With four young children, Christmas is a busy time for actor and director Simon Delaney and his wife Lisa. And working in pantomime certainly compounds this — this year Delaney is directing The Ugly Sisters and Yer Wan in the Olympia.
So in his line of work, is it even possible to find time for family at Christmas?
“For the last few years I’ve been more and more conscious of Christmas and trying to take time off,” he says.
“Luckily enough in my business I can try to tailor work around home. I’ve been involved in panto for the last 10 to 12 years — I used to direct Alan Hughes’s panto in the Tivoli and I directed a couple in the UK and I’ve been at the Olympia for the last four years. So I’m lucky enough that I get to be home for Christmas but I’m also working — I’m able to pay for the turkey. It’s great to be working at Christmas but it’s nice to be home.”
It has taken practice to get the work life balance right.
“Two years ago I directed the panto but I was also in it, which meant I was away every day over Christmas. But this year I’m back to directing — driving the bus.”
Effectively this means he gets to finish once the live shows start.
“We rehearse right up until the show opens on the 16th of December and then my job is technically finished. But then on the 16th I open in the National Concert Hall — I’m narrating The Snowman for three days, and then after that I’m finished. So I can do my shopping, and get all the food in.”
Delaney, who is in the line-up for TV3’s Celebrity Masterchef, tells me he’s the head chef at home and cooks the Christmas dinner every year.
“I do turkey and ham, but experiment with the starters. I make my own brown bread, and I might do some funky dessert or something.”
I ask if his children eat brussels sprouts.
“One does, so one done and three to go. And sure you can’t please everyone, but they all pretend they like the dinner every year — they’re very good. It’s hard not to love Christmas when you have kids — we live Christmas through our children’s eyes. And it brings me back to Christmas as a child — when you have kids it’s just magical.”
Comparing Christmas today to that of his own childhood, the Saturday AM presenter says that when we look back, it’s often with rose-coloured glasses.
“There were some hard Christmases too — my dad was a printer and there were some years when he was out of work and we got very little for Christmas but we always got something. My mam and dad loved Christmas. Sadly I lost my mam when I was 19, three weeks before Christmas. And my dad died seven years later. I have two sisters and a brother so we always make sure we spend Christmas together.”
The family have one particular tradition that they’ve kept going through the years.
“The one thing that reminds me of Christmas more than anything else is coddle. My mother used to always make a pot of coddle on Christmas morning, and any time I smell it any time of year, it reminds me of Christmas. So now my sisters make a big pot of coddle every Christmas morning — just for my mam and dad.”
Delaney’s children — Isaac, Elliot, Cameron, and Lewis — are hoping Santa will bring games and books, and accessories for their various iPads and Playstations he says, with one exception.
“My four-year-old wants a bow and arrow. We’re very excited about that as you can imagine. I’d say he has a better chance of becoming Pope. But when he’s saying ‘I don’t care what you think — I’m not asking you for it — I’m asking Santa’ — what can you do? He has a direct line of communication with Santa so we’re out of the loop.”
Delaney is an ambassador for the Sudocrem Baby Changing Room Awards 2016 so I have to ask him, is he a hands-on dad?
“Oh yes. I changed the baby about 15 minutes ago — I’m very hands on. There’s two of us here but it’s hard work — sure it’s spinning plates all the time. The boys are 10, eight, and four, and the youngest is just five months. So it’s a fulltime job for the two of us.”
He’s conscious that regardless of how involved he is when he’s there, work can make it a challenge.
“The good thing and the bad thing about my work is that I can be a home for long periods but then the phone rings and I could be gone for months. That’s what happened last year — I got a call and I was in LA for three months. It’s tough. It’s not tough on me — it’s tough on Lisa and the kids. Last year when I went to the States, Lisa was pregnant — that was hard. However hard I think I have it at home when I’m here, it’s nothing compared to how hard Lisa has it when I’m not here. So yes, I absolutely get my sleeves rolled up.
“But sure I love it — I love being a dad.”