WITH long white hair and a matching beard, Barry Swift often gets mistaken for Santa.
But the 68-year-old grandfather-of-five holds a magical secret of his own: He really is Jolly Saint Nick!
The retired history and politics teacher has been the resident Father Christmas at Dobbies garden centre in Southport for the last seven years - and his hair and beard are all real.
He said: “My own children and grandchildren say I look like Santa and I often get stopped in the street with people thinking I am him and I pose for photos.
“So I thought I may as well become him, so I was Santa at Bents Garden and Home, in Leigh, for one year and then I joined Dobbies, which has a great grotto.
“It is great fun - the children are very funny, and tell me jokes.
“Some ask for the most unusual things - one girl asked for spiders and another wanted a shotgun to shoot rats on his grandma’s farm!
“The children are usually in awe - those aged three to seven are particularly good fun.”
And as this is the busiest time of year for Santa, Barry also attends other venues, such as supermarkets,
hosting breakfasts for children.
He added: “Children decorate biscuits and cards and I read them a Christmas story, usually The Night Before Christmas.
“They ask me questions, usually how I get around everyone’s houses in one night, and I explain how different countries have their own traditions.
“I have a pleasant time, listening to the children singing carols.”
Barry, who hails from St Helens, but now lives in Roby Mill, said his younger grandchildren also think he is Santa.
He said: “My great-grandson knows who I am and I say I help out Santa. One of my other grandchildren didn’t recognise me, but they have grown up now.”
So after a busy month, what will Barry be doing over Christmas?
The father-of-four, who also has two great grandchildren, said: “I retired as a teacher at All Saints School, in Kirby, 10 years ago and now I work as Santa five weeks a year.
“It is very full on, as I am fully booked.
“I will be very busy on Christmas Eve, but after work I will be putting my feet up and having a takeaway. On Christmas Day I will be visiting family.”