A Brief History Of “The UK Christmas Number One” – Part 2


Welcome back to Part 2, as its beginning to look even more like Christmas.

Its time for the main man…..

Cliff Richard
1988 – Mistletoe and Wine
1990 – Saviour’s Day

For a while, Cliff was Mr. Christmas. He’d already taken the honours in 1960 with I Love You, but that wasn’t a Christmas song. It took a while for him to get with the festive theme. His Christian faith has always been important to him, and a big part of his public persona.

Both of these songs had that at their core. Christian contemporary pop isn’t a genre that features in the British top 40 – but we make an exception for Cliff.

He did get another, sort of, Christmas #1 in 1999 with The Millennium Prayer singing The Lords Prayer to the music of Auld Lang Syne.

Just let that sink in for a moment….

At time of writing some wit has listed Jesus as one of the songwriters on Wikipedia – not sure who his royalties go to.

Your mileage may definitely vary on this one. EMI, his record label of 40 years refused to release it, airplay was next to non-existent and its since been regularly found near the top of lists of the worst songs ever. Despite that it found an audience. It peaked too early though, it spent three weeks at the top and was there Christmas morning but with the new chart announced that afternoon he was usurped by Westlife to be the actual Christmas #1.

Mr. Blobby
1993 – Mr. Blobby

A decade since the last novelty reigned supreme, Mr. Blobby struck back with extreme prejudice. The context; Noel’s House Party was primetime Saturday night TV. One of the features was Noel’s “Gotchas,” where presenter Noel Edmonds would prank celebrities in a Candid Camera style. Which is where Mr Blobby came in, featuring in a number of Gotchas as a large pink blob covered in yellow spots. He was a blundering children’s entertainment character designed to drive the celebrities to distraction.

Despite being hugely irritating with a vocabulary that largely consisted of saying “Blobby” or when very excited: “Blobby blobby blobby,” he turned out to be so popular he was promoted to a regular character on the House Party.

Lack of vocabulary wasn’t a hindrance. Riding high on his popularity, someone with a deep hatred of music created this single. It veers from a kids nursery rhyme style, the backing replete with farting squelches to generic 90s dance music. And: a children’s choir. Before a soulful female singer attempts to inject some musicality. Meanwhile Mr. Blobby says “Blobby” a lot.

In 1995 Mr. Blobby tried to repeat the trick with Christmas in Blobbyland. By now everyone was sick of the big pink rubber catastrophe and it peaked at 36.

Spice Girls
1996 – 2 Become 1
1997 – Too Much
1998 – Goodbye

The Spice Girls went all Beatles with three in a row. None of them had anything to do with Christmas, but their annual festive ballad cashed in on their popularity, and took advantage of the Christmas sales boost. It all got a bit too classy. But fortunately they split up in time for a real star to shine…

Bob The Builder
2000 – Can We Fix It?

A message of real hope and optimism for the new millennium from Bob. The call and response; “Can we fix it?” “Yes we can!” sets out a vision of how with a little help from our friends we can overcome any problem. Or at least get the patio laid on time and on budget. 

Bob was a big star and the kids went crazy for his theme tune. It wasn’t just Christmas #1, it was the biggest selling single of 2000 and sits proudly in the top 100 all time sales.

He was so popular that a follow up cover of Mambo No. 5 also went to #1. Sadly, the pop star life went to Bob’s head, and it took until 2008 to get back in the studio for the Never Mind the Breeze Blocks album. Despite the genius punning work, the new rave direction of single Big Fish Little Fish couldn’t recreate the magic and limped to #81 bringing an end to his singing career.

At least he had a trade to fall back on.

Michael Andrews & Gary Jules
2003 – Mad World

The positivity of Bob had dissipated. Britain decided that just like 1979 when Pink Floyd brought down the mood: it was time for a miserable Christmas.

It took a year from its US release for Donnie Darko to hit cinemas here in October 2002. It quickly built a word of mouth cult following. That only spread with its DVD release, and along the way, the stripped back gloom of this cover of Tears For Fears’ Mad World took on the same cult status.

What better soundtrack to the disappointment of opening your presents, and finding another pair of bloody socks and a tube of toothpaste… (who wraps up toothpaste as a Christmas present?! My mum, that’s who)

…than the message that; “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had”.

It wasn’t supposed to be #1. The Darkness were coming off a big year with their debut album. Their effort, Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) was the short-priced favourite. But it lost out to Mad World by just 5,000 copies. One of which was down to me, the only Christmas #1 I’ve ever bought.

