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Nostalgic pictures featuring Louise Spence, EastEnders and TOWIE stars of kmfm's Kent's Biggest Christmas Light Switch On with Olly Murs, Craig David and Jess Glynne

Christmas is coming, and despite the lockdown that means our high streets are once again aglow with festive lights.

Every year towns and villages across Kent have brought in crowds with celebrity-led lights switch ons and while 2020 may be a little different kmfm is inviting you to help make it the biggest yet, all without leaving home.

Dover Christmas lights switched on by Eastenders star Shaun Williamson in 2003. Picture: Mike Waterman
Dover Christmas lights switched on by Eastenders star Shaun Williamson in 2003. Picture: Mike Waterman

Kent's Biggest Christmas Light Switch On will be on air tonight on kmfm.

Olly Murs, Jess Glynne, Craig David and the big man himself, Father Christmas, will be on your airwaves from 5.30pm and we want families across the county to help make it an event to remember by switching their lights on together.

Listen to kmfm on your radio, DAB, smart speaker, app and online at kmfm.co.uk.

People elsewhere have also found ways to mark this annual milestone.

In Canterbury, five miles of festive lights adorning the city centre were accompanied by a special online film of the illuminations being switched on by the mayor and the Marlowe Theatre’s panto dame, Nurse Nellie.

Maidstone Lights Switch on 2019: Jake Quickenden in Jubilee Square, Maidstone Picture: Andy Jones
Maidstone Lights Switch on 2019: Jake Quickenden in Jubilee Square, Maidstone Picture: Andy Jones

In Maidstone, a Secret Switch On film, organised by One Maidstone BID, featured Christmas messages from the town's businesses and pre-recorded song and dance routines in place of the traditional live entertainment.

But while we'll find new ways to celebrate, we thought it would be a good time to delve into the archives and dig out a host of pictures from Christmases past - featuring sparkling lights, joyous crowds and a fair few soap stars doing their bit to get the festive party started.

So charge your glasses with mulled wine, break out the mince pies, and join us for sleigh ride down memory lane.

The local Mayor has been a ubiquitous guest at most town switch-on events over the years and wherever the community is lucky enough to have a theatre, the stars of the local panto too.

In recent times, kmfm's Garry and Laura have hosted the shows for many towns, egging on the crowds to join in the Christmas count-down.

Local celebrities Vic Reeves and Nancy Sorrell switch on the lights in Headcorn in 2005
Local celebrities Vic Reeves and Nancy Sorrell switch on the lights in Headcorn in 2005

Guests have included at Maidstone X-Factor and Dancing On Ice star Jake Quickenden, who also appeared in Channel 4's Hollyoaks. In something of a contrast, he appeared on stage last year with children from the Molehill Primary Academy.

TV presenter Stephen Mulhern of Catchphrase and Britain's Got More Talent fame has appeared at Canterbury in 2016, while over at Dartford the same year the crowds were entertained by comedian and Dancing On Ice contestant Joe Pasquale. In Rochester, the audience were treated to appearances from Towie stars Diags Beeneworth and Tom Pearce (2013) while the ever-popular former EastEnder Shaun Williamson popped up in Dover in 2003.

Another EastEnder to make an appearance was Craig Fairbrass at Tunbridge Wells in 2001, and also the same year Adam Woodyatt at Folkestone, but Dover preferred Neighbours star Ryan Moloney in 2005 otherwise known as Jarrod "Toadfish" Rebecchi.

Another town to look down-under for its talent was Whitstable, which in 2001 called on the services of another Neighbours star Daniel MacPherson, more recently seen in the Shannara Chronicles.

Deal played it for laughs in 2009 with two comedians Ade Edmundson from TV's the Young Ones and Bottom, and local boy, Broadstairs-born Dave Lee. Sadly the laughing ceased when Mr Lee passed away just two years later.

