We’re real life Santas – these are the things people say to us and what we really get up to

SANTA’S grotto is a rite-of-passage for any kid (and some adults too). 

But it doesn’t necessarily ALWAYS go smoothly. 

From broke mums horrified Kris Kringle has just promised their darling child an XBox to women throwing themselves at Father Christmas’ and grown men weeping at seeing their idol, three real life Santas reveal the truth about what goes on behind-the-scenes at the grotto. 

I love being Santa – grown men weep & ladies throw themselves at me, I think it’s the costume

Full-time Father Christmas Nigel Harvey, 49, from London is single and has been a Santa for 10 years. He has worked in grottoes, starred in professional ad campaigns, and made appearances on This Morning, Loose Women, Strictly Come Dancing.

I stumbled into my role as Santa 10 years ago. I had been working on the pantomime circuit for almost three decades when suddenly my show was cancelled last minute.

I didn’t have any work and a friend offered me the role of Santa for a few corporate jobs, I jumped at the chance and have never looked back.

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I was prepared for how much attention my new role would attract, but what I never realised was just how much of that would come from adults.

There are loads of women who have a crush on Santa, it’s quite bizarre. I have been propositioned in costume by plenty of young women.

People have said to me, ‘I can’t believe these women are literally throwing themselves at you.’

I think it’s the celebrity that does it for them – but of course I’d never do anything about it, you’ve got a responsibility in that costume.

And it isn’t just women who fall to bits around me.

I’ve had grown men in tears because they’ve met the real Father Christmas – it’s very strange.

But in every adult there’s an inner child and if you can tap into that and convince them that you’re the real thing then you’ve done your job.

That’s why I decided that the job needed doing properly so I spent hours and thousands of pounds perfecting my costume ordering in bespoke pieces from America to make myself more convincing.

And it worked.

Once I perfected it the phone began ringing throughout the year for film, television, photoshoots and it quickly became my only job. I’m a year-round Santa and I love doing it.

It’s a very important role, you’re responsible for children’s dreams, you’ve got to get it right and you’ve got to be believable not only to the public but yourself.

As soon as the beard’s glued on I convince myself that I am Santa – I embody the character and the magic, it’s almost spiritual.

The pandemic meant that last year I was limited to Zoom calls with children – it was wonderful to raise a smile during the pandemic but it wasn’t quite the same thing.

Thankfully this Christmas there is a bit more normality to proceedings – but I am still being cautious.

I socially distance at any gigs I’ve got coming up and if I am sat on a throne then visiting children will be sat on a chair two metres away from me.

🔵 Read our Christmas 2021 live blog for the latest news and updates

I take my Father Christmas duties very seriously so I won’t be wearing a mask because I can’t find one that is suitable for the role.

It’s hard work but I am determined to work even harder this Christmas as there is a real lack of Santas  – a lot of this is because the older Santas are vulnerable and it just isn’t worth the risk for them.

Though what I am looking forward to most about this Christmas is being able to visit terminally ill children in person once again.

It is by far the most rewarding part of the job for me; you bring warmth, light, joy and happiness in the darkest of moments.

Those moments, money can’t buy that. It is most rewarding when you see a beaming smile on a child’s face who is in pain and suffering but for one moment they forget and that’s absolutely magical.

People say Christmas is very commercial, which of course it is, but it is moments like that which bring out the best in people.

I absolutely adore Christmas and I still love to believe that there is a Santa out there.

Find out more about Nigel at CelebritySanta.co.uk and to hire your own Father Christmas visit hiresanta.co.uk.

I lead a double life, I finish my shift at midnight and then become Father Christmas – I’m like a festive James Bond

Emergency medical technician Stephen McDonnell, 51, from Fallowfield, Manchester, is married to Annette, 51, and is dad to Charley, nine. He has been fundraising as Santa after losing his eldest daughter in 2009.

I completely fell into the role of Santa Claus. 

In August 2009, I lost my eldest daughter Danielle Louise at the age of 19 to seizures caused by severe brain damage.

I had always done a lot of fundraising but after losing her I really threw myself into it. I used to dress up as all sorts, Mrs Brown, a Womble – you name it.

And then one day I put a Santa hat on and someone said ‘oh my God don’t you look like Father Christmas off Miracle on 34th Street’, I was really flattered and it just snowballed from there.

I modelled myself on Kris Kringle’s outfit from the movie and then I began fundraising for charities such as When You Wish Upon A Star and Once Upon a Smile.

I’m not interested in making money, I’m interested in making memories because having lost my eldest I know how important those memories are.

I want to make the experience as authentic as possible so I start growing a real beard in September and then come Boxing Day my little one helps me shave it off.

Because of my natural beard I attract attention wherever I go, even when I’m not in my Santa garb.

When we took Charley to Disneyland Paris one year, as soon as I stepped off the plane I could hear people yelling ‘Papa Noel, Papa Noel!’

And in Disneyland members of staff were asking me for photos even though they were surrounded by other characters.

On one occasion, a bloke approached me at a petrol station and asked me if I would make an appearance at the Manchester night club Chinawhite.

