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As a working mother, I simultaneously long for and dread Christmas.
There's always so much to do and so little time.
MUSIC: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
I'm Alex Polizzi, hotelier and businesswoman.
And I'm inviting you into my own home as I look for ways
to transform it for Christmas.
Like all of us, I have my own traditions,
but I'm no queen of craft.
This year is my baby son's first Christmas,
so I'm searching out quick, inspirational ways
to create something extra special.
-I love it.
-Oh, no, it's very restrained! I mean, come on.
I want a Christmas fix.
So I'm asking for help from the people who set the gold standard for festive display.
'From present wrapping...'
It's not looking great. It's looking awful.
'..to setting the table and lighting.'
I bring you Christmas!
Inspired by their five-star methods,
I'm elevating my decor from standard to spectacular.
And you can, too.
I'll share easy, surprisingly inexpensive styling tips.
The humble paperclip - the most useful decorating tool
in my extensive armoury.
I'll discover that by shopping smartly
and by using things you already own
it's possible to decorate your home to the most exacting standards
without breaking the bank... or your back.
I'm preparing my home for my family and guests this Christmas.
Never mind about the food and drink,
for me it's all about setting the scene for gorgeous festivities.
Which means luxurious embellishment from top to toe.
I want the Christmas excitement to begin at the doorway,
where I want to create a warm welcome for my guests.
Inside, I'm also looking for a way to make my banisters festive.
In the living room, a beautifully dressed tree is the bare minimum.
But this year I'm hoping to sprinkle some decorative fairy dust
over the rest of the room, too.
And as we sit down to Christmas lunch,
I'd like to create a table that will do the turkey proud.
First things first, the outside.
Winter nights cry out for illumination and sparkle.
I urgently need some inspiration for stylish lighting.
I absolutely love Christmas lights.
They make me feel as if everything's right with the world.
I want to create this feeling at home,
and I can't think of anyone better to inspire me
than the people who turn our streets into a sparkling wonderland.
But creating this gorgeousness is as much about practicality
The team at James Glancy Designs work through the night for weeks
in the run-up to Christmas in order to scatter our streets with magic.
Yeah, down a bit. Yeah.
Right. Down your end.
Plug it in.
Yay! Lovely, boys. Thank you very much.
This spectacular snow scene is one of 60 schemes
they've installed this year.
They're experts in the secrets of commercial lighting.
I hope they can illuminate me about the domestic side.
MUSIC: "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas"
You know the old snowfall that we've got? What would be great...
Paul Dart is creative director,
responsible for all the company's designs.
He lights the streets of Britain,
and what he doesn't know about lighting isn't worth knowing.
-Very nice to meet you.
-And you, too.
-Thank you so much.
Welcome to the madness of it all.
To the cornucopia of Christmas.
Ah, you could put it like that. Yes.
This room full of festive lights and objects past, present and future
is Paul's ideas laboratory.
I love this star here. It's absolutely gorgeous.
Well, that was just an idea of how you could make a star read as a star.
Is it like this all year round?
Oh, yes. Yes, no, this never changes.
Christmas comes round every year. We start in January.
-You start in January?
-As soon as it starts to come down, we start talking about next year.
This place is packed with gorgeous things,
which I hope will help me work out my plans at home.
So, this is really more your sort of modernist idea of Christmas...
-I love it!
-..using lots of colour.
We call these su sticks but actually they're just fluorescent tubes
with colour round them. And then we've just made a ceiling
of just moving discs of reflective material.
-It makes me feel very Christmassy already.
-Good. Well, so it should.
Street schemes like this are a magical part of modern Christmas.
They're a relatively recent addition to the festive landscape,
first appearing in Britain just 60 years ago.
The excitement in 1954 when Regent Street's first festive lights were switched on
was so great that the House of Lords tried to sue those responsible
for causing chaos and obstruction.
Fashions may have changed over the years
but the magic and glitz of city centre lights remain a crucial part
of building anticipation for Christmas.
I'm not planning on building any 12-foot snowflakes at home,
but the problem I always have with lighting is how to fix it in place
without covering my house in sticky tape.
Up close and personal with one of Paul's full-size designs,
I'm going to be let in on a solution.
-..doing the hard work
of translating my madness into reality.
Paul and Romy introduce me
to their simple method of fastening anything to anything.
-The magic of the cable tie.
This plastic strap is the fixing of choice that holds all these decorations together.
Just get the end of your cable tie
and put it through the wires of the lights. That's right. At the end.
Make sure you find the right bit of the cable tie...
That's very important.
-No, I think that will be just about fine.
Then we bring on the cutters and snip...
And so you can snip right, right at the end?
-Yes, because we don't want to see the cable tie.
And you need to do another 3,500 of those very quickly.
Safe, cheap and disposable,
I'm definitely adding these to my shopping list!
But I want to pick Paul's brain for more ideas to add pizzazz
to my home this Christmas.
How do you start when you're planning something?
