Santa’s (big) helper

EVERY year, Santa has a dilemma: choose a staff of helpers, getters, buyers and wrappers.

Working for Santa is no sleigh-ride. Only the best can.

Finding the best can be tricky. So Santa’s helpers, with the aid of Hamley’s toy shop, recently held the inaugural Elf Factor, at the Dundrum Town Centre in Dublin.

On a brightly lit stage bedecked with leaves of holly, red ribbons and snow, contestants were asked why they should be chosen to help Santa in his grotto. Judging the want-to-be helpers was none other than Hamley’s Santa, his chief elf, Greg, and grotto marketing manager Siobhan Hearne.

“We came up with the concept about 18 months ago,” says Siobhan. “It didn’t go ahead for various reasons, but it happened in Glasgow last year. This is much bigger here, given the size of Dundrum. So we’re looking forward to a great and busy day. I went there as a journalist, but also to compete.

Before I got up on stage, I wangled a few tips from Siobhan on what Santa wanted.

“We’re looking for anyone with a bit of personality. Confidence, I suppose,” she said.

“And they have to have Christmas spirit, and if they have any bit of talent it helps,” she says.

Shannon Clarke, 18, had been an elf for a year. She looked so happy.

“I think it’s really good,” Shannon said of the contest. “The best way to see if people are suitable for the job is by putting them in front of a crowd and giving them the chance. We’re looking for someone to be cheerful and loud and to be able to sustain kids’ attention,” she says.

Shannon’s colleague, Karyn Gaffney, 22, is spoke with a strange accent. I wondered if she was from Lapland, but she said she was from Cavan. She said that there are certain qualities an elf needed to make it in the rough-and-tumble of Christmas.

“We’re looking for someone who’s not afraid to go up and make a fool of themselves,” she said.

“You learn quickly, in this job, that all your friends are going to come and see you in costume, so you can’t get embarrassed. We need good personalities and you need to be heard over the kids,” she says.

By the time the competition was ready to roll, there were 36 names registered. Each contestant would have 60 seconds to impress.

One of them was Ian Harris, 18, from Crumlin. He said he was nervous, but he looked confident and he was certainly keen.

“I love working with children,” Ian said. “I teach kids and I have a great time teaching them. It’ll be a fun job and, also, coming up to Christmas you need that money to get Christmas presents.”

Ian couldn’t sing or tell jokes but he had one trick up his sleeve, which he hoped would impress Santa.

“I am a dancer,” he said. “So I’m going to try that and try to keep everyone’s attention.”

Ian danced to music by Wham! while an audience of about 100 people looked on. He had the moves and was well able for the pressure.

As he said, he “is not afraid to make an eejit” of himself and he achieved that quite capably. He got the thumbs-up from Santa and was through to the next round. Later on, I met Leaving Certificate student Hannah Drennan, who had just come off stage.

“I didn’t realise I had to sing,” she said.

“I just thought it was a one-to-one interview. I wasn’t really prepared, but it was fun. I was an elf last year in Bray. The kids come in really quiet, but by the end they’re so giddy you feel nearly bad giving them back to the parents.”

Hannah also made the cut.

Gracy Mason, 18, from Stillorgan, said she was nervous about getting up on stage.

“I really want to be an elf,” she said. “I think it would be so much fun. I worked in Hamley’s before and I’d really like to work there again.”

Gracy made the cut with an excellent rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

Then, it was my turn.

The MC asked me my name.

“Elfish,” came my reply.

“Elfish?” asked the MC.

“Elfish Presley,” I said.

“OK, Elfish, and where are you from?” he asked.

“Lapland,” I said, looking at him as if to say ‘what a question’? “I arrived here on pixie dust.”

I launched into Lonely This Christmas. It went down well with some of the older members of the audience, but it was Santa’s call that I was interested in. As he conferred with his chief elf, Greg, I waited expectantly. Santa’s thumbs went up. I had made the cut and was on my way to elf stardom. Siobhan told me about the various duties an elf is expected to perform.

“Some of them will work in the grotto and some of them will work directly with Hamley’s. We’re doing a thing where you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner with Santa, so some of the elves will be in there,” she said.

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