THE festive season officially arrived in Malvern on Saturday with the return of the much-loved Christmas Festival.

Bumper crowds gathered at 6pm for the light switch on by Loula Geater and Mark James, stars of this year’s pantomime production of Aladdin at Malvern Theatres, but there was plenty more to see and do throughout the day.

Over £1,000 was raised for Heartstart Malvern and Malvern Hills Foodbank, mayor Neil Morton’s chosen charities for this year and this is the highest total raised at the Christmas Event for quite a number of years.

Councillor Morton said it was the highest total raised at the Christmas event “for quite a number of years”.

Live performers also included The Voice’s opera sensation Luke Swatman, nicknamed the Worcester Pavarotti, who started his dizzy rise to fame after a video of him singing karaoke in The Eagle Vaults pub went viral.

Organised by the Christmas committee comprised of members of the Town Council and Malvern Hills District CouncilWorcestershire County Council, BBC Hereford and Worcester and Boffy Arts Markets, the festival brought much-needed cheer to a murky autumn day.

Victoria Carman, of the district council, had previously said “there is something for all the family”, not least the fact that Santa himself had a set up a new grotto in the Morgan Routemaster-donated bus in front of Belle Vue Island.

Events spread across the town, on Church Street, Belle Vue Island, Priory Grounds, Abbey Road, Great Malvern Priory, Lyttelton Rooms, as well as at Malvern Community Hospital in Worcester Road.

There were plenty of highlights, from vintage cars, dancers and circus stilt-walkers to art workshops, bell-ringing and a food and craft market.

The latter ran from 10.30am to 6.30pm in the Great Malvern Priory grounds and Abbey Road where shoppers could purchase bespoke gifts and the very best culinary delights.

The parade started at 5.45pm from Santa’s grotto and will feature children’s lanterns, Malvern Theatre’s panto celebrities, Dance in Motion and a confetti canyon. Alongside Mr Swatman performing live included Tazmin Barnes, Worcestershire Youth String Orchestra, Malvern St James Choir and Malvern Chase Brass Band, as well as carols from Malvern Hills District Brass Band.

Cllr Morton said: “This year’s Christmas event attracted very large crowds, particularly considering the weather. It was great to see a community event so well supported throughout the day and the stallholders and traders were delighted with the footfall. Great Malvern Priory did an outstanding job of hosting children’s activities, a craft workshop and festive music.

“Due to the incredible generosity of the public, we raised over £1,000 on the day for Heartstart Malvern and Malvern Hills Foodbank, my chosen charities for this year and this is

“I was so pleased to meet Loula and Mark who were simply charming and I am sure that this year’s pantomime will be superb.”