I agreed as long as he donated my fee to my charities, and it was certainly an eye opener.

You could class me as a James Bond Santa while I was there. I was surrounded by glamorous party goers, but some had gotten a bit too merry.

It was a laugh but I’m more in my element when it comes to making children smile.

I’m completely dedicated to being the man in red.

I often have kids ask me if I’m the real deal so I explain that Santa has to visit many countries and speak many languages, and I have learnt phrases in Polish, Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian to demonstrate – and the kids go wild.

Christmas 2020 was hugely impacted by covid for me.

I’m a front line ambulance worker and so I faced it head on and lost some good colleagues to Covid.

But I still wanted to raise a smile, so I turned my living room into a grotto and I sent out video messages from there.

I would get back from working on the ambulance at midnight and slip into my Santa suit and send out video recordings to children.

Christmas is all about giving and for me the best reward is seeing a person smile so I always find a way to cram Santa into my busy schedule.

I’m always exhausted by the end of it and can barely stay awake to finish my tea – but it’s all worth it.

All I want to do is make my daughters proud.

You can donate to Stephen’s charities at whenyouwishuponastar.org.uk and onceuponasmile.org.uk 

I told a mum her kid could get an XBox – she screamed at me and dragged him out the grotto

Retired Kevin Galer, 65, from Walsall, is married to Janet, 62, and dad to Kellie, 29, Lauren, 27, and Tiffany, 25. He’s been a Santa for 16 years and will work in a grotto in Birmingham this Christmas.

I was first asked to be Santa by my daughters’ local junior and infants’ school 16-odd years ago when I was in my late 40s.

At the time I was working as a financial director but come December I was more than happy to take five hours out of my day to act as Father Christmas. 

It heralded the start of a new career for me. Since retiring last year I’ve missed working and now I’ve just been hired as Birmingham Sea Life Centre’s in-house Kris Kringle – I can’t wait.

Being Santa isn’t a stress-free experience, mind. I remember my daughter Tiffany sitting on my lap while I frantically pulled my beard up, hoping she wouldn’t realise I was her dad and not Santa.

Thankfully, thanks to my beard and specs which I removed, she didn’t. 

In those days kids would just run in and clamber onto your lap without a care in the world. I’ve not had my training for The Sea Life Centre yet, but I suspect it’ll be different now – there are a lot of health and safety restrictions to think of.

It’s stressful when kids ask for something expensive and you think ‘oh no – what if mum and dad can’t afford it?’

But I learnt a way around it. I would say, ‘did you write a letter to Santa with your parents and do they know what you want?’

Except for one occasion when I misread the mother’s face and her wonderful little lad asked for an XBox, which I agreed Santa would bring him.

She stormed out, dragging the little lad by his hand and snapped at me ‘well I hope you are going to pay for it’.

Some children were absolutely terrified of me – they would take one look at my face and scream. 

I would get babies bawling their heads off and snotty fingers all over my costume – but it’s all part of the fun. 

After my kids left school I stopped being Santa but I always missed it. So when a local fancy dress shop closed down I bought their Santa outfit for £70 and over the years added bells and accessories to it.

Then I learnt about Santa Runs – where people compete in races dressed as Father Christmas. 

I started doing them and always get loads of cheers… I’m always the best dressed Father Christmas there. 

I like my costume so much I’ve taken to popping to the Co-op wearing it. Once there was an awkward moment when I bumped into a Rotary Club Santa collecting money. He demanded I leave as I looked better than him – which I happily did. 

Children approach me in the street when I’m dressed up and ask if I’m real. ‘Of course I am!’ I say.

But older children aren’t so easily fooled. One lad, with his younger brother, wasn’t convinced and ordered proof. He wanted me to tell him his name. Luckily I managed to lip read what his mum was saying behind his back. 

Last year, when we were in lockdown because of the pandemic, I was sad I was unable to go out and about as Santa. I actually shielded for 18 months as I was clinically extremely vulnerable – I suffered a heart attack in December 2018. 

Since then I’ve not been out much and when I do I always wear a mask. I’m double – soon to be triple – jabbed but I’ve decided you have to get on with life and what’s important and for me that’s being Santa. 

There is a risk associated with children who’ve not been vaccinated coming close but I’m taking precautions and I’m delighted to be renewing my role as Father Christmas for 2021. 

On top of that I’ve actually set up a virtual grotto in my home so I can carry out Zoom calls for kids around the world who are too ill to visit a real Santa.

I was inspired to because a close friend’s daughter has a serious lung condition which means she is still unable to go out.

Money raised from this will go to the Cats’ Protection League – my wife works there and we both feel very passionately about the charity. 

I understand why people are reluctant to enter grottoes this year, covid is still very real, but for me it is time to get back into my red suit… I’ll never stop being Santa!

In other Christmas news, this pregnant mum of 11 is planning to spend £4.5k on her kids this Christmas.

This 82-year-old and her toyboy lover have some saucy plans for how they're going to spend the festive season.

And this woman is a huge fan of a tacky Christmas – with fairy lights and gonks galore.

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