What are you trying to create in the eyes of the viewer?
A moment of unadulterated joy.
I want that moment when your mum switched on your first Christmas tree
and you had that transporting moment.
I can still feel it now, weirdly enough,
of... It's joy.
-So, you do this all year round, think about Christmas.
What do you do at home?
I do an awful lot.
Show me some pictures.
-Well, this is the front room a few years ago.
And that was white on white with lots of crystal and pearl
-and all those sort of things.
-That's over the top. I love it.
No, it's terribly... It's very restrained.
I mean, come on.
I mean, surely everybody does this?
People always forget the things that you should decorate.
Always the mantelpiece, always the mirror.
-Don't forget curtain rails.
-Mantelpiece... Curtain rails.
-Always remember front door.
-Yes, of course.
The key for this is actually finding your fixings.
You need somewhere to actually fix all these things.
Christmas trees... Find the top of your cornice, put in a nail
and wire your tree back to the wall so it can't fall forward.
-I love that idea.
-Because, obviously when you're decorating it,
you put all the decorations on the front.
It becomes front heavy, it's likely to fall towards you.
Other trick is get a piece of ply cut
-to the very top shape of your fireplace.
And that means then you can hammer, screw, staple gun...
-Go for gold.
-I love that idea.
And put something heavy on it to stop the whole lot falling forward.
And lighting is key, key, key.
-I know. My mother, who is an absolute purist...
She only ever uses white lights, and so do I.
-I think you're both right.
-Oh, good! Thank you.
Paul has been completely inspiring.
There's so many ideas that I've got now,
I'm going home fizzing.
I'm having to rethink my whole lighting theme
because since seeing Paul I've realised that I've made a mistake all these years.
I've never decorated a doorway, and it is, after all,
the first thing my guests will see when they arrive at my house.
I've seen lots of natural-looking decorations around,
so I'm having a go at constructing an illuminated branch to hang in my porch.
I have some battery-operated lighting
and I'm going to cable-tie it onto this rather fine twig.
The better the twig, the better the end effect.
Battery lights are the Christmas decorator's best friend -
I don't have to run a cable through my letter box
or work out how to power them.
You can buy sets with cable of almost any colour.
I'm using black, so it blends into the branch.
So, I am attaching the battery-operated light
with some black cable ties.
Paul's favourite cable ties,
like everything I'm using here, are inexpensive and easy to source.
You can get them all from DIY stores or a stationer's.
The humble paperclip, the most useful decorating tool
in my extensive armoury.
Not really. I mean, this is the only thing I ever use.
It's a quick and easy way to attach any Christmas decoration to anything.
I'm adding a selection of sparkly decorations
which will reflect the lights.
I am far from the queen of craft.
I'm absolutely useless at doing anything like this.
But even I am capable of attaching a few battery-operated lights
and some decorations to a bit of twig.
This has taken only minutes to put together.
And fixing it in position won't be hard either.
I'm going to attach this with an expanding shower-curtain pole.
I know - hardly glamorous. But highly effective.
But this alone won't be enough for my doorway.
This year, to really pull out the stops,
I want to have a wreath as well.
But if, like me, you haven't got time to make one from scratch,
it's quicker and easier to customise an artificial one.
Using pliers, cut short lengths of garden wire.
Put a set of outdoor-rated battery lights on top of the wreath.
Adjust until you're happy with how they look.
Then wire into position, twisting and folding the ends
so that there are no points sticking out.
Turn the wreath over
and fasten in a hook so you can hang it up.
Then fix the battery packs in place.
Make sure you can get to the switches
so you can turn them on and off when it's on your door.
Thread 10cm lengths of ribbon on to baubles
which match your colour scheme.
Tie on with a simple knot.
Repeat the process with a set of reindeer bells,
which will jingle gently as you open your front door.
Cut rosemary or other long-lasting greenery
into 10cm to 15cm lengths
and tuck the cut ends into your wreath,
making sure the tips fan out in the same direction as the berries.
The rosemary should stay fresh for the 12 days of Christmas.
And next year you can re-use the wreath,
updating it by changing the colour of the baubles.
In the dark, my homespun efforts come to life, beaming out a welcome.
I'd like to continue this Nordic-inspired,
red theme right through my home.
Next up is my living room.
I think any reception room needs a couple of beautiful focal points.
The tree and a pile of lavish presents will be the main event.
But this year I also want to give my mantelpiece
a bit of decorative love.
So, in my ongoing hunt for decorating inspiration,
I'm heading to the high street,
to steal some of the secrets of festive display.
MUSIC: "White Christmas"
Shop window displays are always so enticing at Christmas.
They really are the art of decoration at its best.
And they do what they're supposed to, which is persuade me
to spend, spend, spend.
And for me, the ultimate Christmas windows are at Fortnum & Mason,
London's oldest department store.
Their preparation is one of retail's most closely guarded secrets.
Head of Visual Presentation, Paul Symes, and his team
spend months planning and long nights installing them.
