On a recent visit to their namesake county, the Duke of Sussex spotted a Butlin’s resort on the horizon of Bognor Regis and impetuously suggested he take his wife there.
It might be unlikely that the couple will actually pack their monogrammed bags and head to a holiday camp, but the image of draughty chalets and compulsory fun that linger long in the nation’s collective memory no longer ring true.
A British institution for more than 80 years, Butlin’s has undergone something of a revamp and subsequent revival – although the majority (68%) of recent reviews on Trustpilot are negative, with comments swinging between “absolutely awful, extortionate and disgusting” and “fabulous holiday and great staff”.
So, if Meghan and Harry do surprise us all and rock up to Butlin’s, what can their Royal Hi-di-Highnesses expect?
From the Redcoats belting out cabaret hits and washed-up boybands on their farewell tour to true icons such as Nick Cave and Iggy Pop, music has always been a part of the Butlin’s experience.
It’s also one of the main draws for people to visit the resorts – this weekend’s 80s event at the resorts in Bognor Regis, Minehead and Skegness features Altered Images, Paul Young and Musical Youth and is sold out.
As one reviewer who went to a previous “80s Big Weekend” said: “It’s one long weekend party, if you don’t like drinking, dancing and fancy dress this is not for you.
“Huge groups of stags and hens accompanied by birthday party groups accompanied by blow up dolls were everywhere. The age range was from 18 to over 60 and everyone seemed happy and part of the party spirit.”
There are also events with a more relaxed vibe, such as The Great British Folk Festival, and as one of the musical turns at Meghan and Harry’s wedding was a rendition of Stand By Me, perhaps the couple would rather attend a “Legends of Soul” weekend where they could enjoy acts including tributes to Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight – as well as the real-life Billy Ocean and Chairmen Of The Board.
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Beauty competitions at Butlin’s have been phased out, so there is no need for sylph-like men to fear body-shaming over their knobbly knees.
And women are no longer expected to join in any competitions in which contestants must wear masks in order to ensure they are “judged solely on their figures”, as if that’s a good thing (see photo below).
Instead, couples might like to head to one of the spas to enjoy some relaxation time.
As the resort publicity says: “Why not escape to our Ocean Spa in the Ocean Hotel, Bognor Regis. It will leave you feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and revitalised”, and presumably other things beginning with “r”.
For the kids
Children visiting Butlin’s used to be kept in a special “compound” and had their meals in high chairs separate from their parents. They were looked after in a crèche and would not often mingle with older members of their families.
Nowadays though, the emphasis is more on keeping the parents happy by making sure the kids are happy.
Special events are put on for Halloween and Christmas, as well as term-time breaks for pre-schoolers. The Teletubbies make an appearance and a bear reads a bedtime story.
On the downside, facilities such as the “childcare notice” informing parents of bawling infants in remote chalets are no longer available.
Famous guests… and staff
If the duke and duchess do not turn up for their hols, staff (“team members”) will have to be satisfied in the knowledge that there has been no shortage of famous faces turning up over the years.
Formula 1 champions Graham Hill and Jim Clark took to the dodgems in the 1960s, while Des O’Connor, Cliff Richard, Dave Allen, Ted Rogers, Rod Hull, Terry Scott, Darren Day and Stephen Mulhern were all Redcoats who made it big (or biggish).
So who knows what stars of the future could be spotted entertaining the kids?
Sport at Butlin’s traditionally meant piggyback racing and “sociable cycling” – two-seated contraptions that could be pedalled along the seafront at no more than 5mph.
But youngsters turning up today don’t have to make do with activities quite as sedate – they can (for a price) be coached in football, fencing, and archery.
The whole family can play pool (or swim in a pool) and at the Skegness camp adults can (also for a price) go to the gym.
Accommodation in the camps has changed – it’s no longer rows of wooden chalets kitted out with rickety camp beds, and guests can stay in resort hotels, apartments, waterfront chalets or rooms.
There are, however, limitations.
Unless they splash out on upgraded accommodation, guests still have to take their own towels, or rent some from the hire shop.
Occupants of budget rooms who want access to a toaster, hairdryer, microwave or fridge will also need to rent these for between £2 and £5 a day.
They will, however, have hot and cold running water – unlike in the early days, when holidaymakers would have to queue at a hot tap in their dressing gowns – and televisions are provided, negating the previous need to traipse over to the “TV theatre”, where guests had to choose between the BBC lounge and the ITV one.
Flights of romance
Harry and Meghan may enjoy snuggling up on some marble steps but they weren’t the first couple to make the most of a flight of stairs. In 1957, 49 pairs of honeymooners headed to Butlin’s in Brighton to celebrate their nuptials.
Dubbed the “budget beaters”, they all hurried down the aisle in the week before the end of Britain’s financial year, thus qualifying for the income tax exemption bestowed by marital status for the entire year.
Stairs are available at modern Butlin’s too.
Who said romance was dead?
While guests no longer have to dine in a hall reminiscent of a school canteen, they do have to wear wristbands so staff know they are entitled to be there, and everyone should have chosen and paid for their dining plan before they arrive.
Although Butlin’s does not serve royal favourites such as roast swan and peacock in aspic, the duke and duchess – and everyone else – can enjoy the all-you-can-eat ice cream deal or the daily roast with “all the trimmings”.
The brochure also promises guests “can even have a fish supper with a cuppa”.
What more could a royal couple hope for?