It was once the heart of the North Yorkshire’s coal mining industry, when that declined so did the town of Selby. Even a kind review on TripAdvisor would be hard pressed to offer a glowing recommendation with a bowling alley as its only attraction and a nearby power station with 12 giant cooling towers the area’s most visible landmark.
But for the last few years a touch of Hollywood-style sparkle has been sprinkled over the market town’s rather ordinary streets and it has achieved an international glamour that few of its residents could have imagined, thanks to Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou.
There was much head scratching among the locals when he decided to hold a fairy-tale wedding ceremony at 11th century Selby Abbey and then followed it up with a lavish $1 million reception at one of the UK’s most beautiful stately homes, Castle Howard, with a symphony orchestra and a rock band providing the music.
Local residents looked on in some astonishment as the groom, who is President of fashion brand PHANTACi, arrived at the church wearing an Alexander McQueen suit while his Australian bride Hannah Quinlivan wore a £1.25 million diamond encrusted tiara and a white Tudor-inspired dress by Canadian designer Mikael Derderian.
Once the media frenzy over the Mandopop star ended, townsfolk reasonably expected their town’s 15 minutes of fame would be over, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
Ever since Jay, now 41, stepped down the aisle in 2015, the people of Selby watch in fascination as coach loads of Chinese tourists arrive in the town to re-trace the footsteps of their pop idol.
Teenage girls have no sooner arrived than – thanks to the Ladies room of a nearby hotel – they’ve transformed into wannabe brides wearing wedding dresses they’ve brought thousands of miles just so they can take prized selfies outside the Abbey in homage to Jay.
Even couples are getting in on the act, planning ahead so that they too can have their marriages blessed inside the church.
As one local observed: ‘The Yorkshire weather can be very unforgiving but it doesn’t matter whether it’s pouring with rain or blowing a gale these teenagers won’t leave without their photograph. I don’t think many people have heard of Jay Chou over here but he’s certainly helped put Selby on the tourist map’.
It’s hard to say whether the wonderful history surrounding the area is what attracted Jay and Hannah to hold their nuptials in Selby.
Analysts point out that China’s wedding industry is relatively young, but it’s already reported to be worth somewhere between $50bn and $100bn a year, with some young couples willing to spend their entire annual salaries on their special day.
Something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the global tourism authorities who have taken to inviting Chinese celebrities to get hitched in their towns in the hope that crowds of high-spending couples will follow for so-called destination weddings.
These are lavish affairs with days of celebrations, over-the-top photo shoots and giant banquets. Tourist officials in New Zealand were delighted when they were able to tempt influential Chinese actress Yao Chen to have her wedding there.
Outside Selby Abbey there is a blue plaque which states that King Henry I was born there in 1068. He is credited with inventing the tally system of counting money which led to the early establishment of the UK Governments Exchequer- where they keep all their taxes. He also created the first zoo.
But not even a Medieval monarch can compete with a modern day pop star it seems.