With Nick Ferrari switching on the lights, a parade by the Kings Troop, musical performances and festivities a-plenty, the inaugural Blackheath Village Day marks the start of Christmas in SE3
‘It’s absolutely part of the Christmas tradition,’ says LBC radio host Nick Ferrari, of the annual switch-on of the Blackheath lights, taking place this year on Saturday 6 December.
‘To me it’s as much a part of Christmas as hanging out the stocking, buying a tree and feeling a little bit bloated on Christmas afternoon,’ continues Nick, who’s more accustomed to tackling burning issues on his weekday breakfast show than waxing lyrical about Blackheath with me.
Not that he’s short of a kind word to say about the place. Nick has lived in Blackheath since 1985, barring a three-year hiatus working for Fox TV in New York.
‘I’ve had a connection with the village since my early 20s when I was a journalist for a local newspaper called the Kentish Independent. I used to work around the rather less salubrious areas such as Thamesmead, but when I came up to do stories in Blackheath I thought, one day, I’d really like to live up here. To actually be part of the community and switch on the lights now is fantastic.’
After an injection of funding by the Blackheath Assembly, a Lewisham Council-backed group that looks after residents’ interests, the new festoon lights are set to be the best ever. And local traders have pledged some £10,000 to brighten up the village even further with fairy-lit trees.
This year, the lights switch-on will form part of the inaugural Blackheath Village Day, a chance for residents, traders and visitors to make the most of the high spirits with a children’s fair on the heath, choirs, musicians, food and family activities. The event will be launched with a parade through the village by the esteemed King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, now based at Woolwich Barracks, which is particularly poignant given 2014 is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.
The Conservatoire is hosting the Blackheath Winter Wonderland, in conjunction with John Payne, as part of the festivities. It will feature local craft stalls, carols, lantern-making for the kids, mulled wine and the launch of their new Arctic-inspired winter installation, which promises snow on the hour every hour until Christmas. On the forecourt outside Blackheath Halls there will be musical performances by the Blackheath Halls community musicians – a mixed group of professionals, locals and Trinity Laban Students – as well as mulled wine.
‘I love Blackheath,’ says Nick. ‘The people are never anything but friendly. Usually when I walk through the village I get a smile or a cheer. I go to Raffles for my clothes – they manage to find clothes that I can actually get into, so that’s a winner – Locale for my big occasions and Cook for the perfect takeaway. They closed India Jane, which is a shame.’
Nick, whose father ran a news agency, has worked in the media since graduating from Eltham College, working at papers such as the Sunday Mirror and The Sun, and has interviewed the likes of Roger Moore, Harrison Ford, Elton John and David Bowie. He also makes regular appearances on ITV’s This Morning and The Alan Titchmarsh Show, as well as BBC’s Newsnight and Question Time: ‘It’s a tremendous job to have, giving everyone the benefit of your views,’ laughs Nick.
I ask him what his favourite news story of the year is: ‘I had a marvellous time riding the Emirates Air Line with Boris Johnson. I’d been teasing him for months that nobody rode the thing and he’d wasted millions of pounds. In the end I challenged him to do Ask Boris [a monthly phone-in LBC show that gives listeners the chance to put their questions to the Mayor of London] live from the cable car. It was hilarious. He effectively spent all of his time waving at people and posing for pictures. You could actually count the number of people riding the cable car. I think during the 45 minutes he was on air with me about 11 people got on it. I worked out the cost per passenger at about £2.5million. It was one of the highlights of the year for me.’
His joy in teasing public figures and tenacity as a journalist are what makes Nick a great spokesperson. Blackheath, you’re in for a treat when he takes to the mic for the lights switch-on. We’ll see you there!
10am-4pm: Blackheath Winter Wonderland at The Conservatoire, in conjunction with John Payne. Plus, Santa’s grotto at The Age Exchange (£5 per child)
11am: The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery parades through the village, from Wemyss Road up to the Conservatoire and back down through Royal Parade
11am-11.30pm: Music by the Tommy Mizen acoustic group at The Crown pub
2pm & 3pm: Blackheath Morris Dancers perform on The Crown forecourt
2.30pm-3.30pm: Children’s lantern making at The Conservatoire (£3 per lantern), to be paraded through the village at 4pm
2pm-4pm: Musical performances on the Blackheath Halls forecourt with free tea and coffee
3pm-5pm: The Salvation Army Brass Band performs at the triangle where Montpelier Vale and Tranquil Vale meet
4.30pm: Nick Ferrari switches on the lights alongside Heidi Alexander (Labour MP for Lewisham East), the Mayor of Greenwich and Father Nicholas Cranfield of All Saints’ Church
For further information see blackheathvillageday.co.uk