I'm just doing the final pieces now.
Just putting the icing on the cake,
making sure that everything is straight, everything is clean,
everything is perfect.
Lavish window displays like this have been parting customers
from their Christmas cash since the 1800's,
when the advent of expensive plate glass and street lighting
meant that windows and streets were lit,
making it safe for people to roam city streets at night.
Window shopping was free for all.
For the rich, it was an opportunity
to size up the best Christmas presents.
For the poor, it was an intriguing insight
into how the other half lived.
The 1950's consumer boom saw shop windows flooded with gifts,
toys and technology
as big department stores vied for custom
with the most extravagant windows.
And that tradition continues today.
These Christmas windows are a festive institution,
and this year they are populated by cherubs,
and an enticing selection of cakes, crystal and silver...
..as well as a series of tableaux illustrating Christmas dreams.
It's an explosion of festive decorative imagination -
just what I need to give me ideas for my living room.
Under cover of darkness,
I've been granted a privileged glimpse behind the scenes.
-Pleased to meet you.
-Thank you so much.
It looks absolutely amazing in here.
The inside of the store hasn't been forgotten.
Paul's team also decorates dozens of chandeliers...
and 50 Christmas trees.
They seem to know their way around a bauble or two.
I'm still deciding how to dress MY tree,
so I want to know how Paul decides on his colour scheme.
What colours did you use last year for interest? Can you remember?
We used a lot of gold and a lot of reds,
-because it goes with the carpet.
We do tend to be more traditional. A couple of years ago
-we did burlesque, so we had...
-I remember that.
-..female mannequins with feathers.
-I remember that.
-We used pinks.
We're not always reds, golds and greens.
You have to decorate for your, in your case, your client base,
and in my case for the kind of family
-that I have around me at Christmas. Yes?
-Very much so.
I'm not sure I want MY tree to look this traditional,
but I do want to understand how to achieve
this lavish, richly decorated look.
Kelsey and Faye are responsible for dressing the veritable forest in the store.
Each Christmas tree is studded with more than 250 baubles,
as well as swathes of lights and ribbon.
You two must be Paul's ribboners. Hi, good evening.
How many do you do of these a night?
We've got 28 to do tonight.
Oh, my gosh. I bet you've got a double espresso inside you!
You're going to get sick of red and gold.
Yeah, I will, definitely.
When it comes to dressing a tree,
these two certainly know what they're doing.
Do you have any specific advice for me about decorating a tree
and how you get that kind of amazing impression of the richness of a tree?
-It's about getting depth, isn't it, with the baubles?
It's about looking into the tree.
A lot of people tend to put the baubles near the end
-whereas you need to put the bigger ones and stuff in to get the depth.
Also it doesn't have to be baubles, it can be anything.
You know, last year we used large acorns.
Really quite inexpensive. Fill a big space.
I think it's about adding different textures as well.
You can make it a bit more interesting.
-What are you doing this year at home?
-I haven't decided.
-Have you decided?
-What did you do last year?
-We'll get these out of the way.
I did mercury silver and wood.
Do you two have kids?
Do you let them help you decorate the tree?
Yes! I am not alone on this.
I always feel a bit mean about it, so I'm glad I'm not alone.
You're not alone, you're not alone at all.
My Christmas is unthinkable without a tree heaving with baubles and lights.
But this, like so many of our festive decorating traditions,
is a Victorian innovation.
In 1848 Queen Victoria, her family and their Christmas tree
appeared on the front of the London Illustrated News.
This German custom was quickly adopted by every self-respecting family.
The fashionable Victorian tree was decorated with flags,
and sugared almonds.
And every period since has stamped its own identity on the humble fir or spruce.
Advances in mass manufacturing gave the Edwardians metallic baubles and sparkle.
The first fake trees appeared in the 1930's
when brush manufacturers decided to branch out.
And cheap electricity and the petrochemical industry gave the 1960's
the fairy light, the plastic bauble
and tons of tinsel.
We also went crazy for craft.
Today we can take our pick from countless fashion trends,
from neon to Nordic,
traditional to trendy.
We spend in excess of £2.6 billion
each year on decorative baubles and bling.
MUSIC: "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm"
At home, I'm copying Paul's traditional colour scheme
of red and gold,
although I'm adding some glass and silver for a more modern look.
But even choosing the tree is problematic.
It is part of our whole ritual.
Our family ritual at Christmas is going and choosing a tree all together.
Arguing about what size it is, managing to get it home
without my husband's great fear of scratching the car's paintwork
and then assembling it with muttered curses.
This year I've chosen a rather bushy eight-foot fir.
This is a very soft tree. This is a fir rather than a spruce,
and although it does shed, it's a lot softer.
So... I've got a baby crawling around the floor this year
and I want to make sure he doesn't poke his eyes out.
This is a good way to do it.
I've already dressed it with lights,
carefully winding them from the top to the base.
