It’s hard to imagine the commotion that must have surrounded the opening of The Royals Shopping Centre in Southend on this day 30 years ago.

For most of the people, the excitement was because this was Southend’s first under-cover shopping centre.

Residents had been waiting 16 years for the centre to open, as developers, the Co-operative Insurance Society, had begun site assembly back in 1972 and the area had been an eyesore of derelict buildings until construction began in earnest in 1985.

The anticipation was tinged with sadness that some Southend landmarks had been lost in the process, including Prospects House, which was the birthplace of Warwick Deeping, a best-selling author of the 1920s.

Also lost was the 1930s-era Ritz Cinema - which was then a bingo hall until it was abandoned in 1978, and the Grand Pier Hotel.

But for most of those visiting on March 23, 1988, the excitement had nothing to do with any of this, and everything to do with the chance to get the autograph of Australian heartthrob Jason Donavan, who opened the centre.

According to Southend historian Ian Yearsley, the opening of The Royals was also significant because of the way it changed the character of the town centre. He said: “Part of the scheme was to pedestrianise that section of the High Street, which ended up triggering the increased pedestrianisation of Southend. The Royals thereby enhanced the town’s shopping experience.”

Back in 1988, Dawn Jeakings was a 24-year-old newlywed who missed seeing Jason Donavan opening the centre because she was busy working the tills at the centre’s new Boots. However, 30 years on, she’s now the Royals’ centre manager.

“When you look at other shopping centres the same age as The Royals, they look dated, but our building was ahead of its time and still looks modern,” she said. But thankfully, the garish Eighties’s peach and blue shades original décor have been replaced with magnolia.

The Royals has seen a fair few celebrities passing through its glass doors, including David Hasselhoff and Jamie Oliver.

For Mrs Jeaking, her favourite celebrity visitor was Birds of a Feather star Lesley Joseph, who was in Southend in 2015 to star as Fairy Godmother in the pantomime Cinderella.

“She lost her pantomime script whilst shopping in the Royals,” Mrs Jeakings recalled. “We did eventually find it for her. She was just like her Birds of a Feather character - quite hilarious.”

The last few years have proven tumultuous for the UK’s retail market, and there have been a fair few casualties.

Debenhams and Boots are survivors, but the Littlewoods store is now a Primark, and the original food court is a TK Maxx.

Other stores resigned to the history books include Video Plus, Athena and K Shoes. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that the last company to sign up at The Royals was Amazon, with their Amazon Locker self-service kiosk that enables shoppers to collect parcels.

The local retail market now faces an uncertain future – Debenhams, H&M and Poundland have all reported trading woes lately. But thankfully, of the 280,000 sq feet of retail space at The Royals, only 3,000 sq feet remains empty, and Royals centre manager Dawn Jeakings remains upbeat about the future.

“The trend is that shops are migrating out of the High Street to shopping malls,” she said.

“They are looked after at The Royals, because we have amenities and security.”

To mark the occasion, the centre is holding a fashion show on Saturday and hosting choir performances on Sunday.