It was early December and myself and three fellow singers from the ship had been asked to make the trip to the Vatican to make a film to be shown to the passengers in the build-up to Christmas. Glory, glory, Hallelujah! A trip to the Vatican!! I’d been before, a couple of times, but in the Christmas season it was surely going to be an even more magical place, and although there hadn’t seemed to have been a great deal of planning involved when considering the ins and outs of this epic Christmas film, I was very much up for a Yuletide outing and declared to the ship’s TV team that they could well and truly COUNT ME IN. Christmas, here we come!!
The wardrobe malfunctions
We arrived in St Peter’s Square on a chilly but blue-skied morning, with two members of the TV crew, one actor who would be playing the starring role of Father Christmas, and our dresser Biggy in tow.
And I’m just gonna cut straight to the chase here and say: we, the singers, looked a bit odd. Not content with the usual cozy hat-and-scarf winter get-up, our very well-meaning dresser had insisted that it would look one hundred times more Christmassy if we all wore matching outfits and large volumes of make-up. (And when I say ‘large volumes,’ I’ll be honest and say that I sat in the makeup room on the ship dabbing my face with a make-up-less sponge for half an hour in order to convince the team that I was in fact wearing extremely thick foundation. Call me a diva pals, but no way jose was I going to be strutting around The Vatican in full stage makeup. It just seemed all together unholy.)
So. The girls were in strange fluffy jackets that had the air of a toned-down Sully from Monsters Inc. about them, and the boys were in bright red velvet suit jackets with black shirts. The TV team positioned us on one side of the Piazza, and we set down our bags while they talked amongst themselves about where was the best place to shoot.
Meanwhile, Biggy opened up her roll-along suitcase, pulled out two pairs of elbow length red patent gloves, and handed a pair each to us girls. Well. If full faces of stage make-up were unholy, then these gloves were just plain sacrilegious.
‘To complete the Christmas look!’
I don’t know on what planet PVC gloves and faux-fur jackets are deemed ‘Christmassy’ but let me tell you, I was rendered almost speechless, and the boys fully burst out laughing.
‘Maybe we could use these for the outtakes, Biggy?? We can do a funny bit at the end!? Because these are quite funny, don’t you think??’
Biggy looked mildly crestfallen but eventually had to admit defeat; we would not be roaming around the Pope’s gaff in those bad boys.
The singing shenanigans
Before long, the TV crew had their rough plan. Having announced to us the evening before that they wanted us to sing ‘Deck the Halls,’ they had provided us with lyrics on the way to the Vatican at 8am that morning, and informed us that we would sing two lines of the carol each, without worrying too much about pitch or tempo, as we would dub that in later. The whole lack of tempo didn’t seem like the best plan to me, but then I am no TV expert, so who was I to contradict their ideas!?
One by one, each of us singers went for a casual on-camera stroll in front of the camera whilst singing a couple of lines of the carol into the lens, in classic cheesy Christmas fashion. Meanwhile Thomas the actor got into his Santa costume underneath the covered walkway lined with pillars at the side of the Piazza. With Santa stripping off in corner the whole sordid affair was very much bordering on disrespectful by this point, let’s face it, and I wanted the whole thing to be over and done with as quickly as possible.
As a result, my lines of ‘Deck the Halls’ were sung significantly faster than anyone else’s. Which meant the dubbing was really quite the challenge.
The kicking out of the Vatican
The fourth singer had just begun her verse while the rest of us kept as far a distance as possible from what was now beginning to cause quite a stir amongst the camera-wielding tourists milling around (including a few nuns on tour), when we spied some armed policemen strolling up to our colleagues and exchange some stern words with them.
Next thing you know, the camera-man was instructed to delete all his footage, and we were all being escorted out of the Piazza. We were not welcome around these parts, and honestly I can understand why.
It turns out if you want to film in St Peter’s Square, you’ll need to first get permission and secondly pay a hefty fee. Makes sense. Were my company aware of this? Well, yes actually, they were. The moral of the story is, it doesn’t matter how legit a massive business is, they’ll still try and cut costs by any means possible; like for example filming in the Pope’s front yard without permission.
Needless to say, next time I visit a holy location I won’t be bringing a full camera crew with me.
Related: Two Days in Rome
Having been kicked out of the country (technically, The Vatican is a country after all), the TV team still needed to come up with footage for their bosses, so a plan B situation was arranged.
It was time to bring out the Star of the Show: Father Christmas himself.
When the TV guys yelled ‘action,’ Thomas, dressed in classic red and white suit with a full white curly beard and a twinkle in his eye, began to walk purposefully towards the camera from a distance. Immediately he was spotted by several old women who had been sat begging at the side of the street. With eyes like hawks, they sprang up at the sight of Santa himself and began pursuing him at a swift pace.
‘BABBO NATALE!! Babbo Natale, per favore!’ The women followed him all the way with outstretched hands, with ‘babbo natale’ picking up speed when he realised he was being pursued. This was one concerned-looking Father C.
When he took his wallet out and handed some euros to one woman, that was it. Basically confirmation that he really was Babbo Natale, here to help those in need and hand out cold hard cash to anyone who asked. He was practically pounced upon, while he cried out ‘I am not the real Santa! You are mistaken!’ in his now very worried-sounding German accent. The poor guy.
Now pals. I’d describe this day as more of an ordeal than an experience, but we lived to tell the tale and I’m all the wiser for it. As soon as the TV crew released us from our duties we scarpered from the scene of the crime as quickly as our little legs would carry us, and I’m truly sorry for causing such a calamity in the Pope’s neighbourhood, of all places.
Merry Christmas, Pope-y! And thankyou for not throwing us into your holy jail, you lovely old chap.
- Don’t film in the Vatican. That’s pretty much all I have to say on that one.