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Nostalgic pictures featuring the celebrities which shaped our Christmases, including Jake Quickenden, Stephen Mulhern, Joe Pasquale, Sean Williamson and Ryan Moloney


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Christmas is looking a lot different this year, as lockdowns are (hopefully) just a distant memory and the traditional light switch-ons are back on.

Every year towns and villages across Kent have brought in crowds with celebrity-led lights switch ons but in 2020 it was a different story, with some ceremonies hosted virtually as people were urged to stay away from town centres.

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

Last year People found ways to mark this annual milestone.

This year, we've already been treated to events as kmfm hosted activities in a packed out Maidstone, Strood and Chatham.

We thought this gave us an excuse 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.

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
The Robbie Williams Experience at the Dartford Christmas lights switch-on in 2017. Picture: Andy Payton
The Robbie Williams Experience at the Dartford Christmas lights switch-on in 2017. Picture: Andy Payton

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.

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.

Panto star Stephen Mulhern meets spectators at the Canterbury Christmas lights switch-on in 2016. Picture: Chris Davey
Panto star Stephen Mulhern meets spectators at the Canterbury Christmas lights switch-on in 2016. Picture: Chris Davey

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.

Dartford has 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.

Freddie Mercury tribute act Gary Goodmaze at the Dartford in 2016
Freddie Mercury tribute act Gary Goodmaze at the Dartford in 2016
Aussie actor Daniel MacPherson and fans at the Whitstable Christmas lights switch-on
Aussie actor Daniel MacPherson and fans at the Whitstable Christmas lights switch-on

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

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.

Joe Pasquale with host Adam Hoffman at the Dartford Christmas lights switch-on in 2016. Picture: Andy Payton
Joe Pasquale with host Adam Hoffman at the Dartford Christmas lights switch-on in 2016. Picture: Andy Payton
Eastenders star Adam Woodyatt at the Folkestone Christmas lights switch-on in 2001.
Eastenders star Adam Woodyatt at the Folkestone Christmas lights switch-on in 2001.
Fans with TOWIE stars Diags and Tom at the 2013 Rochester switch-on. Picture: Steve Crispe
Fans with TOWIE stars Diags and Tom at the 2013 Rochester switch-on. Picture: Steve Crispe

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.

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.

Neighbours actor Ryan Moloney signs autographs at the Dover Christmas lights switch-on in 2005. Picture: Terry Scott
Neighbours actor Ryan Moloney signs autographs at the Dover Christmas lights switch-on in 2005. Picture: Terry Scott
Daniel MacPherson fans at the Whitstable Christmas lights switch-on in 2001
Daniel MacPherson fans at the Whitstable Christmas lights switch-on in 2001
The Folkestone Christmas lights switch-on in 2001.
The Folkestone Christmas lights switch-on in 2001.

Sheerness added to its Christmas lights in 2019 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. Two years ago 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.

For more on where Christmas light switch-ons take place across Kent this year, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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