The Big Issue: What qualities does a Christmas song need to get on your Christmas album?
John Barrowman: There are a lot of great Christmas songs out there. Every song triggers an emotional connection and a memory. Be Thou My Vision is a Scottish hymn I sang in school as a kid in Glasgow. It represents my heritage, my family. Then on the other side of the spectrum, the silly, fun aspect of Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town has that feeling when you were a wee boy or girl like, AAAAAHHHHH, you can’t get to sleep. It sounds like I’m Tigger bouncing off walls.
You live in Palm Springs now. Does Christmas feel like Christmas in California?
You will know it’s Christmas when you come to my house no matter if it’s sunny California or rainy, snowy Scotland. There’s a huge five-foot red and green wreath with a gold ribbon that sparkles and shines on our front wall. I have blow-up figures dotted around the garden. I’m putting a nativity scene up on the roof, because we’re near the airport and I want people when they take off or land to be able to see.
Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas in the UK if you’re not performing panto somewhere with The Krankies.
I love that you said that. The Krankies were here last week in Palm Springs and we had a great few days together and we talked about that. It’s not really up to us, it’s up to being asked and brought back by a company that wants us. Of course we would consider it.
I bet The Krankies give fandabidozi Christmas presents.
I mean, I’ve given Janette [Tough] a figurine that looks like [her character] Wee Jimmy but it’s more about being together. One of the great things we used to do at the end of the shows on Christmas Eve was stand and hold hands, and with the audience sing Silent Night. Janette and I could not get through the song because we would look at each other and be in tears. That’s why the song is on the album.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
You have also added a twist on a duet with last year’s I’m A Celebrity co-star Emily Atack, where it’s you who is caught kissing Santa Claus.
We have to do that. Why don’t we represent more of who we are now in society? You can still listen to the original version but for the kids that have maybe two dads or two mums, or a single dad, it doesn’t matter who you are, they can still kiss Santa Claus. There’s nothing sexual or weird about it. It’s giving Santa Claus a kiss. Taking all of the religious things out, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of a child. Celebrating love, happiness and community.
And Christmas songs should reflect that community better?
That’s absolutely right. This has been a passion project of mine because for so many years, I have felt like I haven’t been able to – I’m just going to say this – go to a church and celebrate that type of Christmas. Not every church and community is like this but there are aspects of it where people don’t feel welcome. If two dads or two mums or a trans couple walked in with their kids, in some places they would get shunned. And that’s just bullshit. That person who was born on Christmas Day was about bringing people together. And if you forget that because you’re stuck up with your own prejudices, then that is not my kind of Christmas. So reclaim it. We don’t have to go into a building to celebrate this, a place that represents something that is alien to lot of people. Let’s take back control of Christmas.
A Fabulous Christmas by John Barrowman is out now on Decca Records