‘Britain’s strictest headteacher’ calls M&S Christmas advert starring Hannah Waddingham ‘abhorrent’

Katharine Birbalsingh was mocked by public figures including James May and James O’Brien for her letter condemning the campaign

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 06 November 2023 04:47 GMT
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M&S Christmas food advert 2023

Educator Katharine Birbalsingh has doubled down on her criticism of the Marks & Spencer Christmas advert, after she shared an open letter calling for the campaign to be taken down.

Birbalsingh, who has been described as “Britain’s strictest headteacher”, published the latter on Friday 3 November and received a near-immediate backlash for her stance.

In her letter, she accuses the British retailer of holding “two fingers up” to traditional values.

The M&S advert stars a number of celebrities, including pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Ted Lesso actor Hannah Waddingham, who are seen destroying a number of typical Christmas items, including a gingerbread house and paper crowns.

“I feel compelled to write to you to express my deep disappointment and outrage at your Christmas advert for 2023,” Birbalsingh wrote in the letter, which she shared on X/Twitter.

“You have a duty as our national department store to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for the sake of our children.”

She added: “We want our children to do more than exist as the old Ebenezer did, building his chain. We want our children to LIVE,” she concluded. “Please do not undermine us in this endeavour.”

Birbalsingh has been widely mocked for her letter, including by former Top Gear presenter James May and LBC host James O’Brien.

However, she has since reiterated her opinions on X/Twitter, and hit back at those criticising her for what some have deemed an over-the-top reaction.

“What some people don’t understand is that results and values go hand in hand,” she tweeted on Sunday 5 November.

“Yes, teaching methods and discipline are key. But so are our small c conservative values. If you look at the M&S advert and don’t see why I think it is abhorrent, then you don’t understand our school.”

Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor appears in Marks & Spencer’s Christmas ad campaign (M&S/PA)

In one response to a parent who rejected the suggestion a child might be negatively influenced by the M&S advert, she wrote: “Kids are influenced by all sorts, including ads, in particular the M&S or John Lewis Christmas advert.

“We all play a part in creating an environment which teaches our children right from wrong.”

Responding to her original post, May, who hosts Prime Video series The Grand Tour with former Top Gear co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, commented: “Good grief. Marks and Spencer is not our ‘national department store’. That will be John Lewis. Marks and Spencer is our national pants supplier. Get it right. You’re a ‘teacher’.”

LBC radio host James O’Brien tweeted: “All the very best parody accounts might as well go home now. There’s a new kid in town and they’re absolutely brilliant. The Scrooge stuff in particular is off the charts funny. Genius.”

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