Christmas in the Park has a
It’s 25 years old, making it something of an icon, but one of Christmas in the Park’s most prominent faces is questioning how much longer it will last.
Frankie Stevens remembers being known as ‘‘the Godfather of Christmas in the Park’’. He wasn’t particularly fond of the title and it wasn’t something he sought to achieve. Still, five years after completing his 19-year stint with New Zealand’s biggest Christmas show, Stevens says he believes in the spirit of Christmas in the Park.
But he’s worried it might be coming to its end. ‘‘From year to year, they’re never quite sure whether it’s going to happen next year,’’ he says.
‘‘You don’t want to be found ‘back in the day’, or in memories. It would be sad if it was gone, kids love it – and that’s what Christmas is about.’’
The reality for Christmas in the Park is that it is reliant on Coca-Cola’s funding.
That funding is understood to be reviewed each year, and 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