"I wasn't a Santa but I helped organize a Christmas Party for special needs children for three years running as part of a charity group.
"The guy we picked to be Santa was this really well built, tall, skinhead guy from Kent, called Paul. He was a really nice chap though. Popular with the ladies, the gift of the gab, and a cockney accent. So he stood out a lot in Belfast where he lived. Anyway, he was picked to be the Santa for the party. He had his doubts, but we were convinced his well-built frame and height would be convincing. All we had to do was give him a bit of a belly and a costume and he put on this deep booming voice that completely masked the cockney!
"The day of the party went really well. We had jugglers, magicians, a mini disco, games, food and of course a Santa's grotto. We had the Santa's sack prop against a false wall which had a hole in it that would let us plant toys in the sack without any of the children seeing it. As it was all special needs schools we had their names and a teacher hid behind the wall and she identified the child coming in.
"We had handpicked each toy to the child depending on their disability or special need. We reached that toy into the sack and whispered the name to Paul (Santa) via an in ear headphone we had hidden on him under the hair and beard. That way when the child entered, he could seem all knowing and the children were in amazement at this. It added to the magic.
"Anyway, to the point. One child came in who was around seven or eight, but his disability made him very small in stature, so he looked about four years old and he had an oxygen tube under his nose. He also had poor eyesight and his glasses gave him these giant sad looking eyes that melted everyone's heart. He came into the grotto:
"Santa: 'Why hello Patrick! Nice to see you again!' His eyes lit up and he exclaimed: 'Patrick: [You know my name! You're the real one!?'
"Santa: 'Indeed I am! I came here to make sure you are being a good boy! Have you decided what you want for Christmas?'
"Patrick: 'Yes, but it's not a present... I... I just want to be at home this year for Christmas!'
"I am not afraid to admit, my eyes grew very damp. The girls who volunteered that year immediately broke down, but Paul held it together remarkably well. He explained that he couldn't get in the way of doctors and that they knew best and he wanted Patrick to be better so he could visit him on Christmas Eve no matter where he was.
"Paul then reached into the bag and lifted out a cuddly toy duck. The child ran around with that duck the rest of the day tucked into his jumper. Stroking its head and kissing it now and again, he beamed a massive smile for the rest of the day.
"Paul, a 6 ft 2 in, muscle bound skinhead, east-ender from London, was found crying in the charity office when he left to get changed."