Interview | Santa and his elf: "As long as we keep Santa’s drink topped up we can pretty much do what we like. He’s getting on a bit these days and he’s lost his edge.”
LSi caught up with Santa and his elf. Only things aren’t as festive as you’d expect all that way in the North Pole. Santa appears disillusioned with his job and frustrated with ever growing consumerism. One of his elves has appeared to resort to alcoholism and instead of the jingling of bells, the only thing to be heard in Santa’s workshop is the monotonous hum of machines.
It’s 6am and the blindfold is lifted. I’m somewhere in the North Pole, sitting on a one horse open sleigh with the tundra surrounding me. Its whiteness stretches for miles on end. To my right is an elf dressed in a green overcoat; ‘Babbo’ is sown onto his left lapel. He whips the reindeer into action and we speed off. “Is there anything that makes you really cranky during the Christmas season?”, I ask him, attempting small talk. “The reindeer get a bit cocky this time of year”, he says. “They think they can just shit wherever they like.”
I’m here to interview Santa Claus, the elusive bearded gift mogul. As late capitalism bulldozes ahead, the notorious recluse is said to be having an identity crisis: reports suggest he is close to retiring. The elf, however, is indignant: “It’s all lies. I mean, whatever next? – Are people gonna start saying that Santa isn’t even real?” It’s a long journey to wherever Babbo is taking me. I ask about the infamous working conditions in the workshops. “We had a general strike in 2010 but since then it has been less strict. The pension alone makes a lifetime of servitude worth it. In fact, It’s the best it has ever been”, he adds. “As long as we keep Santa’s drink topped up we can pretty much do what we like. He’s getting on a bit these days and he’s lost his edge.”
We pull up outside a humble log cabin. An elf opens the door and waves us in. He is completely naked. “Don’t worry”, Babbo says, chuckling at my surprise. “We only wear these suits for official business outside the office. For promo shots and tourism stuff. Normally we just walk around naked. Us elves are very warmblooded.”
I’m led inside. There are two empty armchairs and an open fire. “Santa’s going to be about five minutes late”, Babbo says. I quickly rush over my notes, laying them out on the table in front of me and readying my dictaphone. I’m nervous. I’ve been told stories of a grumpy old man. A drunk, grumpy old man with a booming Orson Welles voice. When he appears, however, he’s less rambunctious than I’d imagined. In a reserved and quiet conversation, here’s what Santa had to say.
“So, where are you from again?” Leeds, I reply. I write for LSi, part of the student paper. “Ah yes, LSi. Can’t say I’ve ever read it. But do forgive me. I’m a busy man.” He slurps his steaming black coffee and stares above me. There are tens of framed pictures on the walls, all of them stills from films featuring Santa. I ask about his legacy and if he feels proud of how many people he’s influenced. “Sure I do. It’s a weird one for me, though. I love it mostly, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it has its pros and cons. The kids are great. I do it all for the kids. But there are some things which just make me question why I even do this.” He pauses, the shadows under his eyes flickering with the light of the fire.
“There’s that thing they do in the Netherlands. Black Pete they call it. It’s embarrassing and racist. And it’s all in my name. I don’t want to be associated with that. The same with consumerism: Coca Cola, John Lewis and those Argos aliens. Like, I’m just not sure I want to be part of the culture industry anymore. It’s all become too much, you know? Those film shots on the walls, for instance. On the one hand, it’s great that people are spreading the word and bring hope and cheer. But I never, ever asked for Jingle All The Way to be made. It’s an abomination.”
I ask him about his critics. “Don’t think for one second I haven’t seen that video of Žižek talking about me. It’s tough to take. It’s not my fault that capitalist ideology grows stronger. I’m trying to do good things for people.” I’m invited round the workshop, where the assembly lines mass produce games consoles, Moshi Monsters and Despicable Me talking Minions. The faulty ones lie in a big pile in the corner, all of them making low pitched fart noises.
It’s not what I had expected at all. “Most of the work is done by machines nowadays”, Santa shouts over the loud humming of conveyor belts. It’s spotless inside and the few elves that are there seem more like management than slaves, well protected behind glass. He hunches on his walking stick, directing me towards a wooden aircraft hangar. Inside is a massive mechanical sleigh. He clambers in and starts the engine. “I’m sorry but that’s all the time I have spare. Make sure to wish everyone in Leeds a merry Christmas. And a Festivus for the rest of us.”
Dominic O’Key and Adam Nealon