Santa School – Class of 2018
By Zoe Bourn, Head of Brand Development – Ministry of Fun
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of our very own Santa School here at Ministry. Santa School is the longest running genuine training school for professional Father Christmases in the UK – and yes we are rather proud of that because, year after year, we witness first-hand its heart-warming results.
The intention of the Ministry of Fun Santa School is quite simply to prepare professional actors to recreate the magic of the real Santa in every way.
By the way, we all believe in magic. The real Santa does exist.
Training is a rehearsal for playing one of the biggest roles in showbiz and Santa School covers all aspects of the role from boots to beard. This includes history, characterisation, ‘wardrobe’ and the all-important role-play to ensure Santa is equipped with a sack full of responses to ready him for every possible scenario, difficult question and child. Although he of course needs to be ready to improvise in character too, as we all know how wonderfully unpredictable his precious little target audience can be!
This attention to detail is always jingly Christmas music to my ears after my own personal experience of managing a grotto all those years ago when my career was too fresh-faced to withstand the horrors. Zero training, DBS’ gone AWOL and make-do blokes in fancy dress shop attire, one whom returned from a toilet break with a soiled white glove – I only wish it weren’t a true story but it did go down in history as a firm family favourite.
So it seems my career has brought me full circle but to an entertainment production company who actually deliver the magic with as much authenticity as the sleigh can carry. And with clients such as Selfridges, LEGOLAND and Harrods depending on us to help deliver their own take on the experience we really need to stay on top of our game.
This in mind, today’s timetable for prospective graduates includes seasonal salutations in a variety of languages – including basic signing – and performers will also familiarise themselves with the number one toy crazes for this year (cue YouTube user-generated content) and learn all about the latest ‘thing’ (search ‘Baby Shark’). They must also master the art of the perfect “Ho Ho Ho!”.
Chatting to our Founder James Lovell in our favourite Elephant & Castle café over omelette and chips last week, he explained why he still gets giddy over this annual event – and it’s not just because of the sherry served after the turkey sandwiches and mince pies at lunch break:
“Santa School isn’t just epic because of the magical entertainment we’re bringing to the children of the world – it means we can also meet the ever-growing demand for authentic Santas across our core business in experiential campaigns, promotions and broadcast. Santa never minds endorsing an appropriate brand – so long as it’s fun . . . and not unkind to reindeer”.
This demand in the PR and Marketing world increases year on year and has led to Santa School becoming a brand in its own right for the company. Santa has been busier than ever this year and has already granted Camden Market’s wishes by enabling them to open their first ever Christmas experience; ‘Santa’s Gingerbread Workshop’ which runs every weekend from November 24th and then every day from December 15th – 23rd this year.
Bookings for Santa start coming in as soon as January (yes really!) but things really start kicking off at the end of September. It’s amusing when October rolls around and the Ministry office team divides into two camps: one embracing the festive joy early and the other attempting to ban the first from even humming a Christmas tune.
By November, however, we are ALL heavily invested … because we all basically LOVE Christmas!
This is usually our busiest time of year and, with the Ministry of Fun Santa School producing a festive cast of around 30-40 gentlemen (plus elves!), the whole office becomes one jolly camp in the aftermath of Santa Graduation Day.
I’m honoured this year as I have been granted access by the boss (that’s Santa, not James) to share snippets on the socials as the class of 2018 are put through their paces. So today I will be mostly learning the names of all nine reindeer, sipping sherry and sharing some behind-the-scenes magic whilst inevitably sporting some stripy elf tights and boots with bells on.
Well, it would be rude not to!
And in a little footnote as requested by the other Ministers: Don’t worry, when you go to visit Father Christmas this year, you will DEFINITELY be meeting the Real One. Santa School is only here to help him out on those very, very rare occasions that he can’t be in two places at once.