Everybody needs a job but some jobs are quirkier than others...and few more so than that of Santa Claus. We all know what he does, but the details of his career are something of a mystery: is he working full-time? Does he like his job? Is it well paid? Looking for answers, I hunted Santa down in his office, a grotto in Leicester Square, London.
Santa is based in the North Pole but he popped down to London for the week. He’s quite a nice chap, and he agreed to meet me for an interview during his lunch break. His office is a grotto at the bottom of Leicester Square’s Christmas Market.
I guess the first question I’d like to ask you is… do you consider this a job?
"Yes, it’s a job, it’s definitely a job… I’m an actor, so, you know… it's not all being in plays, or television or film. It is for some actors, but most actors, you know, you do an advert here, you do a play there, if you’re lucky you do a film somewhere, but in between times you need other stuff.
Obviously, this is a seasonal one. If you’re built like I am and you’ve got a beard, this is an obvious choice. It’s well paid, it’s competitive, so yeah, Santa is a good one to do. At other times of the year, you do other kinds of work – I’m like, a pirate in the summertime, and Santa in the wintertime, you see what I mean?"
Do you like doing it?
"Yes, I love it! The other thing about Santa is as well as being a job that pays reasonably well, is that it's also a wonderful opportunity to make people’s day. So the show we had last night, there were just two children. We found out afterwards that they'd been in care and they'd never met Santa before and, you know, up until this point they had quite a tough life, and… their parents brought them in, and the kids couldn’t stop smiling, and that’s a very lovely thing to be able to do for people."
So what’s the difference between any other performance and this one? I mean, what I’m thinking is, kids don’t know that this is a performance, right? They actually believe that this is true…is that the difference?
"I would say, yeah, responsibility is the difference. You know, when you’re being Santa, there’s a responsibility not to shatter the dreams of children. So for instance, you can’t go around the back of the grotto and have a cigarette, something like that… you know, if a kid sees that happening then they’re gonna go ‘Oh, Santa smokes! I’m gonna…’, you know what I mean?
And also, you can’t let ‘em see… you know, if you’re a Santa that wears a wig and a beard, you can’t take ‘em off in front of them. Whatever happens, when there are children around, doesn’t matter how far from the grotto you are, if you’re dressed in your Santa gear, you have to be Santa, like, no matter what, that is the utmost responsibility.
And also, to be a good example, you know what I mean? Part of the Santa mythology is to get kids to understand how important it is to be a good person, mainly because when you’re a kid all you know is “I want this, I don’t want that, I hate this…" – you know what I mean? So part of that is teaching kids to be nice to other people, to think about other people, and take responsibility for their actions…"
Is there, like, a community of actors all expecting to do Santa jobs during Christmas?
Yeah, yeah! So… I get contacted for a lot of Santa jobs. I can’t do all of them. And I have lots of friends who are also actors, who also do Santa, that if I can’t do it, I will call them and give them the job. You know, I know the guy that does the Westfield Santa, he’s a friend of mine, we’ve known each other for years, worked together… so yeah, there’s certainly a community.
A community of Santas…
A community of Santa’s, yeah!
I tried interviewing the Santa at Westfields, and they told me I had to go through their marketing department.
"Yeah, you never know, I might be able to speak to him! His name is Steve, he’s a friend of mine… he invites people to ask Santa questions on Facebook, that’s one of the things that he does…"
Ok so, last question. You have strong London accent. Do you keep it when you do Santa? Because I was wondering whether kids might think Santa is from London...
"Ah no! I can’t do Santa like this: ”Alright kids, gimme a present! D’you know wot I mean? You don’t wanna splash… get outta my face, you’re on the naughty list!” - that’s not…"
That’s a bad Santa?
"I mean, I do Bad Santa as well, alright? That’s more for the adults, usually Bad Santa… or Satan Claus, as I call him… we got Sexy Santa, we got Rock Santa, I do all kinds of different Santas, not just this Santa, but this is the most important one."
Because this is for the kids?
"Yeah, because this is for the kids, man."
I guess I learned a lot from my chat with Santa. First up, he’s just an actor – at least, this one was. Second, it pays well to be Santa, and not just in financial terms – it’s rewarding in other ways, too.
After our chat, I headed home to wrap my presents and think about whether I should try working as Santa next Christmas. The job doesn’t seem too bad, and I’ve got a beard already. We’ll see how it goes… I might even write an article about it.