‘We just kept going!’ – Landlord of London’s most festive pub talks to us about how they got the title
With 97 Christmas trees and over 21,500 lights inside and out it is hard to believe that a pub could get any more festive.
But the final touches are yet to be put on the Churchill Arms in Kensington, known as London’s most festive pub.
It all started 26 years ago with ten trees on the front of the pub, and was so well received they just had to put up more trees, said general manager James Keogh, 54.
He said: “We just kept going up, we went all the way up to the chimney! And then we had to come back down and do some more on street level.”
Originally from Newcastle West in Ireland, his first job was barman at the Churchill Arms 31 years ago.
He has now been general manager here for four-and-a-half years and took over as landlord officially last year.
He was the mastermind behind the extravagant decorations and when he greets me in a flashing Christmas jumper you can tell he really does loves Christmas.
He is keen to point out the important little details. The Christmas arch that goes over the door with Merry Christmas in bright lights (which is great for selfies he assures me) and the letter box to Santa where local kids post their letters, which James said he makes sure to post.
Their switch-on event has become a big event, with mince pies, mulled wine and carol singing which everyone can join.
They put the decorations up in the third week of December and are leaving them up until the second week of January to make sure everyone gets a chance to see it.
Taking nearly three weeks to put up, this is quite an undertaking as the displays get grander and grander every year. They’ve gone from 30 trees in 2004 to more than 90 just on the outside this year.
So why do it? “People that come back always notice something different, giving them another thing to look forward to is really important,” said James.
“We keep adding and adding to it and breaking new records. It’s more beautiful with more lights.
“It is a lot of work and money but what it does for the business is unbelievable.”
With something like this there is no doubt that social media as played a part in their success. James is very aware of the importance of Instagram even for those people who just take photos and do not come in to the pub.
He said: “Even with people just taking photos and coming that is still free advertising for us. It puts us on the map and encourages more people to come here so I don’t get annoyed when people just take photos.”
And why would he? He has been featured on ITV, Sky, ABC News and in the Telegraph, Evening Standard and the Metro.
They’ve had visitors from all over the world, from America and Australia and up and down the UK to see the most festive pub in London.
But although the publicity is good, nothing can beat having a busy pub over Christmas.
“I love working through Christmas not just because the pub is busy, the atmosphere is great and everyone is enjoying festivities,” James said.
“Christmas is so beautiful and magical and it makes it extra special, makes them feel really happy.
“They come in and tell you that they are so grateful it is just amazing and so beautiful haven’t seen it anywhere else.”
He is already thinking about next year’s lights and can’t wait to get up to the hundred tree mark.
There are even hints of a Polar Express theme where a train goes round the outside.