How a Wavertree firm came to decorate the Christmas tree in Manger Square, Bethlehem
PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 November 2015 | UPDATED: 12:11 03 November 2017
Mick Ryan Photography
Ged Comerford was having his hair cut in Liverpool when he received a telephone call that nearly made it stand on end. How would he feel about decorating the Christmas tree in Manger Square in Bethlehem?
He hadn’t been randomly selected - as director of operations at the Lancashire firm, Christmas Decorators, his festive season lasts for 364 days a year.
Its spectacular displays had already resulted in the Wavertree firm gaining an international reputation for its bespoke decorating service and this latest accolade put the star on top of the tree.
The firm was founded in 1999 by husband and wife team, Nick and Sarah Bolton, when they worked in America running a restaurant in the Rocky Mountain ski resort of Aspen. They made such a good job of decorating it at Christmas that a local hotel asked them to sprinkle the same magic for them. They did and singer Mariah Carey was so impressed that she asked them to decorate her home.
Word soon got about and, before long, the Boltons were decorating houses and trees for A-listers such as Kirk Russell, Goldie Hawn, Kevin Costner and Stephen Spielberg. When they returned home there was no reason to stop and now the company has 20 offices dotted around the UK.
They haven’t lost links with their original customers but today, they also look after British celebrities like Jason Manford, Sharon Osborne and Wayne and Coleen Rooney, who declared themselves, ‘chuffed’ with the result. Footballer Phil Neville and his wife opted for blue and white lights and had fifty miniature trees lining the drive of their Lancashire home.
Some people have more unusual requests, like the London cosmetic dentist who wanted all his Christmas tree baubles to be made from 22ct gold, and a business leader who wanted, once the decorations were complete, to have a full Dickensian choir to sing outside his home.
Another wealthy client wanted to delight his new wife by having Santa bring her gifts on a sleigh complete with six reindeers. Nothing fazes them and whether the client is aristocracy, a celebrity, rich or an average working family, they pride themselves on making the dream a reality.
It’s not just domestic customers though - they have many British and European corporate clients including hotels, shopping malls and town centres. They were even asked to dress Europe’s largest tree at Neumunster in Germany and they also decorate 16 military bases in England. There were so many compliments from soldiers that the team was asked to go out to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan which they gladly did.
So, maybe not such a shock then when Ged received that call at the hairdressers? ‘Well, I don’t know about that,’ Ged admitted. ‘I thought someone was playing a joke at first but luckily I tumbled to the fact that it was genuine before hanging up.’
When Ged brought the news back to Wavertree there was, unsurprisingly, a lot of excitement.‘I think we all felt that this was the pinnacle. We have undertaken lots of fantastic commissions but being asked to decorate the most iconic Christmas tree in the world takes some beating,’ he said.
‘Of course, when all the excitement had died down, we had to gulp and give it some serious thought. Apart from the fact that it would be seen by millions on television worldwide, the honour of decorating a tree in Manger Square was felt by all of us. There may even have been a tear or two.’
The 55ft tree stands only a short distance from where Jesus is said to have been born and if there is one tree that has to be just right, this is it. ‘If it wasn’t for that event, we wouldn’t have a business,’ jokes Ged.
So a team of six wise men and women, led by Ged, arrived in Palestine to undertake the biggest decorating task of their lives. They didn’t arrive empty handed, bringing with them 40,000 lights and 6, 500 baubles.
‘We had a team of Palestinian volunteers and we all worked really well together, and they quickly got a grip on our Liverpudlian accents. Luckily, none of us suffered from a fear of heights, as we had to use cherry pickers to scale the tree and to put up the lights around the square,’ says Ged.
They may not have had a fear of heights but they couldn’t help but feel a heart leap when the countdown to switching the lights began.
‘It’s always a moment when I hold my breath,’ he said. ‘My biggest fear is that they will fail to light up. With the Palestinian Prime Minister leading the count, thousands of pilgrims in Manger Square and millions more watching around the world, I guess you could say the pressure was just that little bit more intense,’ says Ged.
But as always, and to the delight of everyone, the lights came on and the world cheered. The team from Liverpool had worked their magic but for Ged, the Bethlehem tree was to work a little bit of extra Christmas magic just for him.
‘The BBC had been following our adventure and one night, an old girlfriend, whom I hadn’t seen for decades, saw me on screen. She got in touch and we fell in love all over again. Now, we’re planning our wedding,’ said Ged.
So,what next for The Christmas Decorators?
‘Who knows,’ he said. ‘But if I get a call from The White House when I’m having my hair cut, I’m taking it seriously,’
The Christmas Decorators are set to be the subject of a Channel 4 documentary called 'Scousers in a Manger' which will follow the planning and delivery of the project of lighting up Bethlehem Square in time for Christmas 2017.