Chris McGuire chats with Father Christmas during his busiest time of year.
They say you should never meet your heroes, but there are some opportunities you can’t refuse: like interviewing the real Father Christmas. I’m led by an elf (whose name I didn’t catch – could it have been ‘Squeaky’?) through the vast workshop. ‘Impressive’ doesn’t begin to describe Santa’s HQ, candy-striped elves fill every nook and cranny doing anything from painting rocking horses to soldering tablet computers. There’s a strange smell in the air, which I’m informed is reindeer: “They stink,” says my nameless guide. At last, I find myself in Santa’s office, face to face with the man himself. He welcomes me with trademarked cheeriness.
“It’s our busiest time of year, of course. It’s tiring,” says Santa, opening a can of a popular fizzy drink. “Caffeine helps.” Looking around the room, my eyes are drawn to a large filing cabinet labelled: ‘The Naughty List’ and an electronic map of the planet – half is in darkness and labelled ‘Sleeping’, while the rest is brighter and marked ‘Awake’. Santa coughs and looks at his watch, I apologise and begin.
First up, I ask how preparations are going for Christmas? “We’re almost on schedule. Almost.” says Santa, with a grimace. “I’ve had to draft in even more elves this year, but I’m sure we’ll be ready by the big night, we always are. We do have magic on our side, after all.” I’d forgotten about magic. It must be useful when you have to hit a deadline? “Very,” he agrees, “Dynamo has nothing on me.”
I change the subject. Have the children of the world been good this year? Father Christmas’s face crumples into a smile. “Most of them, as usual. There’ll always be the naughty ones, of course, but I keep my eye on them.” I don’t doubt it. What’s Santa’s message to the naughty kids? “Be good for goodness sake!” is his swift reply, followed by bellowing laughter. It is, it seems, that simple.
What about the big night? How does Father Christmas manage to visit every child on Earth in so little time? He gives a knowing wink. “That’s what you might call a ‘trade secret’.” Can he give us a clue? “Well,” he says, stroking his beard, “you know when you’re waiting in a queue and time seems to slow down so much that it feels like it’s stopped?” I nod. “Christmas Eve works something like that.” To be honest, I’m not any clearer, but I decide to move on.
Santa is looking a little slimmer than I expected. Has he been on a diet? “Mrs Claus,” Santa says, with a sigh, “is very health conscious. It’s been ‘couscous’ this and ‘whole-grain’ that, not to mention bloomin’ ‘superfoods’ here there and everywhere. There’s very little difference between my food and what the reindeers eat!” Does he enjoy being slimmer? “It certainly helps getting down the chimneys. I’ll say that much.”
It seems the usual toys are as popular as ever. “Bikes, computers, games consoles, teddies, we’re doing them all this year. But only for the good kids.” What about the naughty children? “I’m experimenting this year – leaving them a photo of the gift they asked for.” Isn’t that a little harsh? Then I notice there’s a twinkle in Santa’s eye, that makes me wonder if he’s being totally serious.
Santa looks at his watch, our time together is coming to an end. How are the reindeer? “Smelly!” says Santa. “Imagine riding on a sleigh, downwind of so many creatures on a high-fibre diet.” Not quite the answer I expected. If he could have any gift this Christmas, what would it be? Santa laughs. “People expect me to say ‘World peace’ or something like that. Which, of course, would be lovely. Personally, outside of all that, I’d love a 90 inch flat screen TV, if Mrs Claus is listening.”
As I get up to leave, Santa has one last thing to say to me: “I’m pleased you’ve been a good boy this year. Keep it up and you might get what you asked for.” I thank Santa and am guided back through the workshop by his elf. As squeaky, or whatever his name is, talks to himself, I can’t help wondering how Santa will fit a garden shed onto his sleigh.
The Out Of Depth Dad