Wigan couple’s date with royalty

HRH The Countess of Wessex with Wigan man Quality Control manager Steven Stewart and Hotter CEO Stewart Houlgrave. Below - Steven and Joan Stewart
HRH The Countess of Wessex with Wigan man Quality Control manager Steven Stewart and Hotter CEO Stewart Houlgrave. Below - Steven and Joan Stewart

A WIGAN couple enjoyed a date with royalty when the Queen’s favourite daughter-in-law paid a visit.

Steven and Joan Stewart were given the responsibility of guiding Sophie, Countess of Wessex, around Hotter Shoe Factory in Skelmersdale yesterday.

HRH The Countess of Wessex visit to Hotter shoes:  Steven and Joan Stewart, quality control manager and factory manager

HRH The Countess of Wessex visit to Hotter shoes: Steven and Joan Stewart, quality control manager and factory manager

The Spring View couple, who met while working at the business, were delighted to show off the success and expansion plans of the company to Sophie who is married to Prince Edward.

The business has grown substantially over the last few years and the Countess toured the factory and saw for herself the passion and pride that has driven the business.

The couple have both played huge roles in the company’s success.

Steven is the quality control manager at the site on the Pimbo industrial estate while wife Joan is the factory manager.

Steven said: “This today is an absolute honour. We are so proud of our British shoemakers.

“I’ve been doing this for 43 years now so since I was 15 years old. I’ve seen this company grow and grow. It is the people that make the difference.

“The Countess was so genuinely interested, I never once felt nervous. She spoke about how surprised she was at how light the shoes were.”

The recent expansion programme has spearheaded the opening of more than 35 new stores in two years.

A sign in the factory reads: “We value our people and want them to succeed.”

It’s a sentiment which Joan believes is carried out so well by all who work there.

She said: “We are so passionate about what we do.

“We wouldn’t have anywhere near the success we have had if it wasn’t for the people who work here.

“Everyone here loves the products. I do all my own recruitment and interviewing.

“The Countess was lovely. She made everyone feel so comfortable and at ease.

“She wanted to get in and look at everything, it was a pleasure to show her around and see her reaction.”

Sophie, who is said to be particularly close her mother-in-law, was shown around the factory and the intricacies of making the shoes made at Hotter.

She went through the journey each shoe make from the start to when it is boxed up and sent away.

She was also invited to hold different shoes to see both how light and comfortable they are but also how hard-wearing they are.

The Countess finished the tour by unveiling a plaque at the entrance of the factory as well as telling staff how impressed she was with their work and efforts.

Hotter’s managing director Peter Taylor said: “It has been fantastic and I hope the Countess was impressed with everything she saw.

“The staff had been looking forward to her visit for a long time and we have been delighted to show our work to her.”