Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's Christmas lights celebrities 'are just embarrassing'

By Lesley-Anne Henry

An Ulster Unionist has been branded a Grinch after putting forward a proposal to cancel Christmas.

During a meeting of Belfast City Council last night Councillor Davy Brown claimed that Northern Ireland's largest local authority was being turned into a "laughing stock" by hiring Z-list celebrities for its annual Christmas lights switch-on.

"I feel the switching-on ceremony has become an embarrassment," he told the packed chamber.

"Unless we spend £1m and bring Take That or somebody of that status over, I think it does make us a complete laughing stock.

"We see Mickey Mouse councils bringing far superior people over and I think it's a total waste of money."

But Mr Brown's proposal failed to win any support.

Referring to Mr Brown, Gavin Robinson of the DUP said: "Tonight has been pathetically negative and I hope nobody will buy into the spirit of the Grinch."

In recent years the council has spent thousands of pounds booking cartoon characters such as Bob the Builder and Angelina Ballerina to lead the ceremony at the front of City Hall.

This year members have agreed to spent £138,000 on the switch-on event which will take place on Saturday, November 19.

It will coincide with the opening of the Christmas Continental Market and a range of other activities organised by the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce and Belfast City Centre Management.

However, Mr Brown wanted to slash the amount being spent to around £20,000 and re-invest the cash elsewhere. "What do the people of this city get for £100,000 on that night?" he said. "A few lucky bags or something? I propose we reduce that to £20,000."

While he didn't want to cancel Christmas, PUP veteran Hugh Smyth said the council should be pursuing big-name acts for the switch on event.

He said: "I think that the changes that have taken place over the years have been tremendous but we need to look at the people we are booking. We are booking theme people who wouldn't get a booking anywhere else.

"A few years ago we had a tribute group to the Beatles and I think they were paid about £35,000 - you could have got the original for that. I want to see a big star. We should be going for an A-grade star. We are up there with the major cities."

DUP development committee chairman Christopher Stalford said: "I think where it has been focussed on young children, wee dotes, it has become more positive. It's clearly catered for wee youngsters. It's a positive event."

Factfile

Previous celebrities who have turned on the Christmas lights:

2010 - Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford (above).

2009 - Bob the Builder.

2008 - X Factor finalists Same Difference and Scooby Doo.

2007 - X Factor star Shayne Ward and Zoe Salmon.

2006 - Former Atomic Kitten Liz McClarnon and Calum Best.

2005 - Former S Club Seven singer Rachel Stevens.

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