Meet the Knaresborough Flag Makers Who've Made King Charles' Coronation Flag
Flying Colours are the royal family's only flag makers and, ahead of the Coronation, they've created the Royal Standard flag for use in England - the King's personal flag
Flying Colours boast an extensive and impressive list of clients, providing flags to corporate giants, super-yachts and even the film industry. They received the Royal Warrant in 2008 for Flag and Banner manufacture, a milestone that set the Knaresborough-based business apart from other UK flag makers. But they had to earn their stripes as the Queen’s flag maker. Andy Ormrod, the managing director and founder of Flying Colours, emphasises the humble beginnings of the family-run business, which now holds international acclaim.
After finding himself unemployed, Andy was searching for inspiration. While walking his dog, he came across a tatty flag flying from an old building. ‘My wife at the time was a wedding dress seamstress, so I asked her if she could make a flag. She said yes, and the rest is history,’ Andy says.
Starting out in 1994, the business slowly joined the small circle of other UK flag makers. ‘All the flag makers knew each other back then,’ he says. ‘We all talked and swapped ideas, whereas everything is electronic with less face-to-face communication now.’ In 1999, the inner circle caught wind of the Royal Household losing its Flag Maker, after being sold to new owners who chose to stop making flags after 200 years of production. It was then that Andy seized the opportunity, and began contacting Buckingham Palace.
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‘The Royal Household needed a supply of flags from somewhere – so we found the telephone number for Buckingham Palace, asked to be put through to the relevant person in flag purchasing, and we were very kindly told that they weren’t in need of a flag maker. But we persisted, we tried three months later and got the same response, and then tried for a final time around six months after that. At this stage, I knew they must need some sort of supply. So I asked what size flag they flew above Buckingham Palace and told them I would like to send a Union Flag, free of charge and they agreed. Two weeks later, my fax machine fired up and a hand-written purchase order for four Union Jacks came through from Buckingham Palace.’
Having built up a strong relationship with the Palace, the business have supplied flags to the Royal Household ever since. Andy’s regular exchange with the Royal Household has also proven the Palace to be far from wasteful with their supply. ‘They are meticulous about their flags and the condition. If flags get a bit shabby, as they do when they are flown through all weathers, the Palace wrap them up and send them back out to us and we repair them. They then get sent back out again, so they make sure the flags last and are incredibly sustainable.’
The royal supply of flags can be seen flying across all royal households, estates and properties throughout the UK. The business has also received the honour of supplying the biggest Union Jack to be flown in the UK – the residing flag at the Round Tower at Windsor Castle, which is only flown on special occasions.
‘The flag measures in at 38 x 19 feet and is a special day flag – so it may only be flown once or twice a year for a wedding and such. It is also extremely difficult to fly a flag up there as Windsor Castle’s stone is flint, which can be incredibly sharp. So when a 38 foot flag is hoisted up in its traditional military fashion, there has to be a great level of care and skill,’ Andy says.
Eight years after supplying their first flag to the Palace, Flying Colours received the Royal Warrant for Flag Making. But Andy recalls the royal stamp of approval as being an extremely hard earned accolade. ‘Inevitably, they aren’t given out to just anybody. We received the Royal Warrant on 1st January 2008 after seven years of service, and you only receive your Warrant for five years before you need to fill out documents and reapply. The Palace keep tabs on you to make sure you are still being used as a supplier.’
Aside from its royal duties, the business has covered all bases. From Mount Everest to K2, the Canadian Winter Olympics to the Black Pearl, the world’s largest super-yacht – every flag flown far and wide flaunts every stitch and inch of cloth from their modest Yorkshire base. ‘We’ve had flags in the North and South Pole, deep in the Mariana trenches in submarines and even on the RRS Sir David Attenborough Explorer Vessel. We’ve done a lot of film work, and supplied flags for Harry Potter, and quite often have to sign official secrets documents as flags can be incredibly private things.’ The business’ most recent project has been in partnership with the Aston Martin Formula1 team, creating striking flags that cover the super-cars for their launch, as well as stadium wrap flags for empty stadiums during the pandemic.
Andy puts the business’ success down to his dedicated staff and family dynamic. Working alongside his second son and his wife’s youngest son, Flying Colours is now running through the family. And after a turbulent year in business for most during the pandemic, Andy is grateful for his family’s creative direction and holistic management throughout an unpredictable time. ‘Our sons have high-profile jobs within the business and I’m moving on in age now, so the business is in the most capable and safe hands. We are our own worst critics and we nit-pick every piece of work to produce the best product on the market, which I believe we are doing now.’
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With a team of 16 staff, Flying Colours is a smaller affair than most would expect. But with more than 200 years of sewing experience between the seamstresses, the process is something that has become second nature to the business. ‘For a construction flag, such as a Union Jack, we take 31 pieces of fabric that make up the Union Jack and ensure they are all cut to the correct length. We have tolerances for the seams as well, so we slowly construct the 31 pieces of fabric together and build the flag in quartered sections. Using MOD fabric, which is British Standard and the best you can buy, we then select the correct colours and our seamstresses perfect the rest.’ As well as construction flags, the business also offers print flag services, where clients and customers can order specialised flags, printed in-house.
Flying Colours are proud to be British – and they are particularly proud of their origin and base in Knaresborough. ‘Yorkshire has allowed us to make some great connections nationwide, and Knaresborough itself is a beautiful and inspiring town to be based in. We are extremely lucky – I’d say our Yorkshire base fascinates our clients from around the world.’
Andy hopes Flying Colours will continue to wow the Royals and see the flags reaching new highs. ‘Every day here is filled with fun and laughter and the staff are fantastic, and it shows in our work – the proof really is in the pudding.’