The people of Margate (of which I am one) awaited this week’s Mary Queen of the High Street (14 May, 9pm, C4) with some trepidation. This was the Portas Pilot, after all, where half the original town team walked out amid claims she and her film crew deliberately orchestrated rows to create a neat conflict resolution arc, seemingly with entertainment rather than regeneration in mind.
I’d like to say my fears were unfounded. Sadly, they weren’t. There was a confrontation at the old Woolies, with a town team member taking umbrage at the ever-present cameras. Portas threatened: “We either let the cameras in with me or I go back on the train and some other town gets it.” She meant the publicity, not money (not in her power to give), but it hardly soothed already fractious relations and the town team soon imploded.
There were some positives: the £10 return train fares from London the transformation of the high street into an ‘inland pier’, if only for a day and Billy’s Kiss Me Quick shop, which, even if it isn’t on the high street, looked fantastic decked out with Tracey Emin’s ‘For a dirty weekend come to Margate’ souvenirs.
But the entire focus was on the tourist trade. What about locals, for whom the shopping Mecca of Westwood Cross is a short drive away? Margate needs a compelling, long-term retail offer that complements Westwood Cross and the vibrant Old Town, not pop-up “micro-department store” Poportunity, Chas without Dave or Portas wearing a plastic arse - and disappointingly, ‘Portarse’ is what this was.