Caution: This article will ruin Christmas – Santa puts his feet up after fun in Ilford
As everyone finishes off the turkey, puts away presents, pulls off their Christmas jumpers and gets ready to go back to the office, one man is putting his feet up after a hard season’s work.
Father Christmas, also known as John Rolls, of Brentwood, is relaxing after his busiest month of the year bringing festive cheer to Ilford children.
John and his wife Susan, or Mother Christmas, have been roaming Exchange Ilford, in High Road, on weekends through December.
They are an experienced couple, having started the unusual work six years ago.
John, 62, said it all started when his daughter asked him to help out with her promotional work in 2006.
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He said: “After that, they wanted a Santa down in Kent so I tried it and it went down so well that we’ve done it every year since.
“This is our first year in Ilford, we’ve been in Rochester before. It’s so rewarding, not just with the children but with adults as well.”
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John and Susan check if children have been naughty or nice, remind them to get to bed early on Christmas Eve and not to peek at presents.
For John, keeping the magic alive is his priority and he has several tricks up his sleeve, or rather in his boots.
He said: “I ask children if they have a fireplace and if they say no, I show them the magic key I use to get in.
“I keep a picture of a reindeer in my boot and show it to the children. In the other boot I have a carrot and I take a big bite of it every morning and say Rudolph has been at it.”
The magic seems to work, with John and Susan being in constant demand with children, families, and even people who are too old to believe in Father Christmas.
He said: “People really like having photos taken with us, it’s more adults than children.
“The whole family are there and I’m thinking ‘what about the kids?’
“One time we got to the top of the escalator and couldn’t move for half an hour because so many people wanted to see us. Even with all the religions and the ethnic mix, everyone loves it. Seeing Father Christmas makes everyone so happy.”
But the job also brings the risk of being unmasked and ruining the magic of Christmas forever.
John, a father-of-two who is soon to become a grandfather, described his trademark beard as “impressive” but nonetheless fake.
“Sometimes little children and babies tug it but you can feel it happening and hold on,” he said.
Dolls and trains
“I was in Folkestone once and some boys ran past and took my hat and beard with them, but that’s the only time it’s happened.”
While children’s wish lists in previous years have been dominated by gadgets and games consoles, John said 2012 saw a return to more traditional toys including dolls and trains.
Now, he is preparing to return to his other, slightly less magical job, in central London.