The town centre was packed on Friday evening for the Christmas Festival, making it seem one of the busiest for many years.
The big moment of the night saw VIP Christopher Biggins with the help of Lotte Groh and the cast of the Kenton Theatre’s Jack and the Beanstalk Pantomime switch on the Market Place Christmas Tree lights. Biggins said, “Are you excited?” before making a joke about the light switch and starting the countdown. Following this Woodley Concert Band led carol singing starting with Silent Night. The Christmas tree for the first time has been decorated with baubles and the new lighting around the town was a great improvement after the Council invested £50K this year, offset by business sponsorship.
Earlier in the evening there were festive performances on the main stage in Market Place from Henley Children’s Theatre Group, Divas & Dudes Dance Academy, Henley Youth Choir, Stagecoach Henley, Blue Mic Choir, Charis Anne Luke and the cast of Jack and the Beanstalk.
Pupils from Valley Road, Rupert House, St Mary’s, Sacred Heart and Badgemore enjoyed parading their recycled lanterns they had made earlier in the week from the River & Rowing Museum led by the Town Crier through the town to the Town Hall.
Children were excited to visit Santa in his Grotto which had returned to the cosy King’s Arms Barn where they received a free goody bag and got the chance to tell Santa what was on their wish list.
Roaming entertainers; Santa stilt-walkers and giant bubble blowers, Reading Operative Choir, Mr Toad and the panto cast added to the festive carnival-like atmosphere.
The roads were lined with food and festive gift stalls as well as the popular fairground rides. Local schools and charities had fundraising stalls including Henley Youth Festival, Valley Road and Sacred Heart School and Pre-School, Rotary Club and the local branch of the RNLI.
The main stage performances finished with the talented Saxcelerate saxphone band and performers from 8 Ray Music.
Reflecting on the resounding success of the evening, Henley Mayor, Councillor Kellie Hinton, said, “It was the most fun time at the festival, everywhere I looked people were happy and enjoying themselves. I was very impressed by how hard the HTC team worked to make the event happen and their dedication was evident throughout. We definitely missed seeing Cllr Sarah Miller at the event but she’ll be back full force next year! The new lights look really festive and what a joy to turn the tree lights on with the hilarious and wonderful Christopher Biggins. He was very kind and has friends in Henley so he was already familiar with our town. We’ve received so many positive reviews this year and I’m so pleased and proud that the work paid off. Next year I hope to see even more improvements.”
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