And then: things got a little duller:

As reality killed the Christmas single.

2005 – Shayne WardThat’s My Goal
2006 – Leona LewisA Moment Like This
2007 – Leon JacksonWhen You Believe
2008 – Alexandra BurkeHallelujah
2010 – Matt CardleWhen We Collide
2013 – Sam BaileySkyscraper
2014 – Ben HaenowSomething I Need

The legend of the Christmas #1 becomes tarnished as a series of X-Factor winners got their big moment with a series of ballads that suck the joy out of the season.  Shayne at least got an original song but after that it was cover versions all the way as Simon Cowell perfected the formula reducing the #1 race to a foregone conclusion.

The X-Factor series finale was scheduled for maximum effect so that the winners debut would be ready for release the last week before Christmas. Seven of the next 10 years, the formula worked.

Which bred some discontent…

Rage Against The Machine
2009 – Killing In The Name Of

Getting irked by Simon Cowell’s iron grip on the charts, Facebook campaigns struck up trying to stop them. And in 2009 they achieved it -by promoting this expletive laden f*ck you as the ideal alternative.

Simon Cowell played the pantomime villain in the media complaining about how unfair it was on his latest protege; Joe McElderry. In private though, he contacted the organisers behind the campaign who said that he was very gracious about it.

It worked out OK for Joe, too as they swapped places the next week – so he still got his #1.

RATM accepted their role as bulwark against tedium with good grace. They gave the proceeds of their unlikely success to homeless charity Shelter, and played a free open air gig in summer 2010 in London for 90,000 fans as a thank you.

One unsurprising element of the story: The band appeared on daytime BBC Radio to provide a rendition but were asked to please omit the line “f*ck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” There’s a clue in the line as to how well they received the request. Zack de la Rocha managed to deliver the offending line four times before the live feed was pulled and an apology issued. Fast forward to the last minute if you want instant gratification…

Military Wives with Gareth Malone
2011- Wherever You Are

Here we are at the charity years, which makes things difficult for your correspondent. They supported some very worthy causes (and they at least made a change from X-Factor alumni.) But musically? Not my kind of thing. “Dull but worthy” comes to mind.

This was spun off a TV show in which choirmaster Gareth Malone worked with the partners of servicemen on duty in Afghanistan, heading to the goal of a performance at the Royal Albert Hall on Remembrance Day. The lyrics are excerpts of letters between the women and their partners set to music.

The Justice Collective
2012 – He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother

The Hollies classic got the Band Aid treatment with an all star cast, in support of the legal costs for families affected by the ongoing campaign to hold the police and authorities to account for the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans died. Organised by Peter Hooton of The Farm with a scouse (that’s a Liverpool native to you) core that featured Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden, Mel C of The Spice Girls, Holly Johnson along with members of The Hollies, Elton John, Shane McGowan and many more.

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir
2015 – A Bridge Over You

The X-Factor regained control for two final years before a case of déjà vu. Another choir that had featured on a Gareth Malone TV show in 2012. This was first released in 2013 without making any impact. But a Facebook campaign in 2015 put it into the race for Christmas #1.

Justin Bieber was the favourite for the accolade with Love Yourself and part way through the week was a few hundred sales ahead. But in an altruistic gesture, he tweeted his support for his rivals effort.

As for the song, you may be thinking there’s a vague familiarity to that title, and you’d be right. Its a mash up of Bridge Over Troubled Water and Coldplay’s Fix You.

Having achieved its aim, the single claimed a record for the biggest drop from #1 in the following week as it fell to #27 before disappearing completely the following week. 

A sign of things to come for the ultimate modern purveyor of Christmas #1s…

2018 – We Built This City
2019 – I Love Sausage Rolls
2020 – Don’t Stop Me Eatin’
2021 – Sausage Rolls For Everyone with Elton John and Ed Sheeran

Enter the husband and wife team of Mark and Roxanne that is LadBaby. What started as a one joke paean to the pastry goodness of a sausage roll has extended into a series of one joke releases. Take a well known song, rewrite the lyrics in a humorous style to reflect said baked goods, amend the title to a sausage roll based pun, and off you go.

Never mind that Mark’s voice is, how shall I put this? Limited. Its all for a good cause; The Trussell Trust who run food banks for those in crisis and in need of emergency support.

Over four years they’ve taken advantage of the download era to match The Beatles record of four Christmas #1s. A social media campaign, the release timed so that it only becomes available the week before the Christmas chart is announced, with all emphasis on everyone buying it that week.

