Property: I saw Santa blowing bubbles: Adam Wide's Christmas is a 120-hour performance. Jim White joined him on the splendid set of his mansion flat

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The Independent Online
THIS weekend, as you struggle with a gap-toothed string of tree lights, furiously searching for the bulb that has blown, spare a thought for Adam Wide. Every year he spends at least 120 hours decorating his flat. It takes him 10 to 12 hours to dress a Christmas tree, for instance. And he has five of them. He has so many sets of lights he has to keep a comprehensive filing system.

'You do it because you love it and you don't mind going to bed at 4am if you know the tree is looking lovely,' he says.

An actor and comedian who runs his own entertainment consultancy, Adam sees Christmas as a performance. If you have driven across Hammersmith Bridge, west London, at any time over the past three weeks, you could not have missed his show. The arched windows of his mansion flat overlooking the Thames are flanked with white lights ('a sort of Harrods manque,' he calls them). His five trees flash colourfully in sequence across the water.

'I suppose it is in my genes,' he explains. 'My mother only used to have one decoration, a Santa, which she used to put facing outwards from the window. When we children used to ask why she did it, she said it was for the people on the buses passing by.'

But people passing by on buses over Hammersmith Bridge see only half the story of Adam's Christmas. The inside of his flat is more ambitiously decorated than any Santa's grotto in a department store. Such is his prowess with a bauble that last Christmas Thomas Cook flew him to New York where he was given pounds 60,000 with which to decorate the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel for a party of clients who had undertaken Cook's ultimate round- the-world tour.

Walk down the corridor of Adam's flat, where huge plastic icicles hang from the ceiling and silver-foil stars are confettied across the carpet, and you enter the dining-room. Here a model train, its carriages laden with gifts, sweets and Disney characters, chuffs continuously, its track running through canyons between mountains of presents. It then runs round the base of each of the flat's Christmas trees. As the trees are in separate rooms, Adam had to hammer holes in connecting walls to act as tunnels.

All over the flat are little Christmas novelties. On the dining- room mantelpiece is a mechanical Santa which blows streams of bubbles, flanked by a marching band playing carols on chimes; it has two dozen tunes in its repertoire.

'The bubble-blowing Santa came from Bloomingdales in New York and cost dollars 79 a couple of years ago,' Adam remembers. 'That's where I first saw the band and I really coveted it. Then, this year, I spotted it in my local Co-op and I couldn't hold back. I'm feeling a little guilty as it pushed me over my budget.'

He spends at least pounds 200 a year on new decorations. There is a store-room in the flat devoted to the 14 packing cases in which his accumulated stock is kept.

'I'm constantly adding from trips abroad. I find that Germany, Austria and the Nordic countries are much the best places. You can find cheap, tasteful items there that really stand out here because they are exotic. You always find some of the tinsel has tarnished on last year's things, which get relegated and eventually thrown away. So you need to keep an eye out all year to update.'

His main replenishing tip, if a journey to Copenhagen is inconvenient, is to buy display decorations destined for shops.

'They are bigger, better and cheaper,' he reveals. 'And you don't have to be in the trade to buy.'

But despite the cost, his systematic approach, and the sentimental value he attaches to certain items (such as the 50-year-old dimpled glass ball that has passed down through generations of Wides), there is nothing precious about Adam's Christmas. He invites a steady stream of visitors. Last Sunday he hosted his annual carol party for about 70 people, when dozens of children pulled and tugged and pawed at his prized decorations.

'If they break things, then you just replace them,' he says philosophically. 'But we do have to frisk some children when they leave. This year Minnie Mouse got mouse-napped from the train. It turned up in a child's pocket.'

(Photographs omitted)