I interviewed the Whitcoulls Santa…

I stood on the intersection of Queen and Victoria Streets and had a chat with the 51-year old Santa who used to be known for his creepiness, but has now had an extreme makeover.

The new Santa with silenced finger and eyelid

Auckland’s hulking Santa is 51 this year and love him or hate him, you can’t miss the big guy. He’s 21-metres tall with a tremendous 27m girth and looks knowingly down from the Whitcoulls building. But his dodgy wink and come-hither finger had brought him much flak over the years and more than a little bad press, so last year he visited the fibreglass surgeon and now  holds his head high as the age-defying jolly old man.

But ask Santa what he’s seen since 1960 and he’ll tell you a lot of naughty and nice since he first stood on the old Farmers Building (now Heritage Hotel) on Hobson St.

He remembers how easy it was delivering presents to boys and girls when Auckland’s population was half a million in 1964, and then how he had to put new stream-lined delivery systems in place when it reached 1 million in ’96. He remembers the naughty towaway zones being introduced in 1967 and the rioters on Queen Street in ’84, the same year (nicely) that tolls were abolished on the Harbour Bridge, and he also sees exactly who those boy racers are each night!

The old winky Santa with the creepy finger

Indeed Santa sees everything. (That’s how he knows who to bring gifts to each year.) But there was a time when he was down and out and found abandoned in a rubbish dump in Mangere (he didn’t want to talk too much about this).

What I managed to find out later was that he and his reindeer were dumped from the Farmers Buildings and a kindly gentleman bought him for $1. He then met some Whitcoulls big wigs who helped find the thousands of dollars needed to rebuild him and give him a new home.

Maybe Santa was just misunderstood. His bad press was, quite frankly, because he was ugly. Shame on us, that’s not polite! But he is expensive to run and avoiding arthritis in that finger was only the start of the costs.

Three years ago he was nearly a gonna with Whitcoulls having to make a tough call about whether he would even make it onto the roof in 2008. A dramatic rescue plan was hatched with Heart of the City and thankfully he is still here today – facelift and all.

So pop down and say hi, before he disappears for another year into his secret Santa storage for another year.