Christ­mas in the Park has a

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

con­firmed around Fe­bru­ary.

Stevens and Jackie Clarke, two long-serv­ing Christ­mas in the Park en­ter­tain­ers, left the show when it turned 20. Year after year, Stevens says the or­gan­is­ers would in­vite them back. Be­tween the pop singers and TV per­son­al­i­ties of the mo­ment, Christ­mas in the Park was made up of a tight-knit ‘‘fam­ily’’ of en­ter­tain­ers and back­stage staff.

It was peo­ple like Stevens, Clarke and Ja­son Gunn who

New Zealan­ders watched each year, along­side al­most ev­ery lo­cal celebrity and mu­si­cian who would per­form with kids’ dance crews and bud­ding mu­si­cians.

In 2013, Stevens saw a chang­ing of the guard. ‘‘It was just time to go,’’ he says.

‘‘I think it’s changed a lit­tle. Back in the day I think it was all about Christ­mas,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s aligned it­self more with the Coca-cola brand, to­day, as op­posed to the brand of Christ­mas. It’s more poppy now.’’

The vibe of Christ­mas in the Park def­i­nitely has changed. It was born out of Opera In The Park, a rel­a­tively short-lived free con­cert started 27 years ago.

At the first Christ­mas show, in 1994, the New Zealand Sym­phony Or­ches­tra played with Dave Dob­byn. It was the com­ing to­gether of pop­u­lar and fine cul­ture.

Al­i­son Mau was there that first night, along­side Si­mon Bar­nett. Although the con­certs have taken a sharp turn to fo­cus on pop acts, she says some things haven’t changed.

About 240,000 peo­ple at­tended that first event. When Fa­ther Christ­mas ar­rived, Mau re­mem­bers the waves of ex­cite­ment trav­el­ling through the Auck­land Do­main.

‘‘I wasn’t ex­pect­ing some­thing that big at all,’’ she says. ‘‘Back then, it was new, it was a big deal that year – the big­gest live event Auck­land had ever seen.’’

The Christ­mas show re­mains one of Auck­land’s big­gest events. It draws at least 100,000 peo­ple each year. Some re­ports say it still at­tracts about 250,000 peo­ple, but given it’s an open-air, free event, it’s hard to get ex­act at­ten­dance num­bers.

Tele­vi­sion view­ing num­bers are clearer. The show peaked in the 1990s, when it achieved a mas­sive 55 per cent mar­ket

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