I've even wound a set round the trunk in order to create sparkle
right from the centre of the tree to its tips.
You need way more lights than you ever think is possible.
There are over 2,000 bulbs on this tree
and you wouldn't believe it, would you?
They disappear into the greenery.
Following the advice of Kelsey and Faye,
I'm mixing up sizes and textures,
pushing some baubles right into the middle of the tree.
Once again, paperclips are the easiest and cheapest way
to secure any decoration.
And rather than splashing out on new ornaments,
I'm just adding a few extras.
These red baubles are the only new decorations I've bought this year.
I just bought a value pack from a supermarket -
a lot of baubles for a very small amount of money.
Everything else are decorations that I've collected over the years
and that I bring out with enormous affection
and remind me of all Christmases past.
Bulking out a few expensive decorations
with cheap shatterproof baubles is the best way to add substance
to your tree without spending a fortune.
Because more is always more when it comes to my tree.
I don't think you can ever put too much on a tree,
but if you did happen to do so, you could always take some off.
When I'm doing my tree,
I have one in mind that I'm always trying to emulate.
My grandmother's Christmas tree in her house
must have been at least I would say possibly
three times the size of this one. It was enormous.
I was also much smaller.
So, proportionally, it seemed amazing to me!
And then the combination of that with, you know,
the hundreds of presents underneath it,
that is still my favourite Christmas memory.
I dress my tree by eye, filling gaps as I go,
and no-one is allowed to touch it except me.
My daughter yesterday said, "I don't like the tree here.
"I like it in front of the window."
I said, "Well, that's something to look forward to, darling.
"When you have a house all of your own, you can put a tree wherever you like.
"But this is my house and my tree. Hands off!"
My family might not be allowed NEAR the tree,
but they all have a place ON it.
A couple of years ago I invested in all these ceramic hearts
and I wrote all the names of the current family members on.
There've been a few additions this year with marriages and births.
This will be my darling son's first Christmas.
Certainly, for me, Christmas is all about family,
and it's a time to be grateful for everyone who's around you
and it's also time to remember the ones who've gone.
The tree's complete, but the rest of the living room looks bare.
To elevate it to the decorative standards I've seen,
I need to try something new.
I have always wanted to decorate my Christmas mantelpiece
and never been quite sure how to do it.
But thanks to Paul Dart, whose idea I've adapted,
I'm giving it a go this year.
I've got a piece of plywood and I've got some matt tinsel as filler
and I'm wiring in some rosemary, so it's going to smell delicious
and also the real live stuff will be at the front.
I'm then going to hang some more baubles from it.
It'll be clamped to the mantelpiece
And all you'll get is a lovely Christmassy effect.
Attaching it is simple.
A couple of G clamps, bought at a DIY shop for a few pounds,
do the trick.
Using a batten like this means I don't have to damage my mantelpiece
with sticky tape or screws.
Once it's firmly in place, I push in rosemary to cover the tinsel
and disguise the clamps.
This will fragrance my home - and it looks rather pretty, too.
Tiny cup hooks hidden in the batten allow me
to suspend some of my favourite decorations.
You could use this method to hang stockings.
But be careful to keep all decorations away from real fires.
The mantelpiece itself needs light.
This year I'm giving a nod to my Roman heritage
with these home-made candleholders.
Buon Natale. Happy Christmas in Italian.
I've been collecting tins for ages to have a go at this.
Making them is something quick and easy to do at home.
Take some thoroughly clean tin cans.
Print out the letters or patterns you want as a guide.
Using a dry marker, copy them onto the tins.
Wearing safety gloves to protect your hands,
pierce holes in the tin every 5mm or so with a bradawl.
Follow the lines of your letter carefully.
Exert gentle, even pressure to avoid distorting the tin.
You can push back any dents in the tin with your thumb.
When complete, wipe off the remaining dry marker.
Add a candle. Use an electric version for safety,
but if you prefer to use a real one, spoon in a centimetre of dry sand,
which will stop the bottom of the tin heating up and marking your furniture.
Add a spoonful of scented oil,
a lit tea light
and these home-made decorations are complete.
But there's one Christmas tradition I just can't get to grips with.
The only thing I'm a bit "bah humbug" about is Christmas cards.
I don't know how display them.
I've thought of a million different ways and I hate all of them.
They end up cluttering up my lovely clean mantelpiece and my house.
But it seems I'm in the minority.
Sales of Christmas cards show no sign of slowing down.
Last year we sent over 800 million of them.
It's a love affair that began back in 1843
when public servant Henry Cole commissioned
the very first Christmas card...
featuring a rather boozy family scene.
Looks like my kind of Christmas.
Thanks to postal reform, Henry's card only cost a penny to post,
but it was very much a luxury item,
and the concept was slow to catch on.
It took 20 years for pre-printed Christmas cards to appear on the market
and early examples featured flowers and greenery
rather than snow and robins.
But by the 1870's the nation had well and truly caught the bug
and in 1881 the Postmaster General made the first appeal
to post early for Christmas.
