The Disney Café is a gaudy hell on the fourth floor of Harrods, Knightsbridge. It is adjacent to the Harrods Disney Store, and also the Harrods Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, in which females between the ages of three and 12 can, for fees ranging from £100 to £1,000, be transformed into the tiny, glittering monsters called Disney princesses. They look like the late Queen Mother, but miniaturised. They glide — or are carried, if very small — from boutique to café in hooped plastic gowns in poisonous pink; combustible cloud-dresses, made for arson. Their hair is tight with curls and hairspray, and topped with the essential tiara. They look obliviously class-obsessed and much the same as each other; and this is a wicked trick to play on children. But even — or especially — when you age and homogenise a child there must be a place to eat. Even princesses need to eat, although sometimes we forget this.
The café is windowless, as department stores always are; why be reminded of a world outside that is not entirely synthetic, and not wholly for sale? The walls are painted with the Disney princess pantheon, all eyes and lips these days, the biggest media brand on earth; is this why Republicanism can’t get a foothold? Pocahontas, Belle, Rapunzel, Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel and the rest? When did they get so knowing? When I was a child they looked prepubescent. Now they might be consorting with the Russian mafia, and getting the best of them. They seem covetous and obscene, waiting for a prince to whistle by on his more intelligent horse and buy them a house in South Kensington and, when they reach a certain age, a new face.
The bit of decor devoted to boys is car-related — Disney, despite its protestations, does not do imagination — and an afterthought, for this is not a boys’ restaurant, even if the boutique will paint your son’s cheeks, give him a plastic sword and ennoble him. (In truth, it is probably no harder to get in the real House of Lords than the Bibbidi Bobbibi Boutique these days.) There is a large fake Big Ben; a frieze which might be a bit of Mary Poppins’s Disney London, for the real Mary Poppins was not a singing psychotherapist but a witch-goddess, and her London was less twee than terrifying; the Disney film Tangled is playing, soundlessly. (A dwarfish princess told me it was Rapunzel. She looked roughly 3,000 years old.) Even for Disney, who created a dystopia in Florida in which milkshake is cheaper than water and mobility scooters are hired for kicks, because some people want to go on holiday to quadriplegia with Daffy Duck, it is hell.
The waitresses are dressed as generic maidservants. The look is smiling apple-cheeked wench, until you catch bubonic plague and die. They are unsurprised when I ask for a table, despite my being child-free, although they do withhold the Minnie Mouse ears every child not dressed as the late Queen Mother eating things is wearing. But it’s Harrods; nothing would shock them. There is, for instance, a leopardskin Roberto Cavalli babygrow in the next room, and a £2,700 red silk baby dress by Dior. ‘Just like Mummy!’ explained the saleswoman, when I ask why someone would buy something so horrible. I bet. I also bet that Mummy would, in her deepest heart, like to be dressed as a Disney princess if only Vogue would allow it.
The food is unmagical; it is quite close to extortion. Mini burgers are OK, Caesar salad is bitter and therefore inedible. Fried chicken is dull; a goat’s cheese salad is better. I don’t think I have been anywhere so jaded, and I once spent three days in the press gallery of the House of Commons, staring at Chris Grayling.
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