Britain is awash with little girls in ballgowns and tiaras. Sales of Disney's Princess range are up 1,000 per cent. What's going on? And what happened to feminism? Katy Guest investigates a billion-pound business In a quiet corner of Toys R Us in south London, two little girls have found what they are looking for. It is 4.30pm on a schoolday afternoon, but at the back of the shop there is a church-like calm as one picks up a pink box-set. "Do you know what this is?" she asks, her four-year-old's voice hushed with reverence. Her friend inexplicably puts on an American accent: "Sparkles," she whispers, awed. "No ... it is tassels," replies the former, grandly. They hold up the object of their desire, turning it in their little hands as if it were a jewel.
It is hard to determine the exact nature or potential use of the thing inside the plastic box. What it is, and what it does, is almost irrelevant. What matters is the single word inscribed in pink italics across the case: Princess.
Look around the shop, and you realise that little princesses are big business. The Disney corporation is far too grown-up now to get overexcited about just any old massive seller, but even they describe their Princess range as a phenomenon. It is the fastest-growing Disney Consumer Products brand in the world, having made $3bn (£1.52bn) for the company in 2006. Launched in 1999, the range includes eight of Disney's most successful princesses: Pocahontas, Jasmine, Belle, Aurora, Snow White, Cinderella, Mulan and Ariel. More than this, it consists of tens of thousands of Princess-branded items: there are cosmetics, jewellery, cologne, clothing, home furnishings, magazines, even bicycles. The company launched 2,000 brand new items last autumn for Ariel (aka the Little Mermaid) alone.