Over the last 170 years
all kinds of weird and wonderful things
have been captured on our cards.
We celebrated the arrival of the motor car.
And Bleriot's 1909 flight across the Channel...
..while the 1950's
commemorated the appearance of the new-fangled television.
These trends and innovations have come and gone,
but our firm old festive favourites
show no signs of disappearing any time soon.
I'm willing to concede that I do find one use
for some of my more attractive cards.
Cutting them up to use as next year's gift tags
is a great way to embellish any present.
My grandfather always said that the best presents come in
the smallest packages, and so far, he's been proved to be right for me,
but even the meanest present can be 100% improved with clever wrapping.
# Santa baby slip a sable under the tree for me... #
I think I'm pretty good at wrapping,
but I want my presents to look extra special this year,
so I'm going to get trained up on the gold standard.
I'm meeting the doyenne of wrapping,
who's prepared gifts for everyone from royalty to rock stars.
Harrods draft her in to make sure their gift wrapping
looks immaculate, and today, Jane Means has agreed to let me in
on the trade secrets of top-notch wrapping.
Good morning, Jane.
Good morning, Alex.
-How are you?
-Great, thank you.
Thank you so much for showing me how to do this,
because I love Christmas and I'm obsessed with wrapping,
and you are the queen.
-You've come to the right place!
-OK. Where do we start?
'Jane begins by sizing up
'and cutting her paper with mathematical precision.'
If your scissors are really sharp,
you should be able to just glide up the paper like that.
'If your scissors are blunt, a few seconds spent cutting sandpaper
'will sharpen them up nicely.'
The key of getting professional wrapping, certainly for boxes,
is definitely double-sided tape.
I've never used double-sided tape.
I'm going to pop it at a very slight angle.
'Top of Jane's present-wrapping faux pas are visible tape
'and unsightly seams.'
The main thing is get it really tight,
and get that seam right on the edge.
That's not quite at the edge.
It's looking great.
These are quite big flaps. Would you fold them over?
Yep. A great little tip is to bring the flat part up here,
right at the middle of that little V.
It's easy to fold the paper back,
and then I've got a nice little line to work with,
and I just folder it under.
Hopefully, what will happen is you get it perfectly matching.
Ooh, look how pretty that is!
I'm the kind of person who usually wraps with a glass of wine in them.
But actually it's probably a good idea to be stone cold sober,
when you're doing it at this level.
'Once the ends are expertly folded
'and ready to stick down, Jane has a great way of using up remnants
'of her favourite paper
'to give her presents an inexpensive luxury twist.'
Bring the sides up, stick them down.
'Great ingenuity, but perhaps a sophistication too far for me.'
It's looking great.
Well, for a first go! I'm sure I'll improve!
'Jane advises using plain coloured paper,
'which can be used for any occasion,
'but she never compromises
'on the quality of her ribbon and embellishments.'
You make it look so easy.
OK, now, something we all dread is a bottle,
-and I know you've got one there for me.
I wouldn't know where to start.
'For awkward shapes like bottles,
'Jane uses a combination of tissue paper and cellophane,
'which gives flexibility and strength.'
It's not just a case of, let's just chuck it round the bottle
and hope for the best. It's a bit more formal than that.
So, I'm bringing the wrapping up like that,
you're going to pull it up and actually bring it in
to the bottle.
And I'm grabbing onto the bottle so it doesn't move.
But all the time, you need to keep pulling it up
so you get a bit of tension.
You've gone quiet - you're worrying me.
How do you get the bottom bit in there?
I can't work out how to do it at all.
I can't seem to get it from the bottom bit.
You've got to be quite brutal, and the great thing is
because you've got cellophane, you can give it a good tug.
-It's looking great.
-It's not looking great - it's looking awful!
Testing, testing. Gosh.
OK, I'm ready to fail at yet another hurdle.
Never let it be said that I'm afraid of making a fool of myself.
The tin. I don't know what we're wrapping today.
'For round shapes like this, Jane starts by creating
'a cylinder of tissue paper, this time without the cellophane.'
All I'm going to do is just very casually fold one end in,
a bit like you would with the side of a box.
Swing the sides in.
And just sit it up.
Key factor is, you've always got to start with the bit underneath
because you've got this slight overlap of wrapping.
Try and get used to using your hands like a pair of pincers
and just start grabbing the wrapping and pulling it into the middle.
I always keep my nail in the centre of the tin and every pleat
that I'm pulling will go sort of halfway over my nail.
Then you keep absolutely central and it's just getting the tension right.
That's it. It looks great!
More luck than judgement.
'A little trim and a nifty bit of double-sided tape on the last pleat
'neatly completes the first side of our tin.'
And then it's a case of whizzing it over
and doing exactly the same with the other side.
About how many presents can you wrap an hour?
The larger the item, the longer it'll take.
I would say on average, I'm probably looking at seven to eight in an hour.
