FATHER Christmas arrived in Worcester in a bright red Cadillac last month and will be handing out presents for children from his Crowngate grotto until Christmas Eve.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, Worcester News reporter Ryan Merrifield went along to meet the man himself.

“I have to stop shaving from the end of June to get the full beard by November,” said Santa, who admits to singing in Worcester Male Voice Choir when he’s not making presents.

“It’s my tenth year at Crowngate, I am proud to have been associated with such a noble tradition,” he said.

“What started off as a glorified garden shed, it’s evolved into this and me strolling around between the two Crowngate sites. We tell the kids there’s a parallel universe going on.”

Asked what are some of the most popular gift requests, he said “whatever is popular on children’s TV can really dictate what they want” – with PAW Patrol a particular favourite this year.

“There’s always the favourites though, your Postman Pat, your Bob the Builder and your Fireman Sam.

“I always say to the kids: ‘what would you like for Christmas, rather than what can I get you?’ Because mum and dad might not be happy if I promise to get them a Lamborghini or something,” he joked.

“Not all children have long lists, some just ask for surprises. Last year it was yo-yos for some reason. That was something all kids wanted.”

Santa, originally from Wales, admitted he gets plenty of bizarre present requests too, including “older ladies” telling him to “get me a new toy boy” while their husbands will then ask for “a lovely 18-year-old”.

“I have to respond with: ‘I can get you an 18-year-old malt.’”

But the most unusual gift request he has received at his Crowngate grotto was for a ferret.

“There were two really fresh-faced little kids, who I’m sure were from a farming community,” he explained.

“Fortunately, as a kid, my next-door neighbour had ferrets, so I could say things like: ‘Is that going to be a polecat or an albino?’ I managed to get through it; mum was quite impressed.”

He went on to say: “On a more serious point, some children suffer bereavements during the year, and I hear some heart-breaking stories of children asking me to help them move out of temporary accommodation.

“One which stays with me, as a very selfless act, a little boy said he would forego having any presents if his parents would stay together.

“I told him to try to have a lovely Christmas Day, he was spending it with a social worker.

“I said: ‘Have you talked it over with your mum and dad?’ and he said he hadn’t. I told him to remember it was not his fault and they will always love him. His mum and gran were in tears, I was almost bawling.”

Asked what his ideal gift would be, Santa said: “Just what I’d like in life, which is to maintain a sense of light in some of the direst situations.

“That, and a pair of gardening gloves from Lidl,” he added.

Santa’s Crowngate grotto will be open until 4.30pm on Christmas Eve, while he is also hosting a number of free workshops for children and families.

Visit crowngate-worcester.co.uk for more information.