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The Big Lights Switch On

Cheltenham’s shopping centres rally together to save Christmas Parade. crack

I wasn’t there in 2006 when McFly switched on the Christmas lights in Cheltenham. It was the pinnacle in celebrity terms for the town but also a nightmare for the police, the organisers and anyone over about nineteen. 30,000 people, mostly teenage girls, converged on the town centre. It overshadowed the previous year when X Factor runners up G4 (remember them?) did the honours, but at least they appealed to a wider audience, me included and no-one got crushed.

Four years later and the Council have pulled out because the £60K cost to put the event on became difficult to justify, given the tightening of the Council’s purse strings. But is that a negative? Maybe not. After all, what is Christmas really about? It’s not about which town can procure the biggest and most famous pop band or soap star is it? It’s about the nativity and the baby Jesus of course – please don’t condemn me for not going down the religious path here – but in Cheltenham terms, it’s about children, not celebrity.

So which big name is going to do the honours this year? To the lady who suggested Dancing Ken, we thank you, but while he maybe a national, or at least local, treasure and ex-candidate for the Monster Raving Loony Party, we need to go back to basics. And back to basics means Santa. Yes that jolly, red-coated, bearded chap who comes down the chimney every year, bearing gifts and drinking your sherry, while Rudolf and co wait patiently by to whisk him back to Lapland. Only this year, right here in Cheltenham on 20th November, the sleigh will be replaced by Trigger the Train. Santa and Trigger will lead the parade from The Beechwood Shopping Centre to the Brewery with entertainment and lights along the way.

Santa Clause will be accompanied by Tegan Jones, from Bishops Cleeve, who suffers from hypoglycaemia, a condition which leaves her with dangerously low blood sugar levels. Earlier this year, the Make-A-Wish Foundation® UK, a charity which gives magical wishes to children fighting life-threatening illnesses, gave Tegan the opportunity to perform with the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London. Following a backstage tour she was given a mouse costume and went on stage to perform with the professional dancers. Tegan will get to sit next to Santa in Trigger as they drive through Cheltenham town centre.

So how did all this happen following the council’s decision to pull out? John Forward, Manager of the Regent Arcade told me, ‘We couldn’t have a town without a parade’. The new parade, he informed me, came about following a meeting of the retailers from the three shopping centres: the Regent Arcade, the Beechwood and the Brewery. They couldn’t allow the parade to be cancelled so they decided to take over and put on the whole thing themselves, even though it was very short notice. The three centres all have their own events scheduled and Martin Quantock, the Town Centre Manager is co-ordinating the whole event, including the lights switch on and closing of the roads to tie in with the parade route.

So where will you need to be to ensure that you don’t miss a thing? At the Regent Arcade, the lights will be switched on at 5.15pm by characters from the Simpsons TV series. The entertainment will be provided by Heart Radio and there will be face painting and other activities for the children.

Meanwhile, at the Beechwood Shopping Centre, the Ramrods (the band that the late Brian Jones left to join the Rolling Stones) will be playing during the afternoon. The lights will be turned on at 5.30pm. Star FM will be stage managing the lights switch on and also providing the build up from 4.30pm. The idea is to ‘keep it traditional’, Owen Acland, Manager of the Beechwood, informed me. ‘The three shopping centres have been trying to do more together for the town’, he continued, and this was a great opportunity for them to be able to ‘step in and maintain the parade and the festivity it brings to the people of Cheltenham,’ he said.

The parade will start at the Beechwood following the lights switch on at 5.15pm and it is hoped that shoppers, families and visitors will follow Santa and Trigger around the town centre.

From the Beechwood, Santa and the parade will continue down the High Street around Boots Corner and down the Lower High Street where, just by Henrietta Street, Santa will leave the train and continue on foot to the Brewery, which will be the last stop in the parade.

Marketing Manager of the Brewery shopping complex, Demelsa Coleman, told me that all the businesses were being ‘really supportive with lots of people helping’. They will also have a variety of entertainment from 4.30pm till 7.00pm including dancing from Anneli Dance School, a whole variety of live music with young local pop band No Concession, Gloucestershire Constabulary brass band and Leckhamp ton Primary School Infant Choir. The crowds will be entertained by Thrill Collins, an acoustic trio that specialise in 80s & 90s covers. They are best noted for their application of the skiffle genre to modern music. Now I know that sounds weird but I have seen them twice and they are brilliant. Finally local party band the Chip Shop Boys will perform a mixture of songs to keep the celebration going. The boys are performing for free, so that the Brewery can donate their fee to their chosen local charity Linc.

Even though they are not funding the parade and entertainment the Council will still be supporting the event. In addition to all this, Jo Heatley, the Entertainments Co-ordinator for Cheltenham Town Hall & Pittville Pump Room has booked street entertainers during the afternoon and early evening so there should be something for everyone.

It’s going to be a great day so let’s make sure we all support our town and make this the best start to Christmas ever!