Christmas queen Zoe Bottrell reveals magical new lights trail highlights
Bah humbug! Christmas queen Zoe Bottrell is no Scrooge when it comes to putting on a festive light show...despite what the neighbours might think.
She prefers a simply decorated tree at home and isn't one for flashing lights all over the outside.
But she admits it leaves locals puzzled, writes Graham Walker.
For her day job is the creative boss in charge of some of the world’s biggest, most spectacular and dazzling outdoor after-dark Christmas lights trails including 15 UK sites, with one heading this way - below she reveals magical new highlights.
Zoe is managing director of Culture Creative and leads teams of expert technicians, lighting engineers and designers who literally spend all year making My Christmas Trails magic with promoters Sony Music and Raymond Gubbay.
The trails, featuring installations by world renowned artists and set to a soundtrack of carols and classic festive hits, have brought Christmas cheer to millions of us over the past decade. And thousands will flock to the sites again this year.
Book now as entry is by timed slots - popular early evening and weekend tickets sell out first.
BUY TICKETS: For full details, selected opening nights and timed entry slot tickets for a venue near you click on the links here for Bedgebury (Kent, Nov 18 to Jan 2, 2023), Belton (Lincolnshire, Nov 24 to Jan 1, 2023), Gibside (nr Newcastle, Dec 1 to Jan 1, 2023), Hillsborough Castle and Gardens (Belfast, Dec 1 to Jan 1, 2023), Roundhay Park (Leeds, Dec 8 to Jan 1, 2023) and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (Nov 17 to Dec 30, 2022).
For Blenheim Palace (Oxfordshire, Nov 18 to Jan 2, 2023), Delamere Forest (Cheshire, Nov 25 to Dec 31, 2022), Dunham Massey (Greater Manchester, Nov 18 to Jan 2, 2023), Hatfield Park (North London, Nov 25 to Dec 31, 2022), Kew Gardens (London, Nov 16 to Jan 8), Kingston Lacy (Dorset, Nov 26 to Jan 1, 2023), Leeds Castle (Kent England, Nov 25 to Jan 1), Stourhead (Wiltshire), Nov 25 to Jan 1, 2023) and Wimpole (Cambridge, Nov 25 to Jan 1, 2023) visit mychristmastrails.co.uk.
In an exclusive chat - watch the full interview online - Zoe revealed she doesn't trim up with flashy lights all over her own home and laughed: "I'm a bit sick of lights by the time I get to Christmas.
"I'll be perfectly honest, my neighbours complain more about the fact that I haven't brought any home with me.
"They'll watch my social media feeds and see videos of me here, there and everywhere, then I'll go home and get, 'so where's yours then? Where's all your lighting.'
"I'm very lucky, I live in the depths of the Argyll countryside in four and a half acres overlooking Loch Riddon and it's pitch black. If I adorned my house and garden with the amount of lights I do everywhere else you would probably see me from space."
But Zoe admits she has the best job in the world, working with remarkable people and admits it really is Christmas every day - especially now the light trails are held around the world and throughout the year.
Her first sold out 2022 event has already ben and gone...it was in Melbourne, Australia, during June and August - which is winter down under.
Specially written music replaced the more traditional festive soundscape but otherwise Christmas came early for Zoe and her team, as Britain basked in a heatwave.
More sites in the southern hemisphere are now planned next year and seven sites are scheduled this side of Christmas in the United States including Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Diego, Texas and Chicago. There’s also a show this year in Paris.
With around 15 key attractions on each trail the aim is for 70% of what visitors see to be brand new, while highlighting the venue's own landscape and backstory to make every one unique.
It's why visitors have been returning every year for what started out a decade ago and is becoming a traditional part of the festivities in parks and gardens around the UK and beyond.
Today Zoe confirmed highlights and revealed some of the magical new installations to look out for at sites across the UK.
Instagram favourite Christmas Cathedral, a huge cathedral-shaped tunnel of lights, will return to sites this year as will the ever popular Fire Gardens, with around 140,000 real-flames lit across the UK trails.
Edinburgh's sixth annual Christmas At The Botanics will include Aurora, a celebration of the Northern. Lights - look up and you will be guaranteed dancing waves of colour in this overhead piece by UK artists ITHACA, making its first ever appearance in Scotland
The one mile trail will also include a snowflake show and 12 illuminated giant sized luminous Lilies on the Botanics pond, created by artist Jig Cochrane, founder of Jigantics.
Projection installations will also wow visitors at sites including Edinburgh, Belton, Kew Gardens and Dunham Massey.
Voyage by Italian company Aether & Hemera, will see a flotilla of hundreds of lit paper boats on the lake in Belton.
Gibside's Fire Garden will be in a ruin of a building – a first for Zoe and her teams.
Leeds in West Yorkshire gets a new location - it will be held at Roundhay Park, with a light show on its lake and the castle will be illuminated.
Bedgebury Pinetum trail will celebrate the nature of its wonderful trees. Huge cranes flying above will feature in an installation called Ghosts. An entire galaxy of moons and stars will float across Marshalls Lake at the back of the site and Whisper Of The Heart, by an Iranian artist , will featuring 20 to 30 illuminated bird boxes.
Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, near Belfast, will feature a flutter of butterflies, hovering above its lake and beautifully reflected into the water.
Other UK highlights this year include marking the 10th anniversary at Kew Gardens, where the team works with the Palm House. The trail will be "bigger, brighter and better than ever", said Zoe.
At Leeds Castle, in Kent, viksitors may come across a crown and find out why.
She said the trails are aimed at helping visitors young and old to make memories. And with only high winds threatening openings, which are on selected nights, she strongly advised visitors to wrap up 'snuggly warm' and wear a good pair of boots or shoes.
Zoe also reminded people to book now as popular early evening and weekend slots sell out first.
She said: "We create trails for all the family to get together, to have a wonderful time and fun in the fresh air for an hour and a half or so.
"We want to take you on a bit of a journey.
"There will be some areas that are bright, cheery and loud, both audibly and visually. But there'll be some areas that will be quiet and contemplative; to really just take a breath and be able to to look at something beautiful with serene music, to have that moment with your family."
She added: "It's not the kind of Christmas lights you're gonna see in your town centre, or at Blackpool, or in Oxford Street. That's not what it's about. It's about us illuminating these landscapes, telling their story and how fantastic these places are.
"With a touch of Christmas, there will be Santa on the trail to give you a wave and to wish you upon your merry way. But this is really about us being able to create an entire encompassing experience that allows you to feel completely immersed in the location that you're in.
"very time you turn a corner, every time you come across a new part of that footpath, you'll come across a new vision in front of you; a new piece of visual art that will help us to tell that story."