All four efforts went straight in at the top and all four dropped off a cliff the following week. Two fell straight into the 20s while the other two were outside the top 50 by their second week.

The 2022 Christmas #1 will be announced on 23rd December.

Such is their status that LadBaby are the favourites, despite only announcing on 11th December that they had a track ready for release on the 16th. Other than the fact it is as ever in aid of The Trussell Trust and is a cover of Do They Know Its Christmas? – featuring iconic music industry figures – nothing was known about it. All part of the plan: build anticipation and don’t give the terrible sausage roll puns time to get stale.

In truth: the fabled Christmas #1 isn’t what it used to be.

The same classic songs now come back year on year as streaming allows people to lean heavily into their nostalgia filled Christmas playlists.

In 2021, 29 of the top 40 in Christmas week were Christmas themed, whereas even in the years of Slade and Band Aid, there were normally only a handful. Almost all of them were songs that had been around for decades, with just the odd new effort at making a Christmas classic.

In the case of LadBaby it doesn’t even need to be a classic, just as long as it makes an impact for one crucial week.

Since the mid 00s, X-Factor, and now LadBaby have mined winning formulas – which is great for them… but means the excitement and variety to veer from glorious to ghastly has gone missing. How long LadBaby can keep it up before people get tired and the cycle moves on only time will tell.

Whatever the future, streaming means we’ll always have the past. 

Let the author know that you liked their post with a “heart” upvote!


Thank You For Your Vote!

Sorry You have Already Voted!

JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Famed Member
December 20, 2022 5:02 am

I guess I’d take the predictability of the same artist at the top over the predictability of the same record at the top. (Looking at you, AIWFCIY.) Thanks for this oddball collection!

Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
December 20, 2022 9:42 am

“Children waiting for the day they feel good, Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas…”

Its need for a slight lyrical tweak aside, Christmas #1s like that give me hope for the world. And the Rage pick! That was perfect.

Am I the only person who wants the Mr. Blobby song to be more annoying? Yes? Okay, I’ll go back to my corner.

Last time I lamented that Divine David never made it to the top, but the sausage roll theme for singles perhaps suggests that his influence proved consequential after all!

Famed Member
December 20, 2022 1:11 pm

The Decemberists’ “35 Military Wives”.

Famed Member
December 20, 2022 10:22 am

This is a pretty amazing! It’s crazy that such novelties can get to #1. I listened to the blobby song. I’m pretty pro-novelty and pro-children’s music, but that was a hard one to listen to (not helped by its video).

On the good side, now I know that Bob the Builder did a version of “Mambo No. 5”, and that makes me happy.

Good work, JJ!

Famed Member
December 20, 2022 10:47 am

An English friend gave me a “Sex & Drugs & Sausage Rolls” t-shirt for Christmas recently. I didn’t get it but I thought it was cute. After reading this, I thought it might be a LadBaby tie-in but I just looked it up and it’s someone else’s song about Scotland’s winning goal in 2003. Am I getting this right?

Regardless, I’ve never had a sausage roll but now it’s all I want for Christmas.

Famed Member
December 20, 2022 11:28 am

I’ll be there in March and will keep my eye open. Thanks for the tip!

And the growling stomach.

Famed Member
Online Now
December 20, 2022 12:52 pm

I needed to listen to RAM six times in a row to wash Mr. Blobby out of my ears. That was horrible.

Famed Member
Online Now
December 20, 2022 1:05 pm

I know it is a function of my age and physical location, but when I see The Farm, I think of a hippie commune community in Summertown, TN, that is somehow still functioning today.

Famed Member
December 20, 2022 1:25 pm

I like medical professionals.

I like the video for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir’s “A Bridge Over You”.

“Justin Bieber” and “mash-up” are in close proximity. Ex-YouTube star Julia Nunes(who is having a hard time transitioning into a singer-songwriter because she can’t shed her ukulele cover song past) combined Bieber’s “Baby” and “Where Did Our Love Go?” to surprisingly great effect.

Famed Member
December 21, 2022 11:23 pm

So good, JJ, totally had me cackling while reading it. 😆

I’ve recently come up with a theory on how bonkers songs do so well in England, and not just the Ladbaby’s of Christmas kind of bonkers either. Like Bob the Builder – songs disguised as kids songs but really are primarily for blokes getting pissed at the pub and letting their bonkers British humor flag wave proudly while having a singalong to Mr Blobby.

It’s a working theory, lol.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x