Dark horse contenders Michael Andrews and Gary Jules squeezed ahead at the last minute tonight to beat British retro rockers The Darkness to the coveted UK Christmas No 1 spot.
Andrews and Jules came from nowhere with their sparse cover of the Tears For Fears song Mad World to triumph in one of the closest run and most fiercely fought festive chart battles for years.
In sales figures released on Thursday The Darkness’s Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) were ahead of their rivals by a tiny margin of just 3,000.
Mad World, featuring just piano and vocals, was initially an outsider for the number one.
But strong radioplay for the bleak track from the soundtrack of cult film Donnie Darko helped mobilise interest.
The bookies’ favourite, a cover of the Plastic Ono Band’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by the Pop Idol finalists was largely snubbed by record buyers and limped into the charts at number five.
Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne are at number three with Changes, last week’s number one, and even Avid Merrion’s festive novelty record Proper Crimbo beat the Idols to storm in at number four.
Andrews said the news of his success was “incredible”.
“My first reaction was just that it was unbelievable,” he said.
“This was so unexpected. It just took off. It’s an incredible thing for me to be able to enter into the mainstream like this with one of my best friends.
“It’s a testament to the fact that people do like honest, simple music.
“You break something down to its most basic parts and people just react.”
Andrews said he had not felt strongly competitive with The Darkness because it would spoil the “fragile” nature of his own release.
“I think those guys are hilarious, rocking around,” he said. “I congratulate them on getting to number two.
“I have never expected anything this week. This has been such a surprise and it’s happened so quickly.”
The slow-burning outsider was recorded three years ago and came about more by accident than design.
Andrews was commissioned by first-time director Richard Kelly to write the music for an independent film he was making called Donnie Darko, but was stumped when Kelly told him he didn’t want any guitar or drums on the soundtrack.
Then he decided to incorporate the Tears for Fears track into the score and asked Jules if he wanted to sing it.
Mad World gave Tears For Fears a number three hit in 1982. Both Jules and composer Andrews, who have been friends since their childhood in San Diego, are massive fans of the band.
In the Christmas charts, Will Young fell from two to six with Leave Right Now, while the Black Eyed Peas’ Shut Up is at seven.
Atomic Kitten entered the chart at number eight with Ladies Night, beating girl group rivals the Sugababes, whose track Too Lost In You debuted at number ten.
Shane Richie’s I’m Your Man cover is at nine.
Christmas Is All Around, by Billy Mack – actor Bill Nighy in his Love Actually role – only made it to number 26. In the film the song is a shock Christmas number one.
The album charts saw the top three spots remain the same as last week, with Dido leading the field followed by Will Young and Michael Jackson.
The only new entry was Rod Stewart, who debuted at number 38 with a best of compilation.