Bookies lose on Spice Christmas

IT IS as much part of the festivities as turkey and the Queen's broadcast. The Christmas No 1 marks the time when the music business abandons its cool image and unleashes catchy, sentimental and downright silly singles on the charts.

Yesterday, Radio 1 announced that the Spice Girls have equalled the Beatles' hattrick with their third consecutive No 1, "Goodbye", beating off close competition from Chef's "Chocolate Salty Balls". Denise and Johnny's "Especially For You" was number three with Cher's former chart-topper "Believe" at number four.

The bookmakers William Hill estimate they have lost pounds 250,000 over the past three years due to the Spice Girls making it to No 1. They are already quoting the Girls as favourites for next year at 2-1 and are nervously looking at the weather (the double bet on the Spice Girls and a white Christmas at 8-1 could cost them an awful lot).

John McKie, editor of Smash Hits, says he was not surprised by the Spice Girls' supremacy: "They are the biggest pop act on the planet, they release a single the week before Christmas - it's not exactly rocket science to see they were going to make it."

But he added that it is not always as clear cut: "Christmas is also the time when people that would never usually get to No 1 can make it , like Mr Blobby or the Teletubbies."

While the rest of the country quails at the thought of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" (1973), St Winifred's School Choir's "There's No One Quite Like Grandma" (1980), or "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool", Little Jimmy Osmond (1972) blaring out again, for record companies the Christmas No 1 remains crucial.

Estimates suggest a Christmas single can sell three times as many copies as a normal chart topper, with the festive season accounting for 40 per cent of profits. "A Christmas No 1 is a landmark in the calendar," said Steve Redmond, editor-in-chief of Music Week. "A Christmas single can also propel sales of an album."

While the Spice Girls took few risks, their latest offering enjoying a sophisticated PR campaign for weeks, the spin-off from the cartoon South Park, voiced by 1970s soul legend Isaac Hayes, took a more low-key approach. The Chef single had little airplay due to its risque lyrics, and the record company's approach, says Mr Redmond, "was a man dressed as Chef walking up and down Oxford Street with a placard saying `Buy my record'."

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