The woman who mer­rily pays team of FIVE £2,000 to dec­o­rate her THREE twinkly trees!

Christ­mas trees are more lav­ish and eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive than ever. So meet...

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - by Polly Dun­bar

DEC­O­RAT­ING the Christ­mas tree was once a sim­ple af­fair. At­tach a string of fairy lights, add lash­ings of tin­sel and a few brightly coloured baubles and the fes­tive halls were decked. Now, how­ever, peo­ple like Laura How­ell are turn­ing the art of tree styling into some­thing con­sid­er­ably more elab­o­rate – and far more ex­pen­sive. This week­end, as fam­i­lies across the coun­try flock to gar­den cen­tres to wres­tle with a 6ft Nor­way spruce, Laura will be en­sconced in her cosy liv­ing room, gaz­ing with pride at the tree she put up just af­ter Bon­fire Night.

Not for her the typ­i­cal £30 tree. In­stead it’s £450 worth of ar­ti­fi­cial pine, 8ft tall and com­plete with 1,000 built-in twin­kling lights and fes­tooned with dec­o­ra­tions which add up to well over £1,000.

‘Peo­ple are al­ways telling me I’m ob­sessed with my Christ­mas tree,’ says Laura, 33. ‘I know I’ve spent a lot of money on it, but I love it. Some­times I’m tempted to keep it up all year be­cause it’s so beau­ti­ful.’ Ex­trav­a­gant as it might seem, Laura is far from alone. The fes­tive sea­son may have only just be­gun, but it’s al­ready prov­ing to be the year of the spec­tac­u­larly lav­ish, £1,000plus Christ­mas tree. Fes­tive dec­o­ra­tions are fast be­com­ing the sub­ject of the lat­est game of one-up­man­ship – as those with the money and an In­sta­gram ac­count outdo each other with the size, dec­o­ra­tions and price of their Christ­mas spruce.

Celebri­ties are rush­ing to be the first to un­veil their ef­forts – usu­ally pro­fes­sion­ally styled at an eye-wa­ter­ing cost.

Eng­land goal­keeper Jor­dan Pick­ford and his fi­ancee Me­gan Dav­i­son have shown off their tree, which was al­most in­vis­i­ble un­der­neath an avalanche of baubles, rib­bons and stuffed toys, in­clud­ing po­lar bears and pen­guins. The none-too-sub­tle cre­ation is be­lieved to have cost al­most £2,000.

Co­me­dian Paddy McGuin­ness posed with a tree five times his own height in the gar­den of his home, cov­ered in gleam­ing gold lights. And for­mer Strictly con­tes­tant Katie Piper posted two pho­to­graphs on In­sta­gram last week. The first showed her show-stop­ping tree with twinkly Swarovski crys­tal dec­o­ra­tions. The other was of a more mod­estly sized af­fair, dec­o­rated sweetly, al­beit hap­haz­ardly, by her ‘cre­ative lit­tle girl’.

Katie finds her­self in good com­pany, as hav­ing mul­ti­ple Christ­mas trees has be­come de rigueur in cer­tain cir­cles. The Duchess of Cam­bridge’s mother Ca­role Mid­dle­ton re­vealed she has sev­eral, in­clud­ing one for Prince Ge­orge and Princess Char­lotte to dec­o­rate them­selves.

John Lewis even of­fers a tree-styling ser­vice cost­ing up­wards of £450, in which staff hand-pick a tree and dec­o­ra­tions, bring them to your home and dress it for you. And those choos­ing to do the work them­selves can still spend a for­tune, with the store sell­ing a 15ft un­lit ar­ti­fi­cial tree for the princely sum of £999.

Keri Shee­han is an in­te­rior stylist known as the ‘Queen of Christ­mas’ be­cause she spe­cialises in adorn­ing Christ­mas trees for John Lewis and Peter Jones.

‘Peo­ple have be­come very com­pet­i­tive,’ she says. ‘Ev­ery­one wants theirs to look pro­fes­sion­ally dec­o­rated so it looks good on so­cial me­dia. See­ing other peo­ple’s trees – par­tic­u­larly those of celebri­ties – has raised ev­ery­one’s game.

