The headline in a local, rival, newspaper read: ‘Peter Andre’s son will turn on the Christmas lights and perform a few songs to get residents into the holiday spirit’. At first, I thought he was turning on the lights at the annual cold, damp, soiree in my village, but thankfully we dodged a huge yuletide bullet, and he is instead gracing Stevenage with his presence.

Fascinated by the choice of ‘celebrity’ for a town that birthed arguably the world's greatest ever racing driver, Lewis Hamilton, I wondered how the organising committee came to choose ‘Junior’ Andre. ‘Right chaps, let's book a one hit wonder to get Christmas underway!’. ‘Great idea Jeremy! but Peter Andre is fully booked up that weekend’. ‘OK…how about his gran, sister-in-law or son then?’

And so it came to pass, and I, with an open mind, therefore Googled Junior to see what his schtick was: A celebrity, maybe, but for what exactly? It turns out he has embarked on a pop career, ‘following in the footsteps’ of his dad and no doubt hankering after that one hit that will pave the way for a slot on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ in 2046. His debut single, ‘Slide’ did just that as he peaked at number 72 in the official UK single charts.

I did, as part of my research, take the liberty of trying to listen to Junior and watch his stagecraft, but sadly the speakers on my phone weren’t working, although he did impress with some manic waving of the arms at ‘Carfest’ which tells me he has the tools in his locker to ensure the Stevenage Christmas light switch on are as much of a success as can be wished for. It's true: Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit more than standing in the freezing cold for hours on end before some nonentity struts on stage and screams ‘yo, Stevenage, make some noise!’ as those around me whoop and holler to try and warm themselves up a bit before the anti-climax of the light switch on and then a slow walk back to the car.

It is a curious event the Christmas light switch on: Not only for villages and towns to fulfil their fetish of employing a ‘C’ lister to flick a switch which, let's face it, could be a task performed by a local mayor or councillor for free. Yet, during a costs of living crisis, and with councils bleating about making savings, they instead use our hard earned to entice folk onto the street only for those of my ilk to watch it and state ‘Right, that’s that then. Can we go home now?’ as others try to pretend they are having fun when patently they are not.

Other towns also dip their paws into this seasonal murky relegation zone celebrity world: in 2017, St Albans employed the actor Karl Howman of Brush Strokes ‘fame’, last year Stevenage, who have remarkably raised the celebrity ante this year with Andre, employed BGT semi-finalist Immi Davies and ‘Boro bear’ of Stevenage FC. Watford, not to be outsmarted, got Clare Cordell from the Voice UK (No, me neither…).

But the true pantheon of Christmas light celebrity greatness lays in one place: The shoplifting mecca of Oxford Street, London. In the 1980s they had true celebs doing the honours including Geldof and Wogan, the Spice Girls in the 90s, and Madonna in 2005 followed by Jim Carey in 2009. In 2012, it was Robbie, with Kylie in 2015 before they followed the Stevenage model and employed Mia and Amalia Corsi in 2020 (not a clue). It seems they have gone one further this year by not even bothering with celebrities and doing what they should and just switching the damn things on, thus missing the ‘opportunity’ of hacking everyone off in the blistering cold as they have their wallet dipped as payment for braving the crowds.

I just hope whoever is switching on the local village lights this year pays heed to my writings today: Yes, it’s a nice little earner, but there must be more to the appearance than just screaming the village’s name and whooping like a demented lunatic as they try, and fail, to whip the locals up into a frenzy. I just hope it's someone I can associate with as a grumpy middle-aged man, and the only candidate therefore is the ‘grinch’ who I would pay to see in order to equalise the Andre effect…

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher