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The rise of internet retail and out-of-town shopping centres have sent the British high street into rapid decline. In 2011, Mary Portas produced a report on the problem for the government; her final recommendation was that she herself put her plan into action, thereby guaranteeing herself gainful employment and juicy subject matter for her latest series.
‘Queen of the High Street’ will follow her progress in high streets across the country, starting with our very own Roman Road in Bow. With her cartoonish bob and cultivated fierceness, Portas is easy to write off as a caricature. But her mission and frustrations make perfect sense. Roman Road lurks in the shadow of the Olympic Park and was once a fashionable street that people would dress up to visit. It’s hard to imagine now, with its sad market and shabby shops. Portas’s plan is two-fold – to doll up the market with foodie stalls and vintage sellers and anchor the other end of the street with a destination shop.
She chooses Jeanette’s Junk Shop – an astonishingly cluttered bric-à-brac store that often takes just £8 a day – and helps its bemused owner re-style it as a chic vintage store, even dragging her to Paris’s outrageously overpriced Clignancourt fleamarket for inspiration. Jeanette can’t believe people would part with €80 for a bit of crappy taxidermy: never underestimate the hipster’s appetite for a mounted deerhead, Jeanette.
Closing this cockernee edition of the show with a rousing rendition of ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’ reveals Portas has the kind of singing voice only a mother could love. But you can’t help but warm to someone taking on the cause of British local retailers, gawd luv ’em. Katie Dailey