This is the moment a quick-thinking dad saved Christmas for tearful children by pulling on a red suit and bushy beard when Santa Claus was a no-show.
Off-duty Merseyside Police officer Mark Lewis and his family thought they had a special date with Father Christmas in store when they walked through the doors of Rake Hungry Horse near Cheshire Oaks on Sunday (December 18).
But it was only after they’d polished off their grub at the ‘Meet the Reindeers’ event – at which guests paid for breakfast and for their children to receive a present from Santa – and heard angry parents demanding their money back that it dawned on them that the man of the hour and his reindeer had not turned up.
So heroic Mark snatched victory from the jaws of a potentially earth-shattering defeat for believing youngsters who might otherwise have thought Santa Claus was an unreliable let-down.
He selflessly stepped into the breach and pulled on the pub's Saint Nick suit himself before handing out presents – although his eagle-eyed four-year-old nephew recognised it was his uncle so was hastily told he was a ‘very special Santa helper’.
Mark’s partner Karley Burgoyne, mother to their two children, told The Chronicle: “There were a number of children crying and one parent was even in tears due to there being no Santa.
“I’m so proud of Mark for stepping up and offering to be Santa – it saved so many children being upset by the fact that Santa had let them down.
“That’s the type of person Mark is though, he wouldn’t see anyone miss out or be upset if he could help it.”
But Karley and Mark, who live in Ellesmere Port, are ‘annoyed, frustrated and upset’ that the situation even happened at all and have slammed how it was managed.
“I would expect a lot more professionalism from such a well-known company,” said Karley.
“To not even take ownership and apologise when directly asked is just a joke.
“I wouldn’t go to anything like this again with the same company – I don’t want the upset that comes with such an unorganised mess!
“I’m also upset at the fact that Mark didn’t get to see Santa with his son, which is what we went for – he didn’t get to see his grumpy face as he sat on his knee.”
The couple is particularly concerned that pub staff did not ask Mark – who of course undergoes stringent vetting as part of his job – if he had any background checks before letting him interact with other guests’ children.
Hungry Horse have offered their apologies and assurances that a 'Breakfast with Santa' event due to be held on Christmas Eve will go ahead as planned.
A spokesperson for the pub-restaurant chain said: “We are very sorry for any disappointment caused by the unexpected issue that meant Santa and his reindeer were not able to stop by the Rake as planned, and we are working to make this right.
“We are still looking forward to welcoming families for ‘Breakfast with Santa’ on Christmas Eve, which promises to be a fun-filled, festive morning.”