That's all shapes, all sizes, a mixture of everything.
And how many hours can you do that for?
Christmastime, I'm working up to 18 hours a day.
I hope you have a break for lunch.
-On the go.
OK, so that's not very tidy.
'The great thing is you can always cover any imperfections
'with a ribbon.'
So, you stick this on the bottom side?
On the bottom, and I tend to line it up with the finishing end
so it covers that seam up.
Like that, turn it around
and then we'll finish off with just a really simple bow.
Marvellous. You're hired!
Good, things are getting better, things are looking up.
Thank you so much, Jane, that's really fun.
What I've taken away from this
is that I'm going to add a lot more to my wrapping.
I already love wrapping, I thought I was good at it,
but I can be better, and this Christmas I shall be.
Wrapping the perfect Christmas parcel is one thing, but I know
that for my children, it's the gift inside that's all-important.
What do you want for Christmas?
A new bike and a pencil sharpener and a new Rupert book.
Christmas without Santa is inconceivable for our children,
but before Victorian times,
the 25th of December was a working day like any other,
and the concept of giving gifts at Christmas
was a rarity rather than the norm.
The first children to enjoy this luxury were lucky to get
one hand-crafted present,
and their porcelain doll or tin soldier wouldn't have been wrapped.
Fast forward 50 years and pester power was born,
with the first adverts aimed squarely at children.
These were followed by an avalanche of cheaper toys
to feed these new baby-faced consumers.
And the rest is history - the type of toys at the top of Santa's list
may have evolved over the years, but the biggest change is quantity.
The Victorians' single gift has grown into dozens,
and we now spend an average of £312 per child.
Although it's not always the most expensive presents
that make the biggest impression.
When I was a kid, stockings were always the highlight of the affair
because it's so nice to get lots of odds and sods that you really want.
Anything with my name on it I particularly loved,
pencils, pencil cases.
I do exactly the same for my children now.
I quite like wrapping presents for my children,
but certainly everything I was taught about wrapping
goes completely out of the window.
I haven't got time to make my presents
look as perfect as Jane Means',
and in any case I'm not sure
my children would appreciate the effort.
It is volume and it's small, fiddly things,
and I know that as soon as they unwrap it they're going to be
onto the next thing, so I don't let it bother me too much.
But I have taken Jane's advice about paper on board.
I've bought masses of gold wrapping paper.
I'm accessorising with quality ribbon
in a variety of bright colours.
I do like Jane's thing of adding little bells and stuff to it.
I've got some candy canes and I've got some little tiny baubles.
It's a nice addition.
But there's one object I'm wrapping
where I'm going to follow Jane's advice to the letter.
I'm determined to perfect my bottle-wrapping technique.
There certainly is something in me which doesn't like to be
beaten by anything, I would say,
certainly not by wrapping paper.
I would not describe this as easy. But, it's a life lesson!
And I'm pleased to report
that this is one thing that does get easier with practice.
There we go.
What do you think?
It's not bad. It's better than a bottle bag, isn't it?
I'm really rather pleased with my tree and pile of presents.
What could be more tempting on Christmas morning?
No Christmas is complete without Christmas dinner.
And no decorating scheme is finished without a gorgeous table.
We all want to amaze and delight our guests,
and in my dining room I'd like my table to have real wow factor.
And who better to take inspiration from
than some of the best party planners on the planet?
Rob Hornsby and Sam Haslam create spectacular festive scenes
and stunning table settings.
We need snow!
Today, they're creating a magical winter wonderland
for over 150 party goers at the historic Royal Courts of Justice -
just one of 19 style-packed parties they'll be hosting this season.
Rob and Sam's parties can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
But I'm hoping to bottle some of their decorative imagination
and transform my dining room on a more domestic budget.
This is Bespoke Events London's HQ,
packed with creative director Rob's most high fashion,
high concept Christmas decorating trends.
This is where the magic happens.
I've never seen anything like that. I love it.
These amazing centrepieces
will feature at many a five-star Christmas party this year.
Rob takes his inspiration from the latest couture fashion collections.
There seem to be two very distinct trends here.
One is very, very bright and one is very, very clean and white.
Yeah. You've got to cater to your white minimalists
who love the snow and the sparkle,
you've got to cater to your traditionalists,
which love a little bit of colour and romance,
the blue pine greenery, etc etc, gold and red.
I'm a traditionalist and I love the weeping willow,
and I love the gold and silver foliage.
I've never seen gold and silver together like that.
I really think it's beautiful.
I think that's kind of a new look this year, it's more natural.
I can't say that I would necessarily go to quite the same extent,
but I do want to make sure this year that I don't just pull out
all the same schlock and I give it a really definite theme this year.
I'm hoping I can copy some of Rob and Sam's ideas
for my Christmas table.
So this is one of the set-ups we have for a client.
They're letting me in on the secrets of creating a high impact look.
As you can see, the large centrepiece is ready to go.
-Rob's creation here.
