IT is a task that usually falls to a local personality or bright-eyed schoolchild and signals the start of the festive period.
But one Scottish council has come under fire for spending thousands of pounds to hire an English reality TV personality to switch on its Christmas lights.
People living in Perth have described the decision to pay former The Only Way Is Essex star Mark Wright for the switch-on “bewildering and scandalous” after it emerged he will receive £5000 for an appearance which will last just an hour.
They have called on the local authority to cancel the booking and instead pick someone more appropriate to perform the festive ceremony on November 23.
Perth and Kinross Council have not revealed how much they are paying Mr Wright, who has no previous connection to the city, but his agent has confirmed his client’s fee is £5000, plus VAT.
The news of the booking has not gone down well in Perth, with locals questioning the TV personality’s credentials to represent their city.
Mother-of-four Vicky Currie, 73, said: “What on earth has Mark Wright got to do with Perth? By definition he is ‘famous’ for not coming from Perth, but Essex.
“The council have taken leave of their senses, frankly. Picking an obscure celebrity seems pointless enough without then handing him thousands of pounds of our council tax.
“There are plenty of people in Perth and Kinross who could have switched on the Christmas lights and would have done it for nothing.”
Father-of-two David Sinclair, 36, added: “I’ll take my kids along anyway, but it’ll be with a sour taste in my mouth. I think this is absolutely scandalous.
“It’s just a symptom of our celebrity obsessed age. I, and I’m sure most others, would be happy with the provost or a local schoolkid switching on the lights.
“That would save the council £5000 that could be spent more productively than on lining the pockets of a talentless chancer off the telly.”
Wright appeared in three series of TOWIE and was a runner-up in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, but his ITV show, Mark Wright’s Hollywood Nights, was axed within weeks of being launched. He recently got engaged to Coronation Street star Michelle Keegan.
It was revealed yesterday that Perth Concert Hall – the venue for the Christmas lights switch-on – is facing a financial black hole of around £500,000.
Local authorities have faced criticism in the past for lavishing large sums on minor celebrities to appear at their Christmas festivities, while others have had more success with home-grown stars.
Renfrewshire Council was singled out in 2011 when it emerged that it was to pay £15,000 to X Factor star Stacey Solomon to turn on its lights. A year earlier, the same local authority paid singer Olly Murs a similar amount, despite a three-year regime of cuts worth £75m being imposed by the council.
However, in 2011, South Lanarkshire Council saved money by getting Santa to stop by to switch on their lights.
Olympic cycling champion Sir Chris Hoy is to switch on Edinburgh’s Christmas lights this year.
A Perth and Kinross Council spokesman said it was “not unusual” for celebrities to be hired to switch on the lights.
He added: “All of the entertainment and attractions were chosen to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible.
“The entire three-month long Perth Winter Festival is being delivered with a budget of around £60,000, with a significant amount of that being paid from Perth Common Good Fund.
“The fee for Mark Wright represents a small amount of the overall budget. We are sure that people will thoroughly enjoy what Perth has to offer this winter.”
Credit: Herald Scotland