Creative Quarter Christmas lights switch-on in the Old High Street, Folkestone, in 2015. Picture: Gary Browne
Creative Quarter Christmas lights switch-on in the Old High Street, Folkestone, in 2015. Picture: Gary Browne

Dartfordhas enjoyed Britain’s Got Talent stars Twist and Pulse along with actress and presenter Denise Van Outen.

In 2019 Broadstairs opted for glamour with Love Island star and former Page 3 model India Reynolds. She appeared with Made In Chelsea star Sam Thompson.

Folkestone has sometimes sounded a more intellectual note - with last year's lights turned on by Booker prize-winning author Ben Okri.

The Westwood Cross Shopping Centre at Broadstairs went for 90s boyband 5ive in 2019, while the year earlier they had Chris and Jon Clark from The Only Way is Essex.

Prior to that, in 2017, shoppers were greeted with Love Island stars, Gabby Allen and Marcel Somerville and X Factor’s Lemonade.

Christmas at Westwood Cross with Gabby and Marcel from Love Island in 2017
Christmas at Westwood Cross with Gabby and Marcel from Love Island in 2017

Some towns and villages have their own local celebrities willing to lend a hand.

In 2005, comedian Vic Reeves and his model wife Nancy Sorrell joined the celebrations in Headcorn, while Tonbridge sported its very own double Olympic Gold Medal winner Kelly Holmes in 2004.

Of course, not everyone can afford the stars, so sometimes a star lookalike is the next best thing. Dartford opted for the Robbie Williams Experience in 2017, having enjoyed a champion performance from Freddie Mercury impersonator Gary Goodmaze the year before.

But more popular even than the celebs - especially with the children who usually make the biggest part of the Christmas audiences - are the cartoon or animated movie characters.

Shrek has appeared at Rainham, Po from Kung Fu Panda at Strood along with Bob and Kevin from the Minions, and most recently The Grinch has appeared in Maidstone's virtual switch-on film.

Paddington Bear at the Rainham Christmas lights switch-on in 2017
Paddington Bear at the Rainham Christmas lights switch-on in 2017

Winnie The Pooh has appeared at Dartford, Paddington Bear at Rainham and Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story in Faversham and the Gruffalo at Dartford.

Some towns have liked to spice up events with something a little different.

Sandwich has taken advantage of its waterside location to throw in a Crazyboater’s parade of illuminated vessels along the River Stour. They were met by a land-based parade inexplicably led by crews from Sandwich Fire Station.

Dover likes to get the crowd to join in by using a voice activation key to turn on the lights.

Instead of the Mayor flicking a switch, the crowds have to shout "Dover" as loudly as they can.

Freddie Mercury tribute act Gary Goodmaze at the Dartford in 2016
Freddie Mercury tribute act Gary Goodmaze at the Dartford in 2016

Sheerness added to its Christmas lights last year with a parade of more than 200 lanterns, while Minster-on-Sea's event is always preceded by the Santa Saunter - a parade of scores of Santas, rustled out of their homes in Lapland by the local Rotary Club.

Tenterden has made use of a snow machine to create the right festive atmosphere.

Other communities have preferred more local acts. Lasts year Paddock Wood opted for samba band Bloco Fogo, who also performed in West Malling, along with the rather more sedate tones of The Military Wives Choir.

Sheerness called upon the services of Rev Cindy Kent, lead singer in 60s group The Settlers, while Tonbridge went for ... the Hartley Morris Men.

Of course things don't also go according to plan.

One year Sittingbourne organisers forgot to apply for a music licence, which meant their sing-along was restricted to just 45 minutes. But that was better than Maidstone in 2018, who went without a switch-on event altogether because neither the council nor local businesses would take it on.

If you have not yet experienced a virtual switch-on, there are some still to come.

Sandwich will hold its via Facebook on Saturday, December 5,at 6.45pm.

While Deal's is tomorrow, Friday, at 7pm on the Deal and Walmer Chamber of Trade's website: dwchamber.co.uk

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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