Rob's stunning centrepiece chimes with the natural,
Nordic style I'm going for at home.
I like it because you can still see round it.
I always worry when you have stuff in the middle of the table...
You can't see Auntie Joan.
Yeah! That would be awful.
The theme of the centrepiece informs the other elements
Rob and Sam bring to the table.
Their attention to detail stretches
to special bubble-edged glass plates.
I will do the thumb test now.
What is the thumb test?
-Just make sure that everything is...
-Oh, I see.
..done as it should be.
One thumb apart.
While Rob arranges a pile of artificial snow
around his centrepiece, Sam and I start to lay up the table,
but I'm beginning to wonder how do-able this is at home -
where's the turkey going to go?
How practical do you have to be, or do you not care?
Well, I think events in general are quite sort of whimsical.
How many tables do you have a snow drift in?
So it's quite nice to have the occasional knife in the snow drift.
Practicality goes out the window with me.
He pulls me back on the practicality.
They've dodged the question,
but I suppose I can always carve my turkey in the kitchen.
Is this going your way?
Very much my way, right up my strasse!
It does start looking very pretty.
# Sleigh bells ring
# Are you listening?
# In the lane
# Snow's glistening. #
Just fit that at the bottom there.
The intricate layering of Rob's vision continues
right up to the final health and safety approved touch of romance.
Battery-operated nightlights placed into snow-filled baubles.
# He's singing a song
# As we go along
# Walking in a winter wonderland. #
I love this table because it's kind of witty.
I like the one red and the one red,
the natural wood and then the bark napkins.
It is quite nice to challenge the parameters a bit.
We all get a little bit stuck in our ways.
It is very over the top, for sure, but people can take elements of it
and shrink it down to their own personal choice.
I want to move the goal posts.
I want it to be bigger, better, more this year, so thank you very much.
I know I keep saying this,
but to meet people who have such high standards
in luxury and exceptional taste is really inspiring me
to pick up my game this Christmas.
So, my table has to be faultless.
I want to translate Rob and Sam's vision
into something more practical and domestic.
And this means starting with a good base.
A folded cloth fixed down with waiter's clamps.
If you don't have a base to your tablecloth,
the tablecloth is likely to move,
and the last thing you want is a drunken guest
accidentally tugging on a bit of tablecloth
and all your precious ware tumbling to the floor.
Next up is the tablecloth.
I never use anything but white.
It reflects light onto your guests' faces
and provides the most flattering backdrop for your food.
I really do like things absolutely crease-free.
So I am going to get a damp cloth
and a hot iron and just get rid of the last few creases.
Call me obsessive, but I do like everything to be just so.
If you're going to go to the effort to decorate your table,
you might as well make sure it's correct in every detail.
And there are no excuses for dirty or smudged cutlery and glassware.
I've picked up a few secret tips
for quick cleaning from my hotel background.
First up - a no-nonsense way to remove tarnish from silver.
Line a bowl with silver paper, aluminium foil.
This is a trick my grandmother showed me. It works really well.
Put a dessert spoon of salt into the bowl...
..and then some hot water.
Pop your cutlery in, and wait for the magic to work.
This polishes up solid silver and silver plate.
I have no idea about the chemical reasons that this works,
it just does - that's enough for me.
Look at the difference between these two spoons. It took seconds.
For stainless steel, dip a cloth in olive oil
and wipe over your cutlery.
Dishwashers seem to leave a lot of residue on stainless steel,
and this is a way to make sure it always looks lovely.
The oil removes streaks and a final wipe with vinegar will polish it up.
Last but not least, the glassware.
Again, continual washing in a dishwasher tends to leave
those horrible streaky marks that are incredibly hard to get rid of.
No longer. Bicarbonate of soda,
a little bit of water...get rid of even the most stubborn stains.
Make a thick paste, wipe it on, and use it to scour away the smears.
It's a bit fiddly, but it really does work.
It's worth it for special occasions like Christmas.
Look how lovely and clean that is.
That's a glass to be proud of on one's table.
But you can never have enough glitz,
so I'm using silver-plated chargers on my table.
These will give a bit of extra sparkle to my guests' faces,
and also, I don't know, it looks special, doesn't it?
Rob and Sam's attention to detail has inspired me to make sure
that everything I put on the table ties into my glitzy theme.
I use everything on this table year-round.
I haven't bought anything especially for Christmas.
I don't see the point of having plates
that you can only use one day out of 365.
But to elevate this table to a truly festive level,
as Rob and Sam showed me, it's all about a centrepiece.
Their versions were rather too over the top
for a family Christmas at home, so I've done my version.
I'm using a garden urn, which goes on top of one of my charger plates.
I start by dressing the base with some moss.
This is reindeer moss, and it comes dried.
I bought it from Covent Garden Flower Market,
but you can get it from any florist.
This is about as tough as I would make it for myself.
I am not a make-doer. I can't sew.
I can only just about cook,
but I do like things looking pretty.
