Britain’s longest serving Santa Claus has defied the latest Covid outbreak to bring the magic of Christmas to children for his 59th YEAR in a row.
Ray Hulse, 77, has handed out thousands of gifts to delighted kids to make their dreams come true since stepping in as a stand-in Father Christmas when he was 18.
He has now been donning his festive red suit annually since 1962 – despite coronavirus threatening to scupper his plans for the last two years.
Retired tyre fitter Ray has managed to raise over £55,000 for local charities after almost six decades of spreading festive cheer as jolly St Nick.
The grandfather-of-one is the longest serving Santa in the country and has now been told he is likely to be longest serving Santa in the world.
He created his first grotto at a simple Ford garage and since then has appeared in hundreds of supermarkets and schools across his home county of Shropshire.
This year, Ray made sure he was triple jabbed so he could travel around primary schools for socially distanced appearances to raise money for charity.
Dad-of-three, Ray, of Bridgnorth, Shrops., said: “I was determined to not let Covid ruin Christmas this year.
“I know there is a variant of concern but it would have been a real shame to not let the kids celebrate – especially after last year.
“We haven’t had to cancel any events and we make sure we are all socially distanced and we still have some more fundraisers coming up.
“I am a bit vulnerable health wise with a dodgy heart so I made sure I had my booster so I was triple jabbed for events this year.
“Even Santa needs to get vaccinated.
“Nothing is going to stop me, health permitting. I’ve been doing this almost 60 years so I wanted to make sure I kept up the tradition.
“I had my grotto all decked out in festive lights. I always enjoy making sure kids have the best Christmas.
“Especially after the last couple of Christmases, it is nice to be able to start doing more events in the lead up to big day.
“Even though we were all socially distanced it doesn’t take away from the magic of the festive period.
“You’ve had children writing letters to Santa asking if he will be able to deliver presents this year – and of course the answer is yes.
“Normally I would have my Santa 1 car, with over 300 LED lights, but unfortunately, I could not do this this year.”
Ray, who has been supported by his wife of 51-years, Kathleen, 79, says he has always loved Christmas and will even try and keep going until his 100th birthday.
Ray added: “I have done this for nearly 60 years and I have no plans to slow down, I have a slightly dodgy heart but I will do my best for that not to stop me.
“Some say I am the longest serving Santa Claus outside of Britain too.
“People have been doing research and say they can find no record of anyone doing it longer than me in the world.
“When people tell me that it motivates me to keep going. Its nice to know I have a made a difference.
“It’s been amazing being Father Christmas over the years: from my first private function in 1962, to being awarded the Shropshire Heart of Britain Award in 1994 – and I’m still going.
“I never had a Christmas when I was younger, I was forced to work down the mines when I was 17 and forced to give my mother my wages.
“My mother never said she loved me or even had a photograph of me anywhere in the house.
“Because of this, I want to give other kids a Christmas experience I never had.”
Ray has always designed his own costume – decked with the red and gold Santa gown, as well as ‘Magic Bell’s’ to stop kids getting frightened of Father Christmas.
He added: “The best thing about the job is wishing youngsters their first Merry Christmas – I always have a ‘My First Christmas’ sign, so memories can be made.
“It is just so fun and magical to do. I was 18 when I started and still get the same satisfaction from it today.
“I started out in a local village hall and a scout hut and it just grew from there. Just to bring joy and happiness to the children is great.
“The reward I get is to see the expressions on the kids’ faces and the sparkle in their eyes.”
Ray decided to start raising money for terminally ill children following the loss of his son Nicholas in 2012.
Ray said: “He would be proud. He was a lovely lad, our first-born. He would have been 50 now.”
For the past 30 years, Ray has been raising funds for Hope House Children’s Hospices, and this year he has also been collecting money for his grandson’s school.