Let it glow, let it glow…

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The countdown is almost up – thousands of people will see Sheffield shine tomorrow as its Christmas lights are turned on.

The annual event will pass in a flash of celebrities, shopping and festive fun.

But behind the scenes Sheffield Council’s major events team has spent six months organising the merry day.

Their job has involved co-ordinating the testing, preparing and hanging of 
2.5 miles of lights.

A 45-feet Christmas tree – from a sustainable forest in Northumberland – has to be installed outside Sheffield Town Hall, as well as three other pines.

And that is all before the small team sorts road closures, promotion and paramedics for the estimated 35,000 people who will attend the event.

Angela Gower, contracts manager, says: “People think ‘why can’t they just put up the lights the week before’, but there is so much checking to do ensuring the lights and infrastructure are safe.

“It is strange to be thinking about Christmas in summer, but I love it.

“Sometimes people will ring and say a light is out, so we do have a lot of Christmas helpers.”

Last year, the event returned to a more traditional Christmas feel – partly due to council budget cuts.

Despite that, it was one of the most popular switch-ons and the theme continues.

At the £18,000 event, timings are key to ensure the right switches are flicked when the plunger goes down.

Natasha Wagstaff, events manager, says it is a ‘common misconception’ celebrities are paid to make an appearance, as they do it for airtime.

She says: “One year, pop singer Shayne Ward led the countdown, but he was running really late. It was all starting when I saw him leg it past the City Hall, where his car had screeched to a halt and he ran up the stairs.

“Planning probably starts six months before, but it never seems early enough.”

One aim of Sunday is to get people into the city centre and encourage repeat visits to boost trade.

Natasha says: “We want to see smiling faces and hear people say ‘that was brilliant’.”

There are many traditional elements of the event, including a giant key said to be Father Christmas’ way of getting in to Sheffield homes without a chimney, that is presented on stage.

The team has also organised several new attractions, including an elf trail for children, a bigger market on Fargate plus a winter village in the Peace Gardens with a skating area.

A new land train will also travel between the markets in December for the first time – something which took 30 meetings to sort!

It takes about two weeks to remove every light in the city centre from January 6. And then work starts again.

Sunday’s events

Stars of stage and screen appear at tomorrow’s switch-on from noon.

The X Factor winner Sam Bailey and Britain’s Got Talent champions Callabro will perform in the Peace Gardens.

Before the lights go on at 5.30pm, there will also be entertainment from carollers and panto performers.

The Moor is hosting a Christmas party from noon with a live nativity with real reindeer.

Attractions also include a fairy grotto, skating rink, festive stalls and bars.