I've scaled back Rob and Sam's tree
to a more manageable branch cut from the garden.
You could spray it white, but I chose not to.
I quite like it au naturel.
I prop the twig in place with some gravel.
Do not make the mistake of putting the gravel in first
and then trying to dig this in,
because it is impossible and it won't be very well-supported.
And don't use soil or sand,
unless you fancy your centrepiece toppling on to your guests.
Then I'll finish off with a little bit of moss in the top.
Before adding the final decorations, I put the centrepiece in position.
All I have to do is hang a few more baubles and nightlights
and I'll be done.
More red here connects my table with the decorations
I've used elsewhere in the house.
Suspended tealights add sparkle,
and the tiny baubles will bounce the light around.
I'm really happy with this.
It's an easy, easy way to add wow to your table.
And it's been so quick to do, I'm amazed.
A second centrepiece balances things out beautifully.
I think I've captured all the drama
of Rob and Sam's winter wonderland centrepiece
while taming it into something that sits comfortably in my dining room.
I still need to get all the places completely perfect.
..it's starting to look lovely.
And I want dinner to go with a real bang.
I love crackers - the more colourful and bling the better,
so here's an idea for customising shop-bought sets.
Buy a cheap, but attractive, set of crackers.
The quality of the gifts inside isn't important,
so don't splash out.
Alternatively, you can buy empty ones.
Gently open up one end, being careful not to rip the outside.
Tip out the hat, gift and joke.
Fold and insert a new hat, which might actually make it
through Christmas dinner, and add a suitable small gift.
For children, put in their favourite sweets or a small toy.
For adults, add a tiny bottle of something warming
and festive or a small sample bottle of perfume.
Slipping in a lottery ticket will give my guests a slim
but exciting chance of a Christmas windfall.
To make sure that the right gifts go to the right guests,
add a name tag and thread onto a length of ribbon, along with
a decoration, which they can take away and add to their own trees.
Closing both ends of the cracker
with a bow tied from contrasting ribbon
will make your finished crackers look even more luxurious.
In one neat package you're giving your guests a place marker,
an extra Christmas treat, as well as the fun of pulling the crackers.
My pimped-up crackers are the final flourish
to my beautiful table.
For me, every Christmas is special,
but in my quest to make this year's the best yet,
I've been lucky enough to rub shoulders
with some of the finest in the festive business.
I've collected brilliant ideas and practical shortcuts
from the people who bring magic and sparkle to our streets.
I've gathered insider-knowledge on how to decorate a Christmas tree
to die for from a team who trim a shop-load each season.
And when it comes to turkey and all the trimmings?
I've been challenged to throw practicalities out of the window
and go for glamour
by some of the most innovative party planners in the business.
My preparations at home are almost complete.
Nothing's cost a lot of time or money,
but I think it will deliver a big impact.
I'm really excited about having put that extra effort
into decorating the house. I think it looks fabulous.
And it really does set the scene.
I want to put carols on immediately
and have them playing ceaselessly over the next few days.
# Oh the weather outside is frightful
# But the fire is so delightful. #
My home is ready for its most gorgeous Christmas yet.
# Let it snow let it snow let it snow. #
My family and guests will be wowed by colour and sparkle
inside and outside.
It's just as lavish as I had hoped.
The doorway lighting scheme will greet visitors
with a warm, twinkling welcome.
My wreath, traditional but with a modern twist,
gives a shot of colour and scent.
And as we move through the hallway,
more rosemary and baubles wind their way up the banisters.
In the living room, all eyes will be drawn to my luxurious tree,
which sits in pride of place
with a mound of glittering presents beneath.
And when it's time for us to sit down to Christmas dinner,
my table may well outshine the turkey.
I'm particularly proud of my beautiful centrepieces.
The stage is set for a wonderful family Christmas,
so for once I can relax and enjoy it all looking exquisite.
What else is there for me to do but... a glass of prosecco?
Alex Polizzi, the queen of immaculate taste, has spent years preparing the perfect Christmas in her role as an hotelier. But in 2013 she's planning on creating the perfect Christmas in her own home and in doing so she imparts all her tips on how to transform your home into the most sumptuous, stylish, perfectly Christmas space imaginable.
As well as drawing on her own knowledge, in this one hour special, she also meets some of the people who make their living from creating a perfect Christmas year in year out. From the queen of present wrapping, Jane Means, who trains staff at many of Britain's top department stores, to Paul Dart, who creates the lighting designs for Christmas lights in many of the country's cities.
Learning display tips from window dressers and how to perfect the ultimate Christmas table from an events company employed by The Savoy and the Royal Courts of Justice, Alex takes viewers behind the scenes at some of Britain's most iconic institutions as they gear up for Christmas.
She solves common Christmas decorating problems - like how to light your tree and make presents look luxurious - and she shares the secrets of five-star Christmases, showing that with a mix of intelligent buying, and by reusing things you already own, this year your Christmas can be more stylish than ever.