How wonderland LaplandUK weaves its special Christmas spell
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Now in the midst of another sell-out season, the spell-binding theme park nestles among towering pines sprinkled with biodegradable “snow” and trails twinkling with fairy lights in Ascot, Berkshire.
Here visitors become part of an ancient elven civilisation complete with dazzlingly attired mythical characters and husky star turns while within decorative wooden settings a host of entertainments and activities play out.
Bringing to life stories that the husband and wife duo have written about how modest toymakers Mr and Mrs Christmas fashion and deliver their gifts, the four-hour experience “is believable and authentic so we can suspend the disbelief of adults and children alike. We honour childhood,” says Alison.
Pushing back against what they saw as the festive season’s commercial status quo and grotty grotto offerings, the former primary school teacher and Mike, an investment expert, who have four sons, launched the business in 2006.
“We were perceived as a high-risk proposition so re-mortgaged our family home such was our conviction in what we were doing,” says Mike. “We started with a purpose and a dream, but no production experience.
“Now we have more than 30 characters, embrace the location and simultaneously stage up to 20 shows a day thanks to a world class team.
“We work with Hollywood film production designers, performance artists and costume makers, all with an obsessive attention to detail as they craft our world. We have the production values of a West End show. At the centre of what’s reality theatre are always the children and their families.”
The Battles’ tenacious journey to success however has involved more ups and downs than a ride in Santa’s sleigh. It’s a survival story that includes further re-mortgaging, being undermined by a rogue copycat operator and a bounce back from administration.
The brand is now trademarked and LaplandUK HQ has 30 staff and 700 more jobs are created during the six-week build of the live show which runs for six weeks.
In 2019 it welcomed visitors from 54 countries, counts celebrities such as the Beckhams and Holly Willoughby among its fans and stayed open last Christmas.
Turnover has risen to almost £18 million, the Battles’ latest book How Huskies Became Heroes will join The Untold Story of Father Christmas and The Secrets of The Christmas Elves while international approaches to stage the show are increasing.
“The aim is to get better, add more days and more performers,” say the couple whose plans include setting up a new children’s books publishing arm, expanding into a new territory come 2023 and work with more partners in the UK, Europe, the US and possibly Asia, “respecting their cultural position and adapting to that,” says Mike.
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That will need external investment, something now being considered possibly in the shape of long-term sponsors.
Spin-off potential through games, cartoons and merchandising is also strong and the business will create a trust next year, donating profits from the books to support children’s and environmental charities.
This year the business partnered with The Big Christmas Press Show, organised by the CIJ group, that enables independent companies and the media to come together in an efficient way under one roof to promote products ahead of retail’s key season.
LaplandUK’s showcase and collaboration worked well, according to Mike. “Partnering with The Big Christmas Press Show took our media engagement to a new level by bringing our story to life in the real world and gave us a welcome opportunity to speak candidly about LaplandUK without the fear of compromising the belief of any children who are usually present when we meet journalists at the live event.”
And echoing her favourite Christmas feel-good movie, all in all “it’s a wonderful life,” says Alison.
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