For our Christmassy q&a, we were lucky enough to speak to actor, director, comedian and writer extraordinaire, Ben Miller. Ben is back with The Night I Met Father Christmas, a marvellously festive tale that is perfect for Christmas and the upcoming magical days.
Jackson knows all about the flying reindeer, he knows about the elves and the secret North Pole workshop, he knows about the magic that allows Father Christmas to deliver presents around the world in just one night, but there’s one thing he doesn’t know, how did Father Christmas become Father Christmas? That all changes when, one Christmas Eve, Jackson meets Father Christmas and hears his incredible story. So begins an enchanting fairy-tale into a magical snowy landscape, where Torvil, a mean-spirited and miserly elf, is about to discover the true meaning of Christmas. This might not have been the story Jackson was expecting but, as Father Christmas tells him, no good story ever is. Filled with adventure, elves and enchantment, The Night I Met Father Christmas is the perfect sleigh ride for Christmas.
Your enchanting new book, The Night I Met Father Christmas, is filled with festive magic. Can you tell us a bit more about where the inspiration for it came from?
I basically wrote it so that my oldest son Jackson would keep believing in Father Christmas. If it was a Christmas pudding — stay with it because it’s brilliant — you might say the ‘suet’ is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, together with the nuttiness of The Grinch, and a pinch of Elf for sweetness. It also contains an entire bottle of The Night Before Christmas.
When Jackson meets Father Christmas, the thing he wants to know most is how Father Christmas became Father Christmas. If you ever met Father Christmas, what is the one question you would ask him?
He does! And the story Father Christmas tells him isn’t at all the one he’s expecting. It turns out that when he was younger, Father Christmas (real first name: Torvil) ran a toy shop at the North Pole, but he was so mean so that when it was Christmas, he would actually put his prices up! Because of his meanness, Torvil had a spell put on him, and was visited by three magical creatures: a talking reindeer, a talking Christmas tree, and a giant snowman who couldn’t talk but left lots of long silences that Father Christmas couldn’t help filling with personal information. What would I ask Father Christmas for? A second referendum on Brexit.
If you could take one of your characters on a Christmas adventure with you, which one would it be and why?
It would definitely be Rudolph the talking reindeer. For a start, he can fly, which would really reduce the transport budget. And secondly, he’s great company. The downside would be I would probably catch flu — Rudolph is renowned for his permanent cold, which gives him his red nose. If Rudolph was unavailable, I’d take the Christmas Tree, who is rather scatterbrained and reminds me slightly of Raggerty, the tree sprite from Rupert the Bear. I definitely wouldn’t take the Snowman. He’s terrifying.
When Torvil crashes his sled, he ends up in the past. Do you have a favourite Christmas memory that you wish you could revisit?
When I was fourteen we spent Christmas in a farmhouse on Anglesey, with our friends the Ganleys. There was no central heating and I cut down a fir tree in the forest for our Christmas tree and we hung loo roll on the banister as decoration. On Christmas Day, we found some old top hats in the attic and staged a performance of A Christmas Carol with David Ganley (5) as Scrooge. It felt like some sort of wilderness survival camp at the time, but I have never forgotten one single moment – happy days.
Jackson and Father Christmas go on a mission to deliver Christmas presents to all the children in the world. What is the best Christmas gift you have ever received from Father Christmas? And do you have anything on your wishlist this year?
The best gift was a sledge, because it snowed on Christmas Day and we went up to the Bickerton Hills (I grew up in Cheshire) to try it out. This year I am hoping for socks. I used to dread them, now they are my favourite present. It’s funny how life boomerangs on you like that. As a child I hated sprouts, to the point that even thinking about a sprout made me feel physically sick. Now they are my favourite things about Christmas dinner, the more bitter and involuntary-neck-spasm-inducing the better.
At the heart of your book is a warm message about the importance of family, love and friendship. What do you hope readers take away from the book?
If any children out there are harbouring doubts about Father Christmas, I hope this story puts them to rest. As for the grown-ups… well, I hope they start believing in Father Christmas too. To be serious for a moment, though, the real meaning of the “Scrooge” story is that no matter how old you are, and how jaded you have become, you can always connect with the child you once were.
Alongside being an author, you are also an actor, director and comedian. Your schedule must get very busy! What does a typical day look like for you?
There is no typical day, and that’s something I feel very grateful for, apart from starting with a cup of coffee, which I get decidedly twitchy without. Some days are solitary, spent writing in my hutch in Gloucestershire with no-one but my dog for company. Others are in the hurly-burly of London, with meetings and taxis and Boris bikes. I am a big fan of both. I love to write and to act, and if I get to do a bit of both at some point between sun-up and sun-down, I’m very happy.
And lastly, what are some of your favourite books about Christmas? The Night I Met Father Christmas is already one of ours.
Thank you! My all-time favourite is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I also love The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. I’m half Welsh, so A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas is also a favourite. Happily, Dylan Thomas seems to have avoided semi-derelict farmhouses in Anglesey. Reading Christmas stories to your children is one of the best ways to get in the mood for Christmas!
The Night I Met Father Christmas, published by Simon & Schuster, is out now.
Top right photo of Ben Miller by Faye Thomas