Wigan grandad bids farewell to 50 year old beard
Ian Bithell, from Hindley Green, has rarely been seen without his trademark beard for almost half a century.
But the 69-year-old faced the razor this week as part of a fundraiser for children with special needs.
Ian, a St John Ambulance volunteer, enjoyed a trim at Kal’s Barbers in Westhoughton, to raise cash for Blessings In Disguise. The Wigan-based charity provides assistance and activities for children with special needs and disabilities.
Ian, who has been offering his time as Santa to Blessings In Disguise for five years (and to the St John Ambulance for 33), revealed how his family and friends were stunned to see him without his trademark facial hair.
“My wife hadn’t seen me without it for about 15 years. She stood back in amazement, but she says I look younger!” he said.
“It’s been growing back since the minute I stepped out of that chair. I can feel the stubble already.”
Ian is racing the clock to make sure his beard will be fully grown again by summer, in time for the charity’s ‘Santa in July’ event.
The Christmas party is held for youngsters who were too poorly to enjoy the festive period in December, and is an event which Ian enjoys attending each year.
“It’s about how the children perceive you. I get a lot of them saying ‘you are the proper Santa, you’ve not got a fake beard on’,” he said.
“I enjoy seeing them, I don’t just sit there and give them a present. As long as they want to chat, I will stay with them.”
He added: “I had one young child, she must have been about 18 months old. She couldn’t move, and she had an oxygen tank. When you see something like that, and hold a child like that, it breaks my heart. I’ll do whatever I can for them, to help give them a better life.”
Sharon Sargent from Blessings in Disguise said: “We would just like to say a huge thank you to Ian for all his support and giving up his time to help the children’s charity which is close to his heart.
“He has helped us countless times as our Santa and on behalf of St John Ambulance at our events, and is a dear friend to Blessing in Disguise. Ian is a well loved by the children that we help and they believe he is the real Santa because he has the real Santa’s beard.”
You can also donate to Blessing In Disguise’s fund-raising at totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/santasbeardshave