Fat chance of hiring a Santa

THE GOOSE may be getting fat for Christmas but Santa certainly isn't. Health-conscious actors have left entertainment agencies around the country facing a crisis in the run-up to Christmas because they cannot recruit enough fat old men to play the roly-poly gift bringer.

Agency managers have blamed the shortage on healthier eating habits and a boom in the number of retail parks and shopping malls looking to stock their grottoes with a genuine sixty-something with a white beard and mince-pie filled belly. Stores are reluctant to use younger, slimmer, versions because children are quick to test the impostors.

One of the country's largest suppliers of Santa Clauses, the Ministry of Fun, based in London, has already put out an SOS for fat actors to come forward after demand quickly outstripped supply. The agency director, Julian Pearson, said more stores were this year opting for the traditional grotto with Santa, as it was a strong marketing tool.

His firm will be supplying some 420 Santas and more have already been booked. But he said: "It's a real struggle finding fat old men. We just cannot find any suitable actors who are, shall we say, on the porky side. All the applicants seem to live on salads and look after their bodies.

"The new breed of Santas are laying off the mince pies and going down the gym. They're too thin. You cannot just strap a cushion on them and hope to fool the kids because they'll suss it out straight away."

Francine Estry Elkinson, who has a marketing agency in Manchester, is also desperately seeking suitable fat Santas. "I think everybody is facing the same sort of thing," she said of the shortage, which is pushing up appearance fees to pounds 100 a day for the right Father Christmas.

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