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‘We all need magic in our lives’: how Santa’s grottos moved online to beat the pandemic

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December 01, 2020 at 06:00AM

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It’s 130 years since Father Christmas first appeared in a department store. But this year is the strangest one yet – with virtual calls taking the place of shopping centre visits. Is it enough to keep the ho ho hos flowing?

Five bearded men, dressed head to toe as Santa, wearing fur-trimmed face masks, file into an office building in London and sit behind wooden desks – laptops and webcams in front of them. The room has been made magical with the addition of a red and gold curtain, a snow-flecked Christmas tree and a stuffed penguin perched on top of some lockers. In years gone by these off-duty actors and former children’s TV presenters would have sat in department store grottos and worn out their knees taking the weight of Britain’s children. But they are here today to brush up their tech skills and learn how the in-store Santa can adapt and survive in the middle of a pandemic.

The seminar is led by James Lovell, a honey-voiced compere who straddles the line between practical teaching and keeping up the illusion of snow and elves. He leads the five Santas through exercises and practical advice on how to handle the intricacies of online video calls. The Santas pepper Lovell and a tech expert with questions about how they will see the children in their virtual grottos.

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