‘Hav­ing more than one tree is very pop­u­lar now and peo­ple of­ten have one they let their chil­dren dec­o­rate which they’ll hide in a bed­room, while their big show tree will be beau­ti­fully styled and dis­played in the hall or liv­ing room.’

For Laura, en­sur­ing her tree looks as good as that owned by any celebrity is a cher­ished part of her Christ­mas prepa­ra­tions, which be­gin when most of us are still en­joy­ing the fi­nal throes of sum­mer. ‘Septem­ber is when the Christ­mas col­lec­tion hits the John Lewis web­site, and I’m on it straight away to see what the new themes are so I can buy more dec­o­ra­tions,’ says the moth­erof-two from Stock­port.

Each dec­o­ra­tion Laura owns has a spe­cial mean­ing to her or her daugh­ters, Scar­lett, eight, and Si­enna, five.

‘I spend more than £15 each on many of them, but I love them all be­cause they have a story,’ she says. ‘Ev­ery year I buy the girls hand­made ones from craft fairs with their names and the date on. They like pretty, girly de­signs so we have uni­corns, mer­maids and fairies, and baubles which are beaded or iri­des­cent.

‘I like glass and wooden ones, which is why they’re ex­pen­sive, and I’m al­ways buy­ing more. I’ve just found an as­tro­naut one which I was ex­cited about, be­cause that’s what I wanted to be as a child.’

Ac­cord­ing to Keri, Laura’s pas­sion for unique dec­o­ra­tions is one of the year’s big­gest trends. ‘I’ve seen so many un­usual de­signs – squids, cacti, uni­corns,’ she says. ‘Per­son­al­i­sa­tion is very pop­u­lar, as are heir­loom pieces, which cost a lot and are in­tended to be in­vest­ments to keep for a long time.’

Among the most sought-af­ter de­signs are those by Gisela Gra­ham, whose del­i­cately in­tri­cate fairy and bal­le­rina or­na­ments cost up to £100. ‘Dec­o­ra­tions are be­com­ing like items of jew­ellery to hang on the tree,’ says Keri. ‘I am see­ing more and more bling.’

Laura’s Christ­mas mania stems from her child­hood, when her mother waited until two weeks be­fore the big day to put up the fam­ily tree.

‘I’d be des­per­ate to do it ear­lier and she’d say, “When you have your own house, you can do it as soon as you like.” Now she jokes, “You re­ally fol­lowed through on that, didn’t you?” ’

She fes­toons the rest of her home with snow globes and Santa cush­ions. So ex­ten­sive is her col­lec­tion of

dec­o­ra­tions that it took Laura and her mother two hours to get them all out of the at­tic. ‘The boxes filled the liv­ing room,’ she laughs.

‘I do it all while the girls are out and tell them elves dec­o­rated it. It makes me so happy to make ev­ery­thing look mag­i­cal for them. And the tree is the most im­por­tant part – it’s my pride and joy.’

While putting up the tree has be­come a much-loved fes­tive rit­ual for peo­ple like Laura, the ul­ti­mate Christ­mas in­dul­gence has to be hir­ing some­body to dec­o­rate your tree for you, al­low­ing you to sit back and watch while your home be­comes a win­ter won­der­land.

For style spe­cial­ists, busi­ness is boom­ing. Anya Banks runs a pre­mium Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tion com­pany and says that she’s never been in greater de­mand.

‘This year it’s been ab­so­lutely crazy,’ she says. ‘It’s been ex­tremely busy, and I’ve no­ticed it started ear­lier than usual, too.’

Among the homes Anya has al­ready trans­formed is that of Sonya Latham and her hus­band Paul. The re­tired cou­ple, who have two chil­dren and three grand­chil­dren, now have three stun­ning trees at their home near Mar­ket Har­bor­ough in Le­ices­ter­shire. In their en­trance hall stands an 11ft beauty adorned with red and gold baubles, bows and golden twigs. The liv­ing room boasts a 9ft tree be­decked with gold, sil­ver and white or­na­ments and cin­na­mon sticks. In a sec­ond re­cep­tion room is an­other 9ft tree, this time dec­o­rated in gold, pur­ple and ivy.

