Actor and presenter Alexander Armstrong is joined by a host of celebrities for a new ITV show which sees them debate what makes the Best Christmas Ever and share their own traditions and memories
What makes the best Christmas ever? Actor, comedian and host of Pointless, Alexander Armstrong endeavours to find out in a new one off festive show.
Can you really have a Christmas without sprouts? What is the greatest ever Christmas song, could it be Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You or Slade’s belting anthem, Merry Xmas Everybody?
These and many other burning Christmas issues are up for debate when Alexander is joined by a host of celebrities who’ll put their own cases forward. When they’re not arguing, they are sure to be singing along with the fabulous house band!
Here, in an exclusive interview with TV Times, singer and dad of four, Alexander, tells writer Natasha Holt, what he loves most about Christmas, shares his family’s quirky traditions and reveals the rubbish Christmas he’d rather forget…
TV Times speaks to Alexander Armstrong
TV Times: What can you tell us about the show?
Alexander Armstrong: “The main function of the show is to wallow in all the things we love about Christmas. We’re trying to find the quintessence of Christmas. The things we fall back on generally are music, good company and booze but also films, games and all the many little flavours of Christmas that we genuinely love. I think it’s time we shook the tree a little bit to see what’s hanging on there still.”
TVT: What kinds of things will the celebrities be championing?
AA: “I’m hoping I won’t know until they start championing them. I want to get some surprises in there. Sometimes families have their own slightly mad Christmas traditions. Ours is we always stand on the stairs and sing Oh Come All Ye Faithful at teatime on Christmas Eve. Each year it gets a little bit more elaborate. One year someone decided to light lots of candles and turn the lights off and by the next year that was the tradition.”
TVT: What would you fight for?
AA: “I would fight for the right to stand on the stairs, singing in the darkness! Actually I would fight for the right to an open fire. If I had to spend Christmas in a house that didn’t have a log fire I would have to sit in a corner and get drunk. Oh hang on, I do that anyway.”
TVT: Will you be singing on the show?
AA: “Oh god, will I. They will be fighting me off the stage. I promise not to sing too much but we have a fabulous house band. I think it’s fair to say everyone will be singing.”
TVT: What else will be going on?
AA: “The idea is also to share some good tips. We all need priceless tips between now and Christmas. Any cunning little short cuts. We are desperate to get some good cooking tips from the wonderful Prue Leith. There are a couple of shows you need to watch with a pen and paper before Christmas. A number of these are cookery shows but this is going to be a sort of social cookery show so you might want to watch with a pen and paper just so you can note down some of our hot tips.”
TVT: What’s your favourite Christmas food?
AA: “Here’s a controversial one. I absolutely love Brussels sprouts and I have a sprout recipe I would challenge anyone not to like. I’m hoping Prue will back me up on that.”
TVT: And film?
AA: “Obviously It’s A Wonderful Life but we all know that one. I’m probably going to go for Trading Places. That’s a Christmas film I love.”
TVT: What about a favourite Christmas song?
AA: “I’d go for Smith and Burrows’ When the Thames Froze.”
TVT: Are you a Christmas fan?
AA: “I look forward to Christmas from January 2nd. I love it. I’m sort of elflike in my adoration of the Yule. I’m a singer as well and for choral singers Christmas is .. well it’s like Christmas. Everything about Christmas is to be cherished.”
TVT: What are your favourite memories of Christmases past?
AA: “I remember 1984 because of Band Aid. Then – and this is how spiritual I am – it was the first year we had a video recorder. We just went to town and videoed everything. It was bloody brilliant. You have never seen anyone go madder with the record button. I find generally most Christmases are rather lovely. The thing that happens every year is in the moment I tend to sit around thinking ‘it’s not very Christmassy’ but by the next year I look back at the previous year and think it was the best Christmas ever. I think Christmas spirit is always retrospectively applied therefore I think all Christmases come out of the wash with the same glitter around them.”
TVT: Have you ever had a bad one?
AA: “In 1982 I had terrible flu. I was throbbing with pain. I was a chorister in Edinburgh and had to sing on Christmas morning but as soon as I got home I wobbled and went straight to bed. I lay there for four days. That was a shocking Christmas. But by and large whatever you are doing on Christmas Day it’s still Christmas Day and it still has something about it that is quite special.”
TVT: Are you the chef on Christmas Day?
AA: “My wife and I tend to divide and conquer. We plan it. I don’t know why it’s such hard work. We can make a decent lunch any day of the week without it having to be such a drama. It’s possibly because your biggest oven is full with a massive great turkey and the second string ovens have to come to the fore. We try to do as much as we can in advance but I’ve never been aware of that necessarily lightening the workload on the day.”
TVT: Have you had any cooking disasters?
AA: “The thing that always happens is your roast potatoes are never quite done enough. Everything is ready apart from the roast potatoes and you have to keep sending everyone back to the sitting room. Everyone is drunk before you serve them because of the potato debacle. It’s practically dark but who cares, everyone has a lovely time and that’s what it’s all about. As long as you’ve got a paper crown on your head everything is fine.”
TVT: Is it exciting to be on TV over Christmas?
AA: “It’s the most exciting thing. Partly because on the first day of the Christmas holidays people of my generation would sit down with the TV magazine and draw circles round everything we’d like to watch. We’d plan all our Christmas viewing. So much of the spirit of Christmas is involved in sitting together as a family around the television. That was it for us.”
TVT: You have four young boys, does that make Christmas more exciting?
AA: “Yes but it definitely makes it harder work as well. You’ve got everybody’s buzzing expectations so there’s quite a lot of managing expectations going on as well as running around looking for batteries. You have to buy a massive bag filled with every single size of battery you could possibly need. We have high spirits mixed with everyone getting very overtired. There are lots of children running around the house, which is lovely. You know they’re having the most lovely time and you sometimes have to keep a lid on your natural instinct which is to run out and say ‘what’s all that noise?’ But running around the house and making a terrible mess and noise is what Christmas is all about at that age. I’ll miss it when we’re in the next stage of family life.”
TVT: What would you like for Christmas?
AA: “I saw something the other day and thought that’s what I’d like and now I can’t remember what it was. Genuinely it becomes much more fun to give than to receive. As you get older when you receive a present you think ‘oh that’s good. That can go in the present drawer’. Giving people presents is a great deal more entertaining I find.”
TVT: Will you be making any New Year’s resolutions, professionally and personally?
AA: “Well I recently worked with my lovely old friend Ben Miller hosting Prince Charles’ 70thbirthday and I’d love to do more stuff with Ben because I really miss that. Personally I’m going to try to give up sugar. I never used to like sugar at all but now we keep chocolates in the fridge so they last longer and they are even more delicious – so at the end of supper every night I think oh maybe I should have some chocolate. I’ve got to break that habit or I’m going to be enormous.”
TVT: Do you do Secret Santa on Pointless?
AA: “No because we’ve never done Pointless in the run up to Christmas. We always film our Christmas special in April, which is always on the hottest day of the year. I’ve never been on a job that close to Christmas which is a real shame. I’d love that.”
TVT: What are you in charge of on Christmas Day?
AA: “I’m in charge of booze, up to and all through the Christmas period. Making sure we’ve got all the stocks we need. Also filling log baskets and any kind of manual labour. Oh, and smoked salmon. I’m in charge of smoked salmon. A very important job!”
Best Christmas Ever with Alexander Armstrong is on Sunday, Dec 16, 9pm on ITV