing Day.
“I know exactly what I want,” she said, deaf to the very audible temptation of Cirque du Soleil’s free performance around the corner, a few feet away but out of sight. “I want Gucci, Prada and Burberry,” she said. “And skincare and a watch.”
Her friends, also students, nodded in agreement. Between them they planned to spend at least £16,000 once doors opened.
The less single-minded bargain-hunters, in contrast, were more than happy to be distracted in the dank, damp minutes before the sales began. As the circus performers gave it impressive and dramatic welly on a temporary stage outside Harrods – a small fiesta of silken pantaloons, crushed scarlet velvet waistcoats and lace dresses – children snapped photos and recorded the spectacle on a variety of technologies less than 24 hours freed of their festive wrapping paper.
“We’ll pop into the sale but this is what the kids have been really looking forward to,” said an exhausted-looking Sally Greene, nodding towards her two boys alternately pressing their faces through the barriers in front of the stage and bouncing up and down in excitement.
She leaned forward confidentially. “To be honest, they really had to twist my arm to persuade me to bring them this morning, I could have done with a lie-in. But now I’m here, I’m glad I gave in. It was a nightmare getting across London without the tubes, and it’s grey and grim weather – but they were right, this is actually fun.”
Even the anti-fur trade protesters were unable to resist the performers’ vim. Their ferociously illustrated banners were soon bouncing and twirling in vigorous time with the acrobats who leapt and pranced around the stage.
“This is nice,” said Sue Heard, from Wiltshire, who with her husband, Simon, had got up at 5.15am to drive their daughter, a sales assistant at Harrods, to Knightsbridge in time to open the doors of the shop that morning.
“She’s been working very hard in the past few days,” Heard said. “She stayed at the store until 3am the other day, getting all the stock out and pricing ready.”
Away from the circus performers, the crowds in Knightsbridge were modest. After the initial surge into Harrods when the doors opened at 10am, shops and pavements were only lightly populated, with even fewer people carrying the bulging bags that betray the festive worship of till and shopfloor. Tourists huddled on open-top tour buses gazed down at the empty shops and desultory streets.
In contrast to Brent Cross, where traffic stood at a standstill between Staples Corner and the A41, only the sandwich and coffee shops in Knightsbridge were doing a respectable trade until past midday.
“I haven’t bought anything yet,” said Lydia Cohen, peering at the steadily filling Knightsbridge streets from inside Starbucks. “I don’t really have the money for anything this year but it seemed a shame not to come and pick up a bit of the atmosphere. Going to the sales is a tradition. Buying anything at them though, that’s different.”