The post-pit town of Selby in Yorkshire is an unlikely place to see eager crowds of Taiwanese and Chinese tourists stepping off coaches. They tend to prefer the cobbled shopping streets of the Shambles in York or the delightful afternoon tea of Bettys Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate.
Selby does have a pretty market square and an 11th-century abbey, but the area’s biggest tourist draws until now have been the Minister in York, as well as the city’s Jorvik centre and the truly excellent National Railway Museum. Imagine the surprise, then, of Selby’s council and tourist chiefs when groups of Taiwanese and Chinese tourists started arriving two weeks ago and headed straight for the abbey.
After some head scratching it emerged that they weren’t visiting it because it was the birthplace of Henry I, or that they were taking in the abbey en route to the nearby village of Towton, the scene of England’s bloodiest Civil War battle in 1461 between the Yorkists and Lancastrians. Neither were they Wolf Hall fans on their way to nearby Cawood Castle, where Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was arrested.
No, they were attracted to Selby’s abbey because a fortnight ago the Taiwanese pop mega-star Jay Chou got married there in a fairy-tale ceremony that sparked a media frenzy in his homeland. He followed it up with a reception at Castle Howard in a day of celebrations that will have set the couple back at least £23,000 in venue hire alone. Chou is known in Taiwan for his blend of traditional Chinese instrumental music and hip‑hop, and in response to his lavish wedding – his bride wore a diamond-encrusted tiara worth more than £1.25m – tour operators are reportedly adding Selby to their list of itineraries for visitors from the Chinese mainland.