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The Bath Christmas Market has become one of the city’s biggest spectacles, and one of the most popular festive attractions in the UK, boosting the local economy and drawing visitors from all over the world.
Simon Horsford speaks to super-organiser Mick Heath over a few glasses of Glühwein
Putting on a spectacle that attracts more than 400,000 visitors to Bath is no easy task. So who better to oversee its smooth direction than a man whose previous roles include running the Pyramid Stage and The Other Stage for 18 years at Glastonbury Festival? Mick Heath is a seasoned events organiser, who is keen to stress that Bath’s Christmas is “an event” rather than a market.
“I grew up in London and used to go to the market at Wembley. To me that is a market where you can pick up some DMs [Doc Martens] and some fresh fish. I personally see Bath Christmas market as a well-curated event, and you can make what you want of it, day or night.”
Heath works with Les Redwood, the events executive, throughout the year until they are joined by a team of around 15 as the event draws near. “Much of my year is spent dealing with the politics, not the production, and liaising with the community,” says Heath.
Not everyone is a fan of the Christmas market when it takes over the streets of the city for 18 days, but for Heath, “it’s all about spreading the love. We can’t please all the people all of the time and the market does cause disruption with street closures. Some shops roll out the red carpet and embrace it, others don’t. It’s a bit like Marmite. We are not the big bad wolf. I understand some of smaller shops don’t have such a good time and we are working with them and finding ways to extend the footfall of visitors to places such as Walcot Street.”
The other main issue for Heath and Redwood is choosing the stallholders. “Our process sets a high criteria,” says Heath. “We get 400-500 applications for the pitches and we still go through each and every one. Even if a trader has been here for years, it’s the only fair way of doing it.”
“We need to bring in new ideas each year (last year there were more than 60 new stallholders), but it’s a bit like a band bringing out a new album and going on tour and playing all the old hits. Someone might say where is such and such a stall this year, or it’s just the same every year.”
It is a myth, though, says Heath, that most of the visitors come from Wales. He laughs at my suggestion that all we see is coaches from Cardiff and Swansea.“We do get a lot of people from Wales, and they do enjoy it and are vocal in their support. But we get loads of visitors from all over the south west, UK and global tourists too.”
Heath, who now lives in Bradford-on-Avon, certainly has the experience for managing all eventualities. “My background is festivals and events. I’ve done Reading and T in the Park and the Big Feastival with Alex James (the Blur musician turned cheesemaker), plus fashion shows and exhibitions.
Before joining Visit Bath, Heath worked for the events company EnTEEtainment before moving to Richmond Event Management, where he was also involved in the Bristol Balloon and Harbour Festivals.
“I have so many memories of great bands and memories from Glastonbury. When I was working there, I was living in Bridgwater and used to pop over throughout the year to see Michael (Eavis) regularly. Much of the decision-making was made in the Apple Tree Inn!”
All in all, from liaising with shopkeepers and sorting security issues to choosing who should take up the chalets, it’s an operation where logistics are key. The festivities may only last a few days, but for Heath, organising Bath’s Christmas market is very much a year-round operation.
Five offbeat stalls at Bath Christmas Market
Wooden ties – Yes, ties made from wood. Ever seen anyone wear one?
Grown Up Marshmallows – Made in Exmoor, these hand-cut marshmallows contain fresh fruit and/or fair-trade chocolate and are gluten, dairy and egg-free.
Georgie Porgie’s Puddings – Family-run company, based in Devon, who make 100,000 Christmas puddings a year.
Four Legged Fancies – An award-winning dog bakery making natural, handmade treats for dogs with a fun twist. Pawsecco anyone?
Priormade – Sells creative pieces made from sustainable and recycled material, such as earrings from bicycle inner tubes and jewellery from reclaimed wood, such as church pews and the old pier at Weston-Super-Mare.
The Bath Christmas Market will run from 22 November – 9 December throughout the city centre.
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