Like many people in financial services, Father Christmas has had a very long year. Relaxing over a glass of sherry in the Northern headquarters of Christmas Advice and Planning, Santa Claus, as he prefers to be known, says all the bureaucracy is getting in the way of doing the job.
“First it was M-Day, then A-Day. What about Christmas Day? How can anyone get any work done with all this regulation?”
Santa is particularly put out by the requirement to provide an initial disclosure document to all prospective clients.
“To be honest, it has put a bit of a squeeze on business. Sitting an eight-year-old down to explain their legal rights and how the present advising and selection process works seems to have taken a bit of the fun out of it.”
The increasing emphasis on regulation has, however, had some unexpectedly beneficial effects on the present advising and giving business.
Santa says: “At least, once and for all, it has put a stop to those tiresome rumours about my non-existence. Once you have had to sit through an introductory meeting and a full fact-find, there is no disputing that I am a real being. People are also much more aware of their Christmas rights. Any claims for possible misgiving of presents can be reported to the Festive Ombudsman Service and claims for compensation can be met by the Festive Services Compensation Scheme.”
Misgiving is rare in the long history of Christmas but Santa says it has been known to happen.
“Occasionally, a young boy has been known to end up with a Barbie doll rather than an Action Man but I have been reliably informed that this will leave no lasting impression.”
Despite his assurances that this is a rare occurrence, Santa is defensive when challenged about the number of presents misgiven every year.
“Look, there are more than five million children under 10 in Britain alone. I would like to see you try and tell the difference between Alexander Smith and Alexandra Smith at 4am in the dark after drinking several thousand glasses of sherry. Yes, occasionally, I can get it wrong.”
Despite these rare lapses, Father Christmas says he prefers to operate in an advisory capacity rather than an execution-only model of present giving.
“I am not that comfortable with the newish tendency to send an instruction for Christmas presents. You know, the ‘Dear Santa, this year I would like a brand new PS2 or the Bob the Builder DVD boxed set.’ But do people really know what is going to be most suitable in the long term? Why come to a fully qualified and experienced Christmas adviser if not to take my advice?”
Santa’s experience of the Christmas market is almost without comparison. He first entered the midwinter market in the guise of Old Man Winter or King Winter and by the Fifth Century was well established in the Anglo-Saxon market.
“The business model was very different then. I would go from house to house receiving food and drink and all I had to do in return was agree to look upon the occupants favourably. Sadly, people have wised up to that one and nowadays drive a much harder bargain.”
Santa has repeatedly demonstrated his acute business insight and ability to adapt to the changing tastes of his clients. By switching network from Pagan to Christian just before the Middle Ages, he ensured that his particular brand of midwinter cheer was made relevant for a new generation. He was also able to trademark the long white beard around this time. This was quite an achievement as it was more than 1,000 years before brand consultants, patent offices and intellectual property lawyers existed.
“I must admit, the big red suit and the white beard were a couple of my better ideas. Some years ago, a rival firm thought that green would be a better colour to be associated with but where are they now?”
Although Santa did well under his long association with the Christians, he says there were times when it could have been better.
“At one point, all people seemed to want was nuts, dried fruit and bits of coal which is not exactly the glamorous side of the business.”
Santa says he is now much more settled operating under the new consumerist network, where the line of gifts is much more to his liking.
With a move to higher-net-worth clients and fewer moral aspects to the advice, he says business is booming.
“The ‘if only you had been good’ criteria was a bit restrictive. The new operation is set up very much on an if-you-can-afford-it basis. We do a small line in stakeholder presents but most people seem much happier to go upscale.”
Santa also says that under the umbrella of consumerism, he is not tied down to his traditional markets.
“The association with Christianity was holding the company back when it came to emerging markets. All the Christian symbolism was a bit confusing in Asia, particularly the Chinese market. But a fat old man in a red suit, what’s not to like? Business has never been better.”
Being the front of what is seen as a one-man show can be a bit tiring but Santa says he has a strict recruitment policy for his para-present planners who do a lot of the work behind the scenes.
“The elves have all got qualifications in their own particular areas and I fall back on their advice most of the time,” he admits.
What of his spare time? Rather than just being able to escape the office to spend Friday on a golf course, with a one day a year gig, surely he has a lot of time to indulge his hobbies?
“Every year, I get asked the same thing and nobody believes it when I say that the job is 11-and-a-half months of hard work and preparation.”
Honestly? “No, you are right. I switch the answerphone on in January and do not come back until December. The big white beard is to try and hide the tan. Merry Christmas.”
Born: Myra, Turkey,4th Century AD
Lives: Lapland (no wife or children which is odd for someone called Father)
Education: NVQ in sleigh driving from Hounslow College
Likes: Sherry, mince pies, more sherry
Dislikes: Regulation, the Easter Bunny
Drives: A sleigh
Favourite film: The Deer Hunter
Favourite album: A Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf
Heroes: Galileo, Sun Tzu
Career ambition: To knock the fairy off the top of the tree.
If I weren’t in this job I would be… Are you joking? One day’s work a year, with as much free food and drink as you can manage. Who would do anything else?