Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 627

12 1 DECEMBER 2022 News&Views David Baddiel is talking to Weekend on the day his son Ezra turns 18. (Don’t worry, he’s at school – we haven’t gatecrashed his birthday party.)With his daughter Dolly now 21, it means that one of Britain’s bestselling children’s authors – among many other things – is no longer a father to children himself. And with retreating childhood goes a fertile source of story ideas. “My first ever children’s book, The Parent Agency, came about because of Ezra asking: ‘Why doesn’t Harry Potter just run away from the Dursleys and find some better parents?’” recalls David. “That gaveme the idea for a world in which children can choose their parents. Now that he’s older, though, he has a slightly less innocent attitude to life. So his latest idea was quite a dark one, about Santa being a bit of a sleazebag, and getting involved in all sorts of terrible conspiracy theories. I thought: ‘That’s not really going to work for a kids’ book.’ But it gaveme an idea for a story in which Christmas had gone wrong, but in a verymodern way.” The result, Virtually Christmas – the 58-year-old comedian and author’s 14th novel, and his 10th for children – tells the story of Etta Baxter, a young girl in the near future who dreams of a traditional Christmas like the ones her late grandma used to tell her about. Aworld of snow and baubles and rubbish cracker jokes – as opposed to the world she lives in, where the entire festive season is controlled by tech giant Winterzone, with its holographic ‘Santavatars’ and presents delivered by drones instead of reindeer. As well as being a funny, exciting and heartwarming festive tale for children, the book is clearly designed as a pointed satirical sideswipe at our increasingly digital lives. “At the heart of it is quite an old-fashioned idea about the commercialisation of Christmas,” says David. “But Christmas is also about community, so if everything becomes about screens andmechanisation, you risk losing that proper togetherness. It becomes a sort of illusion.” But wait, all hope’s not lost – when a familiar-looking delivery guy turns up at her door in a red uniform, Etta thinks shemight have found her chance to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. In real life, of course, cramming that particular genie back into the bottlemight bemore di cult… “True – though the perfect version of Christmas probably never existed,” reflects David. “I hanker after the idea because I’mJewish, so we didn’t celebrate Christmas when I was younger. I used to sit around on Christmas Day, thinking there’s this fantastic party going on that we’re not invited to. Whereas in real life, it was probably lots of people arguing with relatives and falling asleep in front of the telly.” As an adult, festivemagic has sometimes proved elusive, too. In 2014, David’s mother died suddenly five days before Christmas, and the following year involved a dash to A&E after his wife, comedian and actress (and voice of Peppa Pig’s mum) Morwenna Banks, severed her finger. But he’s still a fan of the season, which the family spends inMorwenna’s native Cornwall. And this year, there’s a strong chance he’ll be providing the soundtrack to all our Christmases, having teamed up with old pals Frank Skinner and Ian (Lightning Seeds) Broudie for a festivemakeover of their terrace classic Three Lions, in honour of the winterWorld Cup in Qatar. “It was Ian who was pushing it most strongly,” says David. “He said: ‘TheWorld Cup’s at Christmas for the first – and probably only – time in our lives. Which is a bit weird, and there’s all sorts of not great reasons why it’s at Christmas. But Ian was very keen to see how he couldmake the song Christmassy, with sleigh bells and a kids’ choir, or whatever. Some and Frank decided, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it properly, and write new lyrics that are Christmassy. It begins with us celebrating the Lionesses’ win,” he explains, of that glorious moment in July when football finally did come home, “but we’re worried about the blokes’ team. “Then Frank has this inspiration that maybe it will be di erent, because it’s Christmas.” AChristmas miracle? “Exactly. It’s quite sweet, and quitemoving, actually, because it’s about football, but it’s also about survival, and time. Particularly the video, which suggests we’re still living in the same flat we were in 1996. The video’s exactly the same, except we’remuch older in it. I could hardly watch it without welling up, because it feels tome like a song, and a film, about howme and Frank and Ian are still friends.” Though David and Frank don’t still live together, they do live in the same street in north London. “He could probably hear me now if I shout,” says David. There’s something rather lovely about their enduring bromance, suggests Weekend. “Yeah,” smiles David. “I think there’s a part of the British public – and possibly a part of me and Frank – that likes to imagine us sharing a bed, likeMorecambe andWise.” The original Three Lions was spun out of the pair’s Fantasy THREE LIONS, As he launches an assault on the Christmas book and pop charts, David Baddiel tells Paul Kirkley about his many accidental careers ONE SANTA