BEHIND THE SCENES AT CHRISTMAS AT HEVER CASTLE & GARDENS
Photos © Hever Castle & Gardens
You might be a planner or a last minute buyer, but chances are you won’t be thinking about Christmas more than a year in advance.
But at Hever Castle & Gardens it takes 13 months to plan the Christmas activities for visitors, so preparation for December 2018 started in November 2017. It is an all-hands-on-deck affair with staff members from retail, maintenance, housekeeping, visitor services, marketing and gardening all involved.
The first thing to be decided is the theme for the following year (before the current Christmas event has started!). In 2018, the main theme will be Christmas stories and the festive trail in the grounds will be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Event and programming assistant, Caz Church, starts working on props in January and continues working on them throughout the year. Everything is made in house. All the contractors from Father Christmas to the fairground attractions and those who provide fake snow are confirmed by the end of January.
With the theme to work with and the debrief done, retail manager, Ashley Collins, attends the main Christmas trade fairs; one in Birmingham and the biggest one in the world, Christmas World in Frankfurt in January. He looks for new stock for the Hever Shop as well as any additions needed for the decorations in the Castle.
When Ashley returns from the fairs he only has a few weeks to plan what he would like to order, as he needs to confirm his stock requirements by the end of February for arrival from the first week of September. Adding the extra Christmas stock to the system is a big job for those working in the Hever Shop. Usually there are 3,000 items at one time sold in the shop – Christmas adds an extra 1,500.
In May and June, meetings take place with heads of departments for more detailed planning of the event including any additional storytellers, where any extra food provision is needed as well as marketing materials.
Marketing starts by the August bank holiday weekend and annual members can start booking in September with non-members two weeks later.
September is the time to start thinking about the decoration of the Castle. As items arrive, everything is grouped together in terms of the room it will go in and all the lights are checked. On average each tree has a minimum of 200 lights on them or candle lights.
Head gardener, Neil Miller, puts in the order for trees in October for the Castle, the bed and breakfast, grotto and Christmas trail. Sixty per cent of the trees are from Kentish suppliers with the rest from the UK. Each year, 50-100 small Christmas trees are planted on the Estate so in about 10 year’s time the site will be more sustainable.
The second week of November the trees come in. They have to last 6-8 weeks so they are put in at the last minute and well watered (especially the ones near the open fires). Some of them have to be replaced and are done just before Christmas.
Some of the fake snow has to go in before certain trees are put in. The dressing of the snow takes about a week with three contractors on site for three or four days.
It takes around 10 people two days to dress the Castle for Christmas. In-house florist, Pamela Brise, themes the flowers around the rooms.
The gardening team is responsible for decorating the drop-in Father Christmas grotto which is about a week’s worth of work for three people. They also restock the courtyard shop and make wreaths to be sold.
Extra operations staff are drafted in every day from the second week of November doing jobs such as building the grotto and putting together the Christmas trail (which is different every year).
All in all, it’s quite a production for the most wonderful time of the year!
About the event this year:
Rooms of the Castle will be beautifully decorated and themed around stories including The Nutcracker, The Tailor of Gloucester and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with twinkling lights and welcoming log fires.
Outside in the stunning grounds, wrap up warm and discover the festive interactive trail themed around Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol. As dusk falls, the gardens are illuminated with up-lighting and colour washes.
Revel in the Christmas spirit at Hever Castle Wednesdays to Sundays from 24th November and daily from 10th to 24th December.
Each weekend and daily from selected dates ride the carousel and enjoy vintage fairground stalls (£1 per go), roast chestnuts for sale and the chance to meet characters along the trail including Bob Cratchit and Scrooge and pose for a picture with a husky (suggested £2 donation towards Siberian Husky Welfare Association).
Twilight Christmas and pre-booked Father Christmas are now sold out but children may still get the chance to meet Father Christmas in the Toy Workshop as part of the drop-in Father Christmas offering on 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd December. Kids will have the opportunity to visit him on a first come first served basis and will receive an age-appropriate gift. Tickets cost £8 per child and can only be purchased in the grounds on the day, at the Information Centre or Courtyard Shop (admission tickets are required for all members of the party).