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The Good Omens and His Dark Materials actor on dressing up, spreading love and goodwill, and boozy Christmas cakes


What epitomises Christmas in London for you?

Good food, good wine and good company – and loads of R&R!

What’s your earliest Christmas memory?

Fighting with my sisters over who got to lick the spatula for the cake mix. I loved baking at Christmas. We’d make Christmas buns and a Christmas cake. On Christmas Eve we would deliver them to neighbours and friends. It was so charitable. Also, rehearsing a Christmas show at home and performing it to my family. I was such a taskmaster and would make my sisters rehearse until they had no voice left.

What smells and tastes do you associate with the festive period?

Dark rum from Barbados. It was all about soaking the fruit weeks before baking the Christmas cake. As I got older, I used to secretly add a little bit more rum to the chopped fruit to give it a kick, but I didn’t realise my sisters were doing the same. Let’s just say the Christmas merriment happened pretty quickly when the family got together.

Do you prefer Christmas pudding, Christmas cake or a chocolate yule log?

I’m more of a mince pie man.

What’s on your Christmas list to give and/or to receive from The Royal Exchange?

Fortnum & Mason hampers are the best gift ever. I send them to my agents and friends every year. Someone bought me a Montblanc pen for Christmas once. It was a really special gift but I lost it, unfortunately, so as a gift to myself I’m going to replace it this year.

What’s your Christmas gift-wrapping style?

Very simple! I get someone else to do it. I’m awful at wrapping presents.

Do you have any special, unique or unconventional Christmas traditions?

I’m the self-designated mince pie top critic. Around two weeks before Christmas, I go to as many shops as possible to rate their mince pies. Then I give my verdict to all my friends and family. Like I said, I love mince pies! You’d be very surprised who wins every year.

Do you own a Christmas jumper?

I do… but in my defence, a Christmas jumper, like a puppy, is not just for Christmas. So think twice before you buy one.

What’s your favourite Christmas film?

When I was younger, one of my favourite things about Christmas was watching all the big commercials and all the big Christmas films on TV. I’d write a list of what I would watch and when. I love The Snowman, Bad Santa, Trading Places and A Christmas Carol, but choosing just one would be unfair to all the others I love so much.

Do you have a favourite Christmas song?

This Christmas by Donny Hathaway.

What signifies the start of the festive season for you?

Parties. It’s all about parking the jeans and T-shirt in the cupboard and wearing a nice suit; dressing up brings the joie de vivre out in people, and making that extra effort is worth it. Everyone looks so sparkly.

What do you think is the best way to help others at Christmas?

Volunteering at Christmas is so rewarding. One of my best Christmases was volunteering for Crisis, a charity that helps the homeless. There are so many charities that offer this every year and all you have to do is sign up. I’d urge everyone to do it, because sometimes we’re so caught up in our own Christmas bubble that we can forget those who are less fortunate than us; those who are lonely and long for someone to chat to, or need a meal, company, a hug… If you can’t manage to do that, then check on the elderly neighbour, the poorly or the struggling. Sit with them for minute or two – you don’t have to talk, just listen until you leave them smiling, because a smile is the best gift anyone can ever give or receive.

Ariyon Bakare stars in Frankie, out March 2020, and is currently filming the second series of His Dark Materials and Carnival Row