Beating the strains of a first Christmas

A screaming baby, scary in-laws, demanding guests... The festivities will throw up some tricky new scenarios for these celebrities. Katy Guest asks relationship experts to offer a little seasonal advice
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The in-laws

Prince William and Kate Middleton

Do you think your in-laws are scary? Then spare a thought for poor Kate Middleton, who has been invited to spend Christmas Day with her lovely boyfriend William, pulling wishbones on the Sandringham estate with all the family. While most of us can tell tales of fiendish mothers-in-laws and midnight tiptoeing, they are slightly put into perspective by the idea of a Christmas with The Firm.

Every family has its own little rituals on Christmas Day. In the case of the royals, they involve seven changes of outfit, hand-made bespoke crackers and a 20-foot Norfolk spruce felled from their own private estate.

"You never let the Queen beat you down to dinner, end of story," Sarah Ferguson once revealed. "To come in any later would be unimaginably disrespectful."

Which is pretty much the same as with any mother-in-law, really.

One of Relate's primary pieces of advice for avoiding a Christmas bust-up while staying with the in-laws is to "talk realistically and well in advance of Christmas about spending on gifts for each other's families. Money is one of the main causes of arguments within couples so agreeing on a budget in advance should be a big help." Especially when granny is one of the richest people in England.

In the meantime, Kate has found a cunning way out of sitting respectfully in front of the Queen's speech, while trying to ignore a strange old auntie breaking wind in the corner. She has politely declined Her Majesty's invitation until the day that Wills puts a ring on her fingers, and will be spending the holidays in Scotland with all the other Middletons, instead.

A new partner

Lembit Opik and Gabriela Irimia

Christmas can be a testing time for a new relationship. It is stressful enough picking out a thoughtful gift and introducing your beloved to your suspicious family. It's even worse when your dream girl is an identical twin, her mother speaks mostly Romanian and it is tremendously important to impress the dog. So you have to feel for Lembit Opik.

After six years of pulling crackers with the family of his on-off fiancée Sian Lloyd, Lembit finds himself having a new set of in-laws to negotiate after he took up with Gabriela Irimia, a Cheeky Girl.

The folks at Relate advise caution. "Remember that rich food, alcohol and partying are not likely to lead to the best sex you've ever had," they warn, adding: "Presents can give a powerful message in a relationship. Try to reflect the person in the flattering way that they see themselves and not in the more mundane ways that you might see them."

In case Gabriela is reading this, then, it is not too late to take back that mundane, spangly thong leotard and gofor a present that better reflects Lembit's flattering image of himself. A biography of Lloyd George ought to do.

A new baby

Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes

It has been an exhausting year for wee Katie Holmes, the little girl who once tacked posters of Tom Cruise to her bedroom wall and dreamed that one day she would marry him. In the last year, she has grown up in a hurry: her prince has come, she has abandoned her Catholic religion and her vow of celibacy, given birth to baby Suri in the Scientology tradition (without making a squeak) and taken her husband's adviser with her on honeymoon.

Christmas with a new baby can be tough. The important thing is that couple don't allow the demands of parenthood to overwhelm any sense of festive fun. Bouncing on the sofa is still allowed, then.

"Remember the best gift you can give your baby is your own happy, healthy couple relationship," is the guidance from Relate. "Talk about what you want from this first festive season as a family. Even if your time as a couple is limited, it can still be quality time."

Experts at have some more practical advice: "Chop and prepare everything in advance... Limit the presents to three per child, as brought by the Wise Men... In a word, drink." Or do what Katie has done: after Christmas, she is insisting on a short break in Tahiti with her beloved, without his best mate tagging along this time. Even the baby, apparently, is staying at home with Tom's sisters.

The ex

Jude Law & Sadie Frost

Looking forward to spending the holidays unwrapping socks and toasting crumpets with your life partner as the first grandchildren gambol around the tree?Really, that is so passé. What do you think this is? It's a Wonderful Life? No, the modern way to do Christmas is with the blended family.

Take Jude Law and Sadie Frost. The divorced pair will be spending Christmas with their three children, her son from a previous relationship and some kids with HIV in an orphanage in Africa. Jude and Sadie, who have both moved on (several times) since their marriage ended, have clearly been taking the advice of Relate. "Don't try to recreate old Christmases," they warn. "It will be different this year so think positively about the new things you'd like to do together."

Such as doing a production of Romeo and Juliet. "The school suggested it, and Jude is really keen to get stuck in," Sadie gushes.

By following Jude'n' Sadie's simple rules, you too can have a relaxing and intimate Christmas with your ex, their kids and the nanny (who should by this point have slept with one or both of you).

"We communicate all the time," she beams. "You have to put aside ego and differences and anything said in the papers. The children are the truth."

An empty nest

Chris Tarrant

Through absolutely no fault of his own, the presenter finds that his grown-up children will not be spending Christmas with him this year. Largely because he deceived their mother for seven years by having an affair.

"I mean, I didn't break the law," Chris said in his defence. "Yes, I was a bad boy. But what is this hysteria? I was playing away, you know. Boys do." Sadly, his 18-year-old daughter Sammy has joined in the "hysteria". "I will miss my dad this Christmas. What I really want to ask him is, 'Was it worth it?'"

Tarrant should take the advice of the relationship guidance people, Relate. "Think of all the ways you can keep in touch," they recommend, "using text messages, email or even a webcam if you have one."

Your newly single self

Mel B

What is it about Christmas? Is it the onslaught of the office party season, the dread of being bought another pair of novelty boxer shorts or do they put dumping juice in the sherry? Something happens to people in December, and this time it is the turn of the former Spice Girl, Mel B. It all seemed so perfect when the loud mouth from Leeds met the 45-year-old squillionaire father-of-six Eddie Murphy and the smitten pair immediately conceived. Then he dumped her in a TV interview, saying, charmingly: "We don't know whose child that is until it comes out and has a blood test."

Phillip Hodson of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy advises the newly dumped to avoid Christmas. "It's a good time to go away to a country that doesn't celebrate it, like Morocco," he says. "You could try to find someone else in your shoes and share the misery. It's a good time to write a novel take up online poker, or go on a diet. It's important not to put on a big smile and pretend everything's OK."

If Morocco is fully booked this Christmas, Mel should remember the Bridget Jones approach: stay in, eat chocolate and listen to Jamie O'Neal singing "All By Myself".

And Mel could adopt Bridget's list of new year's resolutions too: "Find nice sensible boyfriend to go out with and [do] not continue to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment-phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts." Sadly, that rules out most celebrities.

A full house

The Osbournes

You can see how it happens: you plan for a quiet family Christmas. You make a couple of ill-advised invitations at the office. Then, all of a sudden, things get slightly out of control: you find yourself hiring a caterer, booking a Georgian townhouse in Knightsbridge and, like the Osbournes, hosting Christmas for 120. Well, we've all been there.

Poor Sharon has ended up spending £250,000 on 100 bottles of Bollinger, 200 bottles of Meursault and Petrus and an obscene number of pheasants.

Carole Stone, the networking queen, would not be daunted (although to be fair she has never, to our knowledge, been married to Ozzy). Keep an eye on the welfare of your guests, she says, and the rest will follow. "Give people things to do," she advises. "Particularly, shy people do like to be given a task. Say, 'It would help me so much if you would peel the spuds.' But make sure the kitchen doesn't get too crowded."

Stone adds, "And don't worry if things go a bit wrong. People don't mind if the sprouts are overdone; Christmas is about the company you're with."

Somehow, we suspect that sprouts won't be highest on Sharon's list of priorities.