5 Minutes With: Nick Thompson of Christmas at Kew #FestiveSpotlightSeries

The UK summertime has faded, and there's a familiar chill in the air that can only mean one thing. Christmas is on the way! We can't think of a better way of celebrating the festive season than a trip to the iconic Kew Gardens for its annual 'Christmas at Kew' event (now in it's 11th year!) If beautiful light displays and seasonal cheer, all surrounded by the beautiful botanical surroundings of Kew Gardens is what you're after, then look no further. We were delighted to sit down with Nick Thompson of Kew Gardens, to chat Christmas behind the scenes, stand-out illuminations, and how Kew gardens lends itself to the festive atmosphere. Take a look below!

If somebody has never been to Christmas at Kew, what can they expect?

Christmas at Kew is a 3km illuminated trail through Kew’s stunning landscape. The lighting accentuates the incredible natural architecture of some of our 12,000 trees, along with multiple illuminated installations dotted throughout the trail. As well as the lights, there is so much more for families and people of all ages to enjoy. Visitors can discover a vintage fairground, delicious street food, mulled wine, marshmallow toasting at our firepits – and even Father Christmas himself will be putting in an appearance. This event really has become a Christmas tradition for thousands of visitors, and we love welcoming them back each year.

How long does it take to create and curate a trail like this? Have you already started planning for winter 2024?

It’s absolutely a year-round event for us in terms of the planning – usually in the summer we head out to the Gardens to scope areas for installations or to test new products for display, which can feel a bit strange in a heatwave! It’s a huge event for us so as soon as one year’s trail is over we are straight onto the next. We know the trail layout and most of the installations and content by the summer, and then moving into autumn the planning moves up a gear as we finalise logistical arrangements. The build of the event takes around a month, and on each live event we have up to 50 people working to ensure visitors have a fantastic evening.

How does the setting of the gardens lend itself to a Christmas light trail?

We really are so lucky to have over 300 acres of natural landscapes as the backdrop for this event. The size of the Gardens also enables us to keep being creative year after year, by altering the route of the trail. We put huge importance and emphasis on lighting our trees and plants, as they form the backbone of everything we do here at Kew, and always highlight our iconic glasshouses. Working with a site like this really is so special, and it definitely never gets boring!

Would you say there are any stand-out illuminations that you can’t wait to see?

We have so many stand-out installations lined up for this year. A visitor favourite is always the Fire Garden, and this year it will be positioned in front of the Temperate House for the first time, making it more spectacular than ever. Expect candles set at differing heights, glowing parallel lines reflecting the formality of the Temperate House, and a subtle but warm glow from within.

As well as other returning favourites, like the Palm House finale and the Christmas Cathedral, eight installations are making their UK debut at Kew this year.

Now in its huge 11th year, how has the event evolved over the years? Are there any major new additions to this year’s trail?

The event has evolved a lot. As well as getting longer, we’ve become bolder and more creative with our installations over the years. As the UK’s original festive light trail we’re always looking for ways to innovate, and this Christmas, Kew is asking visitors to do One Small Thing with bespoke illuminated illustrations inspired by the natural world. These will combine with evocative messaging, encouraging visitors to make a small change and help protect the environment.

Since the first festive trail in 2013, the Christmas at Kew team have been looking at ways to deliver a more sustainable light trail, and our 2022 trail used 50% less power than in 2021. We are also proud that all Christmas at Kew generators are being run on renewably sourced HVO biofuel (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil - a form of renewable diesel that has been produced from vegetable fats and oils), and where possible, all lighting is energy-efficient LEDs. We are currently at 75% LED, and are working hard to transition to 100% LED lighting for the artworks over the next couple of years.

Tickets for Christmas at Kew are on sale now!

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Hola – I’m Michael. Big fan of dogs, frogs, and writing blogs. Avid grebby music enjoyer.

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