Richard Curtis Talks To Parentdish: Christmas Traditions And Teen Years

07/10/2014 17:23 | Updated 20 May 2015

Love Actually director Richard Curtis on Harry Potter, baby names and snow!

Richard Curtis admits he has 'always been obsessed by Christmas'.

This may be one of the least surprising confessions of the year, as many of the films and TV shows Richard's written and/or directed are set at Christmas: Love Actually, Bridget Jones, Robbie the Reindeer and of course the festive special Blackadder's Christmas Carol.

More recently Richard has turned his hand to writing children's books and once again he has focused on Christmas: first with The Empty Stocking and now with his second title Snow Day.

Snow Day is the story of a boy who goes into school on a wintery morning to find the building deserted apart from his least favourite teacher.

So Parentdish decided to get to the bottom of why Christmas holds such a special place in Richard's heart, and how Richard, his partner Emma Freud and their children: Scarlett, 19, Jake, 17, Charlie, 12, and Spike, 10, spend Christmas Day.

Snow Day is set in the winter and your last book was set at Christmas. Is this a time of year that has special significance for you?

"For some reason, I've always been obsessed by Christmas. My favourite film ever is White Christmas – my favourite comedy is Elf.

"I think it may be having been raised in the Philippines – and then moving to Sweden – so first I dreamed of snow and Christmas – and then I got it by the sleigh-load."

Do you have any Christmas traditions in your house? Do you hang up stockings? Give presents at a certain time of day?

"We've got far too many traditions. They include eating lots of a strange date pinwheel biscuit, reading The Night Before Christmas out loud, and having lunch with over 35 people."

At what age did you move to England? Was it weird having your first winter Christmas? Do you still uphold any New Zealand Christmas traditions?

"When I was three years old I moved from New Zealand to the Philippines, where there was no snow – but masses of neon Father Christmases on roofs.

"We then went to Sweden where they lit a lot of candles and only when I was 10 did we come to England and watch the Queen at three o'clock.

"I'm not sure if we retained any New Zealand traditions, though we did retain lots of New Zealand friends and get lots of Christmas cards with exotic stamps featuring kiwis."

How did Christmas change for you when you became a father?

"For the first two years of course, your children don't really know what's going on. But after that, it's made it better in every way and more exhausting in every way.

"I try every year to think of a new and interesting way to engage the kids in the actual Christmas story.. Every year I fail."

How did you and Emma choose your children's names?

"Names are very weird - in a strange way they force themselves on you without you knowing why.

"We've also made mistakes. I gave my son Jake my favourite name (Daniel) as his second name, just in case – but then, when we had a second boy, I couldn't use Daniel.

"Then the second son we called Charlie Spike, making the same mistake – so when the third one was called Spike, we gave Charlie the right to choose his own second name, That's why he's now Charlie Tiger."

Is being a parent of teenagers what you expected or has it thrown up any surprises?

"We are incredibly lucky that the total traumatising teenage transformation has not occurred to us. But the revelation that my children are not afraid of all the things I was afraid is a continual joy."

You've worked on a lot of Christmas specials that people look forward to watching over the holidays. How do you feel when a re-run of one of your shows comes on?

"I'm very happy if they make other people happy – and I'm still hoping that one day I'll be able to convince the mother of my children actually to watch the Blackadder Christmas special – indeed, it would be nice if she ever watched any episode of Blackadder, come to think of it."

Do you have a favourite Christmas TV programme or film that you look forward to watching every year with your family?

"Elf. It's perfect. When I was single, I used to watch It's a Wonderful Life a lot. When I was a teenager, it was Charlie Brown's Christmas, with my little brother Jamie. And before that, it was White Christmas with my Dad."

Scarlett's started at uni in New York. Will she be home for Christmas?

"I hope so, unless she is inveigled to the Hamptons by someone called Brett."

How are you finding her being so far away?

"We talk a lot. She mainly asks how the dog is."

She's written about her struggle to get through the uni entrance exams while suffering from depression and anxiety. You must be very proud of her.

"I'm extremely proud of her in every way and if you want to read something wonderful, take a look at her blog, It will, amongst other more profound things, also teach you how to cook cakes that look exactly like hamburgers."

Have you got any advice for parents of teens who are suffering from depression? What ways of supporting her did you find helped the most?

"I think each case is so different. My advice is go on searching and searching for a solution that suits your child."

Scarlett's also written about her love of baking and Mary Berry – are you all watching the Great British Bake Off at the moment?

"We are watching it – and also making the new Comic Relief Celebrity Bake Offs which are going to be very funny indeed."

What were your favourite books to read to your kids when they were younger?

"I read them the first five Harry Potter books and loved those. Otherwise I'm a huge Dr Seuss fan for when they're younger and an obsessive Roald Dahl fan as they grow older.

"I think "The Witches" is my favourite read-out-loud book – though it's in fact Esio Trot that I've just made into a film for the BBC this Christmas. "

What was the inspiration for Snow Day? Did you draw on any of your own school memories or your children's experiences?

"It's always a lot of inspirations that make up books – snow days in Sweden when we went to school, but, most of all, the excitement for my kids of snow days in London are the main inspirations.

"Also a story about a London school where Snow Day was called – and then all the kids decided to meet up – and decided the best place to meet was... school. "

Are you planning to write more children's books?

Yes. At least one. It's called, surprise surprise, That Christmas.

Snow Day by Richard Curtis out now in hardback (£10.99, Puffin).

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