The great switch-off: A trip to see the London Christmas lights used to be a winter highlight for many a child. In December. But Christmas creeps earlier every year, and in 2006 the lights in Oxford Street and Regent Street will be switched on next week (sigh). They're up and strung across the road already, so I've been to take a look. And here's why you shouldn't bother making a special effort to come and see them yourself.
Regent Street lights Switch on: Tuesday 7th November I think these could be the most inappropriate Christmas lights anywhere, ever. Not the big snowflakey shapes, because they look like they could be quite impressive. No, I refer instead to the large cutout of a slug, labelled 'Slug', which you can see here displayed high above Regent Street. Further down there's a cartoon mouse called 'Roddy', as well as a giant rat and the odd toad, and various other characters never seen in the official nativity story. Because, yet again, Regent Street has succumbed to the allure of commercial sponsorship and has splashed wholly inappropriate illuminated cartoon characters along its length. Think Christmas, think 'animated family movie'. In this case it's the latest from Aardman Animations about a mouse flushed down into the sewers, which is about as unfestive as you can get. If you want to see 'toad' Sir Ian McKellen and 'rat' Shane Richie switch on the lights, get down here on Tuesday. If you have taste, stay at home. Selected Regent Street switcher-onners: 2003 Daniel Bedingfield; 2000 Billie Piper; 1996 John Major; 1995 Rolf Harris and Lionel Blair; 1993 Sylvester Stallone; 1989 Kylie Minogue; 1985 Joan Collins; 1981 HRH Princess Diana; 1980 David Essex Lots of photos of past Regent Street switch-ons
Oxford Street lights Switch on: Thursday 9th November Mmm, big shimmery silver candelabras dripping with gold bling baubles. There's tasteful for you. Are we in Liberace's ballroom, or have we perhaps stepped into Disney's Beauty and the Beast? It's not perhaps the Christmassiest of themes, but I suppose it'll look sparkly enough above the heads of late night shoppers over the next seven weeks. But hang on, aren't these exactly the same lights as last year, so you've probably seen them already! The date of the 2006 grand switch-on is a whole week earlier than in 2005, which I find particularly disturbing. And the ceremony sounds like it'll be the usual wholly forgettable exercise in middle-of-the-road promotional mediocrity. Heading the celebrity C-list are pop group All Saints (new album released this month), duetting couple Peter Andre and Jordan (new album released this month) and X Factor losers G4 (new album released this month). All this and Jamie Theakston too. I risked the Oxford Street switch-on two years ago (the Christmas with the swooshing laser beams) and was wholly underwhelmed [report]. Keep away and buy everything on Amazon instead. Selected Oxford Street switcher-onners: 2005 Westlife; 2001 S Club 7; 1998 Zoe Ball; 1996 Spice Girls; 1993 Richard Branson; 1990 Cliff Richard; 1987 Derek Jameson; 1986 Den and Angie Watts; 1984 Esther Rantzen Lots of photos of past Oxford Street switch-ons
Also to avoid this week Spirit of Christmas Fair(Olympia, until Sunday): "A stylish and inspirational shopping event bringing together the most desirable and original gifts, decorations, gourmet food and wine". Or, from what I saw outside earlier in the week, a lot of well-scrubbed Kensington women spending their husband's property income on hampers, baubles and pashminas. Avoid at all costs. Christmas Parade(Harrods, 8:30am today): Father Christmas arrives prematurely at the world's most ostentatious department store, then sets up home in his 4th floor grotto and asks little rich kids what share options they want for Christmas.