Luke Blackall: Christmas lights go on... Simon Cowell's cash till rings

Man About Town: It's not a light turn-on unless there's a former X-Factor contestant involved somehow
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The Independent Online

It's been a week of big turn-ons. No no, not that sort – I mean of the Christmas light variety.

Pretty much every day this week, towns across the country have been turning on their lights in eager anticipation of festive bingeing. And, given that today there are only 42 days until Christmas (how will we manage to buy everything in just six weeks?) it's extremely timely.

The stores of course, hope to dazzle us back into pre-recession consumerism, so that we poor shepherds might follow the bright lights to their humble venues with our gifts of cash.

Because what is clear is that they're not there to entertain us anymore. Displays that were once both impressive and cosy have, for the most part, given way to the gaudy and the ostentatious. Besides, it seems we're no longer just satisfied with lights and the soft cries of "oooh" and "aaah". We want stars and performances.

In London the Westfield mega-malls set the trend. These shopping centres are so big that they are now like towns in their own right, with their own lights. Fittingly, they had American teen idol and shriek-magnet Justin Bieber to do the honours. He performed for the crowd in west London, turned on the lights and then flew (by helicopter) to do the same in front of parents and children in pyjamas at the Stratford store in the East End.

This managed to eclipse even the Regent Street switch-on, which has in recent times become part light show, part music festival. This week they had two celebrities to turn the lights on, plus two musical performances. Then, slightly strangely, two very well-known radio presenters to broadcast what is normally a very visual event over the airwaves.

What's more, it seems that today it's not a light turn-on unless there's a former X-Factor contestant involved somehow: Regent Street had Matt Cardle, Bristol, Olly Murs. It always gives you that uncomfortable feeling that whenever these festive lights come on, somewhere, somehow, Simon Cowell is making even more money.

Then for me there's always further discomfort when the lights are sponsored. However bright and fancy they might be, they will always be tempered by the fact that you're essentially being invited to the airing of an advert, which is in itself, a big turn-off.