- Catherine Harvey is a former singer who became a Santa agent when her actor brother became one.
- She describes the range of prices charged and the backgrounds her Santas come from.
- Not every Santa needs a beard, she says. Her youngest is 24, and uses prosthetics to age himself.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Catherine Harvey, a 52-year-old professional Santa service provider who works in London but lives in Milton Keynes, England. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I used to be a professional singer, touring the clubs around Yorkshire from when ages 18 to about 30.
I then had a print-broker business in which I'd sell promotional products at trade fairs, steam-railway, and country shows.
I then studied for an events-management degree at the University of Gloucestershire in the west of England, graduating in 2011.
At the time, my brother was an actor and entertainer. He spent 20 years as a ventriloquist and acted on the pantomime circuit for years. One year a performance was canceled, so he decided to do a bit of Santa work.
I took him on as his agent, and I started getting him work through a website called hiresanta.co.uk. The chap who owned the website decided he wanted to sell it, so I bought it off him.
Everything I've done in my past has culminated in what I do today. I call myself a professional Santa Service Provider, and I represent around 40 to 50 hireable Santas from across the UK who are exclusive to us. Another 40 to 50 are freelance.
Our Santas do home visits and schools, but we try to market ourselves to a higher end of the market, such as TV companies, corporate events, and celebrity clients.
Not all Santas are priced the same. It can depend on how good they are or whether they can work with children and adults. Our lowest fee is 250 pounds (about $330) plus a value-added tax (a 20% addition to the price, paid to the government), but if a job involves filming, overnight stays or different characters, the costs can go up to 1,000 pounds (about $1,330) for a day, or 500 pounds (about $660) for the first hour.
This year, my brother is the "This Morning" breakfast-show Santa, and he's appearing on "Blankety Blank" on Christmas Day. Last year, he appeared on the "Britain's Got Talent" Christmas special.
Our Santas work year-round, too. We start getting inquiries immediately after Christmas for the following year. A lot of ads and TV specials are filmed at the start of the year, and we have our own film-production company, North Pole TV, where we film our own sketches.
Summer Santas, who show up on vacations, are big in the US, something we'd like to see more of in the UK. Just because Santa delivers his presents on Christmas Eve doesn't mean that he doesn't exist the rest of the year.
About 95% of our Santas are professional actors and performers, like my brother. Some have previously worked as police officers or social workers, too — occupations that involve dealing with children on a daily basis.
What makes a good Santa? One who doesn't see the job as just a way to earn extra money, who actually plays the part and brings joy. The Santas who are excited about doing the job are the ones who do well.
Santas need to be lively and have a charisma that draws people in, but the last thing we look for is a real beard. A real beard doesn't automatically make you a good Santa. If you've got no personality and you're miserable, it doesn't matter what your beard looks like.
A fake beard can sometimes be more magical, too. If a Santa turns up with his own beard, then is later seen climbing into a car in the car park, all of a sudden the magic is lost when a child realizes that "Santa" was just somebody in a suit.
Santa is hundreds and hundreds of years old, but we go for a "Doctor Who" perspective in that Santa is regenerative and can be any age. We have lots of granddads and old men, but our youngest Santa is 24. He uses prosthetics to make his face look older.
Besides, if you're using only old men to play Santa, they can sometimes be limited for walking. Someone in their late 70s can't be running around left, right, and center. Or "left, right, and Santa," as I say. At the moment, they're more vulnerable to COVID-19, too.
Why do I do this? I'm 52, and I love Christmas. Christmas to me is a feeling. It's a time for celebration, so why not do more with it? My brother's working on Christmas Day, though, so we'll keep his dinner warm in the oven.