What’s your perfect present?

Some well-known people tell Conor Pope about their best and worst gifts ever

Marian Keyes (Author)

My beloved parents didn’t have much in the way of money but they always created magic at Christmas time. They also did a wonderful trick of downplaying my expectations so that on Christmas morning, when the great reveal was done (the locked door of the ‘good front room’ was opened and myself and my siblings were allowed to burst in), there were always things under the tree much, much bigger and better than anything I could ever have anticipated. The Christmas I was three, I got a rocking horse and even now I can remember the magic of it. Simply remembering the horse with his haughty face, his saddle and stirrups and his long, thick, shiny tail gives me a strange, excited feeling in my tummy and makes me feel like the world has been sprinkled with stardust.

It reminds me that within me is the capacity to feel wonder – it’s a bit harder to access now that I’m an adult, but it’s still there.

My favourite present has to be my big baby doll which Santa Claus gave me when I was six. I can distinctly remember the shape of my stocking and I just knew it was her. The excitement because I'd looked forward to meeting 'Amy' for a year! I loved that doll so much and brought her with me everywhere for years.

My worst present was probably the first monchhichi I got instead of the real chimp that I'd specifically put on my list! I've always been baby and animal mad, so the following year, after getting 'Amy', I started on the chimp campaign. This continued for the following four years until eventually my parents told me it wasn't happening. I had five monchhichis at this stage and wasn't very impressed.

Rick O’Shea (Broadcaster)

Since we got together my wife and I have never done the Xmas presents thing, we're not great at buying crap we probably don't need. Instead we try to go away somewhere for a few days, so the best ones were probably weekend trips to Stockholm and Edinburgh.

Stockholm in December is just as you’d expect it, you land in a field of Xmas trees around the airport and the snow has been on the ground in the city for 8 weeks. Go to the Vasamuseet – it has a fully preserved sailing ship that sank in 1628!

Edinburgh was brilliant – full of great foodie and craft beer places and just really atmospheric for that time of year. That’s a great Xmas for us.”


Cait O’Riordan (Musician)

Christmas presents in my family were relentlessly cheap and joyless – a chocolate bar, some pencils, soap – except for one glorious, inexplicable year when I received a toy post office set. I was a nerdy kid, loved stamps but my favourite thing about the set was the miniaturisation of all the familiar items – tiny stamps, tiny bags, tiny booklets.

Every item was scaled down to child size and seemed to have more power for being so much smaller than its ‘grown-up’ analogue and yet perfectly real. It was very easy for my imagination to populate the set with pixie-sized ‘little people’ busy with their post-related requirements, and me there benignly overseeing the smooth running of this vital piece of otherworld infrastructure.

Thinking back to the toy set, I’m surprised to remember it was brown – just brown plastic and paper. I’m glad I grew up before the current era when ‘ girls’ toys are only available in pink and encrusted with glitter. It’s not that I believe modern toys are any the worse for being designed to look like unicorn vomit, but I think I might have turned out rather differently.


The thing about Christmas presents when I was a child (that seems to be different today) was that you didn’t always get what you had asked for.

Not only was that ok, but it was half the fun. It was like the Pamplona bull run in our house on Christmas morning as we hot-footed it downstairs to see what awaited. Where's the excitement if you know for certain that it's going to be a PS4? Without doubt, the best gift I received sometime around the early 1980's was a dolls' house. Oh it was enormous and extraordinary! I suspect I was a tough landlord, as its residents changed as often as my tastes, but the house remained.

There never 'bad' presents, only disappointments caused by festive crossed wires. As the middle child of three, I can think of one major benefit of being an only child; coming downstairs on Christmas morning and knowing for certain than the gifts Santa has left are all for you. There are few blows in life that come close to thinking the shiny new bike with the big bow around the handlebars might be for you, only to see your brother's name on the swing tag upon closer inspection. Then there was also the year of the giant Monchichi that I mistaken thought was for me. It had no tag - or so I thought - until my Mum found it on the floor, and told us Santa must have knocked it off in his haste back up the chimney, the mince pie munching deserter. It was addressed to my sister. Of course it worked in my favour another year, as we all ran towards the biggest box and all but I recoiled as my name was writ large on the tag in Santa's unmistakable all-capital-letter handwriting. What a festive minefield. After that, Santa had the foresight to leave our presents in separate parts of the living room with A4 signs written over them so there could be no confusion. Quite the diplomat that Mr Claus.


Alison Curtis (Broadcaster)

One of the best gifts I received was when I was 11 or 12. My mom gave my sister and I winter-themed music boxes with babies in snow suits ice skating. At the time I thought it was the most useless (and tacky) gift ever and probably put it up on a shelf somewhere for years to collect dust. But years later, when my mom passed away, I found the music box and all these lovely memories of that Christmas came flooding back. It is a prized possession now.

Tony Clayton-Lea (Journalist )

Many years ago, when I was halfway through a voyage around the world on a Royal Navy warship, we were about a week away from docking at Sydney Harbour. The date was December 18th, and I was looking at my first Christmas away from home. As is usual for any Royal Navy ship prior to visiting any country with a British Consul, its admin office was inundated with requests for ratings and officers to visit their homes. And so a week later, on the morning on Christmas Day, I was collected from Sydney docks by – totally coincidentally – an Irish married couple who had left Tara, Co Meath, a few years previously. They brought me to what was, at the time, the biggest house I had ever seen, and treated this Irish teenager to a Christmas Day I’ve never forgotten. And the present? They let me phone home, and talk to my mother and brother for the best part of an hour. It remains one of the most amazing displays of generosity and thoughtfulness I have ever experienced.

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