THE festive season got under way in earnest in the North-East last night with the grand switch-on of Christmas lights in Newcastle and Sunderland.
Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given flicked the switch at a celebration on Grey Street featuring a host of special guests.
Compere Steve Wells and Century FM presenters Ben and Lisa roused the crowd with a sing-a-long while panto stars Clive Webb and Danny Adams, who are appearing in Aladdin at the Theatre Royal, also put in an appearance.
Shay said: “It has been an incredible night and it was something I was really looking forward to. The lights look tremendous every year and I am very happy to have turned them on this year.”
Coun Pauline Allen, Newcastle City Council’s executive member for culture, heritage, libraries and sport, said: “The Christmas lights switch-on is always a good way to start the festive season and I am delighted Shay helped out this year.”
The goalkeeper was following in the footsteps of Michael Owen, Alan Shearer and Sir Bobby Robson.
The four winners of the council’s children’s lights competition went up on stage to collect their prizes and see their designs lit up on Grainger Street. The switch-on also featured a preview of one of the Arts Cars which will be parading around Tyneside on New Year’s Eve as part of the Winter Festival organised by the NewcastleGateshead Initiative.
In Sunderland, Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney and his wife Jan – who are starring in the pantomime Cinderella at the Sunderland Empire – helped with the switch-on at the city’s civic centre. Sunderland mayor Coun Lesley Scott joined the pair, while Father Christmas and his little helpers also appeared.
The traditional tree was handed over from the people of Stavanger in Norway, as has happened for the last 40 years and there was entertainment from the Sun FM roadshow, the St Robert of Newminster School choir, and a firework display over Mowbray Park.