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Leicester: Milking Richard III For All He's Worth

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When the bones of the king were discovered in a car park in Leicester, the East Midlands wasted no time in smartening itself up ready for tourists to pour in. And pour in they certainly did: a temporary exhibition outside the Guildhall attracted over 4,000 visitors in its first weekend, some of whom travelled from as far as the States and Canada to queue in the sleet and snow.

The skeleton, which is in pretty good shape considering that until last August it lay beneath a layer of concrete, will be put on display to the general public until being eventually laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral, and a permanent museum will be opened where visitors can see him with their own eyes.

This means big things for the usually quiet city of Leicester. Speaking as a resident myself, I can say we are unused to this spotlight - after all, our living exports such as the saintly Gary Linekar and the well-behaved Kasabian have done little to prepare us for our latest much-maligned royal celebrity. But we're an interesting, highly multicultural city and, like many Midlands folk, I'd like other people to know it (I remember during my Freshers' Week a DJ asked students to cheer if they were from the North or the South. Myself and my friend from Leamington Spa felt pretty left out.) Clearly, Leicester needs to milk Richard for all he's worth.

Unfortunately, Richard III doesn't lend himself easily to gift shop merchandise. Usually, heritage designs make highly-collectable tea towel prints (see here), but I can hardly imagine my gran drying the dishes on Richard III's reconstructed face. Nor kids playing with Richard III action figures for that matter. So we'd better think of something else.

Well, we can certainly expect copies of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of King Richard III to fly off the shelves. The play paints a dark picture of the king as a cripple who is 'determined to prove a villain' as he makes his bloodthirsty ascension to the throne.

On top of this, his story has extra cool factor thanks to popular shows like Game of Thrones and Faintheart. In fact, at Leicester University's re-enactment of the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field, some of the actors were asked to don their chainmail again for the TV screen!

And really, it's a cool story. The battle is steeped in treason (some of Richard's closest 'supporters' deserted him), superstition (a blind beggar had the premonition that Richard's head would strike the bridge over the River Soar as he returned) and bravery (Richard rode into battle wearing his crown, ignoring the advice of those who warned him that it made him an easy target). The body of the defeated king was thrown over a horse and carried over the bridge to Leicester where it remained until 2012.

And then there's the royal name. According to James Macfarlane of Babynames.co.uk, "We often see names rise as fall due to media attention and this discovery could well be what pushes Richard back into the top 100 names after falling out of favour a couple of years ago." Give it a few years and Dick could make a comeback!

Finally, let's not forget about Greyfriar's car park, which for hundreds of years was the unassuming gravestone of an English monarch. Personally I like David Mitchell's idea of turning the site into a Richard III themepark, whereas the king would probably turn in his grave. (Sorry.)