‘It’s an in­dul­gence, but it’s so lovely,’ says Sonya, 61.

‘The trees look so spe­cial and they’re per­fect – if I tried for a fort­night I could never make them look so nice.’

All the trees are ar­ti­fi­cial, but Sonya sprays them with pine scent to ‘get the best of both worlds’. She and Paul also own count­less baubles, bows and lights.

‘When we met Anya, she came to our house to talk about what we wanted and see the colour scheme of the rooms,’ says Sonya. ‘She sourced the baubles and gar­lands for us ini­tially, and ev­ery year she re­plen­ishes any­thing that’s look­ing a bit tired. She looks out for things I’ll like, such as the gold pear or­na­ments she found this year.’

For £2,000, Anya and her team of five ar­rived at 9am on Novem­ber 29 and spent more than six hours as­sem­bling and dress­ing the trees. They also dec­o­rated other parts of Sonya’s home, in­clud­ing her or­angery, in which they hung twigs and twinkly lights.

On Jan­uary 4, while the rest of us are lug­ging our thread­bare firs to the lo­cal re­cy­cling point, Anya’s team will reap­pear to take ev­ery­thing down again, leav­ing it all packed away neatly in boxes and her home look­ing spot­less.

For Sonya and Paul, the cost is worth it for the plea­sure the im­mac­u­lately dec­o­rated trees will bring them over the com­ing weeks.

‘We love Christ­mas and the whole fam­ily are cel­e­brat­ing it at our house, so we want ev­ery­thing to look as invit­ing as pos­si­ble,’ says Sonya. ‘It’s Paul’s birth­day just be­fore Christ­mas, so we’ll be cel­e­brat­ing that, too – the dec­o­ra­tions will be seen by plenty of peo­ple. Our trees make us happy so why not cel­e­brate prop­erly if we can?’ But it’s not just ex­trav­a­gant dec­o­ra­tions or mul­ti­ple trees that are cost­ing well into the thou­sands. Even min­i­mally dec­o­rated trees come with huge price tags, as Ja­clyn Ford and her part­ner Steve John­son found when they splashed out £1,600 on an ar­ti­fi­cial tree for their Cheshire home. Steve, 56, and Ja­clyn, 40, have put the 8ft tree which has 4,750 lights, in pride of place in their liv­ing room. ‘It’s a lot of money, but we see it as an in­vest­ment,’ says Ja­clyn, who works for Steve’s elec­tric­ity py­lon com­pany.

‘The lights go all the way from the mid­dle to the tips of the branches and there are no wires, which are my pet hate. It’s the first year we’ve bought an ar­ti­fi­cial tree but it looks very re­al­is­tic.’

The cou­ple’s ex­pen­sive taste ex­tends to the min­i­mal­ist or­na­ments, too. ‘All the baubles are sil­ver and glass, which re­flect the lights – it’s taste­ful, with a sim­ple wicker skirt at the bot­tom from the White Com­pany,’ she says.

‘I spent more than £400 on the dec­o­ra­tions, which are from Marks & Spencer. Ob­vi­ously, with such a big tree it needed a lot to cover it.’

Steve’s chil­dren are grown up, but they will be host­ing friends and fam­ily for par­ties through­out the Christ­mas pe­riod, so they view the in­vest­ment as worth­while.

Some will see this level of ex­trav­a­gance for a sea­son which is over all too quickly as fes­tive mad­ness.

But Ja­clyn says: ‘We love Christ­mas and it’s great to have some­thing ev­ery­one can enjoy when they come over. We’re proud of our house so we wanted a tree we could be proud of too.’

win­ter won­der­land: Sonya Latham with her sec­ond and third trees at her home in Le­ices­ter­shire

in­dul­gence: Sonya with her star at­trac­tion, which is sprayed with pine scent

fam­ily af­fair: Laura How­ell and daugh­ters Scar­lett and Si­enna with their tree

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