In Summer 1996, I worked in the Sales and Promotion Dept for the Virgin Record label, who had recently signed a new band calling themselves the Spice Girls. “Wannabe” was soon to be released to the World and after a visit from the band to the Kensal Green office, the whole place was gripped and everyone just knew what was about to happen. They were going to be huge!

Spice Girls - Wannabe
Spice Girls - Wannabe

This was pre-internet really so nobody had any idea about the band at all – especially the bookies - so quite a few of the staff were tipped off and were getting odds of 25/1 for this unknown band to be Christmas Number 1 – one who hadn’t released any songs yet!

Of course the following December they released “2 Become 1” and it went straight in at the top during Christmas week.

Needless to say a lot of Virgin staff had a very merry Christmas that year! (Is that insider trading?)

History tells us what happened next – The Spice Girls went on to be the biggest pop phenomenon of the decade and single handily propped up Virgin Records for many years to come. One exec once said they literally had so much money off the back of the band they “didn’t know what to do with it!”.

For three consecutive years The Spice Girls held the Christmas number 1 spot in 1996, 97 and 98.

Obviously Christmas number ones don’t have the same gravitas nowadays but back in the 70s, 80s and 90s artists worked tirelessly to ensure they hit the top spot for the festive season – guaranteeing themselves a spot on the coveted Christmas Day edition of Top of the Pops.

The first Christmas number 1 was in 1952 - with Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’, which was incidentally the first chart number 1 in the UK - this was followed in 1955 by the first festive track in 1955 - Christmas Alphabet by Dickie Valentine. The Beatles (snow) stormed the 60s with 4 hits, then towards the end of the decade the very British concept of the Christmas novelty track emerged.

‘Lily The Pink’ was quickly followed by ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)’ and ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’ before some sort of sanity was bestowed upon the Top 40 when in 1973 when two of the all-time biggest festive classics battled for chart dominance - Slade with ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ eventually pipped Wizzard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday’ to the top spot.

Many of the artists from this era will have their pension topped up every year with royalties from songs they released then – especially off the back of Now That’s What I Call Christmas compilation albums and more recently streaming services.

Roy Wood & Wizzard, Shakin’ Stevens, East 17, Cliff Richard and Slade are still raking in hundreds of thousands of pounds each year from these songs via their PPL and PRS payments.

Novelty songs made an unnerving comeback in the 80s when for no explicable reason other than the country had lost its combined mind, ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’ by St Winfred’s School Choir, ‘Save Your Love’ by Renee and Renato were both crowned Kings and Queens of the charts.

Although nothing quite beats the abomination of Mr Blobby making Christmas number 1 in 1993 – which we will give the credit it dually deserved... nothing.

The 2000s were a very dull decade for the Christmas Number 1 title, this was when the X Factor really took hold with the winner releasing their debut single in Christmas week pretty much guaranteeing them the number 1 spot... so artists such as Girls Aloud, Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke had hits during this period... until 2009 when the people spoke and told Simon Cowell that enough was enough and after an online campaign, the decidedly unfestive, “Killing in the Name of” by Rage Against the Machine pipped Joe McElderry (who?) to the top spot.

There were of course the huge charity songs that get released in December – the biggest being Band Aid trio of hits in 1985, 1990 and 2004 but even more recently the record buying public love a song that raises money for good causes with Military Wives, Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir and The Justice Collective all gaining the accolade of being Christmas Number 1.

Last year the novelty hit made a come back and we were treated to ‘We Built this City…on Sausage Rolls’ by LadBaby which beat Ariana Grande and Ava Max to the top spot raising money for the food bank charity The Trussell Trust along the way. This year who knows - LadBaby is back raising money with ‘I Love Sausage Rolls’ - guess what that’s inspired by - or you could put a bet on a Robbie Williams and Tyson Fury duet, Ellie Goulding, Bastille with their REO Speedwagon cover for the John Lewis ad - or schoolboy Frankie Moreland’s environmental plea ‘World in Danger’ - the choice ultimately dear reader is yours!

If you want to give yourself a festive earworm then you can check out the all the Christmas number 1s - here!