Legendery rocker Noddy Holder
How he wrote the greatest Christmas song ever
Early in 1973 Britain was lurching from crisis to crisis. Half the nation seemed to be on strike, inflation was soaring and, upstairs in his parents' house in the Black Country, Noddy Holder - the charismatic lead singer of the rock band Slade - was slaving over a new song.
Noddy had already co-written five No 1s with bandmate Jimmy Lea. But Slade were never the tax exile type.
And Noddy and Jimmy had been been out drinking that night with their bandmates Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell at a local pub, The Trumpeter in the town of Bilston, near Wolverhampton.
He had gone back to his childhood home in nearby Walsall to write a Christmas song he hoped would be "like Happy Birthday" - a ditty that would enter the nation's consciousness and be around for ever.
Scroll to the bottom of the page to listen to a preview of the Mail on Sunday's Slade Merry Xmas Everybody album!
"We'd decided to write a Christmas song and I wanted to make it reflect a British family Christmas," he says.
"Economically, the country was up the creek. The miners had been on strike, along with the grave-diggers, the bakers and almost everybody else. I think people wanted something to cheer them up - and so did I.
"That's why I came up with the line Look To The Future Now/It's Only Just Begun."
Noddy began tinkering with a psychedelic song he had discarded five years earlier.
He threw away the old lyrics, changed the chorus and started writing.
Two hours later he had the bare bones of Merry Xmas Everybody and says: "Once I got the line Does Your Granny Always Tell You That The Old Ones Are The Best, I knew I'd got a right cracker on my hands. It says it all. We've all heard someone's granny say it - usually after a couple of sherries when her bloomers are starting to show and she's up dancing."
When Noddy showed the lyrics to Jimmy Lea, they knew they'd hit on something. "We played it through on acoustic guitars and knew we'd got something bubbling," said Noddy.
"When our manager Chas Chandler heard it, he flipped, too."
The song was tucked away while Slade embarked on a sellout nationwide tour, culminating with a capacity concert at Earl's Court in front of 18,000 fans.
Then tragedy struck - drummer Don Powell was seriously injured in a car crash in which his 20-year-old girlfriend Angela died.
He broke both ankles, five ribs and was in a coma for nearly a week but recovered well enough after surgery to join the band ten weeks later in New York, where they recorded Merry Xmas Everybody - in the middle of an August heatwave.
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Nod of approval: Noddy with next weeks's free Slade CD
Noddy's confidence in the song - which will be on a Slade compilation CD free with next week's Mail on Sunday - was well placed.
Even before its release, the band were presented with a silver disc for selling 500,000 pre-ordered copies. On the first day it hit the shops, a further 350,000 copies were snapped up by fans.
Slade's record label Polydor had to use its British and French pressing plants to keep up with demand as Merry Xmas Everybody became the fastestselling single the UK had ever seen.
It eventually sold more than a million.
Noddy says he still gets immense pleasure from the fact that his song has become such an integral part of Christmas in Britain-The trademark mirrored top hat he wore on stage with the band is now stored in a bank vault ("not because I want to have it valued but because I don't want to lose it before I've had a chance to leave it to my kids") and most of his outrageous glam-rock outfits and precipitous platform shoes from his time with Slade have been donated to charity.
The nearest he gets to reliving the old days is when he hams it up for the postman at his home in Cheshire when he answers the door in a pair of tartan pyjamas.
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He hasn't been tempted to go back on the road with his old bandmates, though.
Noddy says: "Every year Slade gets asked to re-form and they offer us a lot of money, too, but I'm just not in the mindset.
"I gave 25 years of my life to Slade and it was fantastic. I gave the other guys five years' notice when I decided to leave, not everyone was happy but they can never say I didn't give them fair warning that I'd always planned to do my own thing.
"We don't see much of each other but we haven't fallen out. It's just that most marriages don't last 25 years and we spent so much time on the road together that it was a bit like a marriage.
"I'm very happy to spend time with my family and just see what work takes my fancy.
"I get some pretty outrageous offers along with the usual West End shows and programme scripts featuring ageing drug-addled rock stars and I've been asked to do Celebrity Big Brother and reality TV things loads of times.
"I was asked to go down in a cage in shark-infested waters - you'd have to be mad to do that - and then there was that programme where a load of celebrities went through colonic irrigation in Thailand.
"I thought it was a wind-up when I was approached to do that.
"I told them, 'There's no way the public would want to see Noddy Holder and a rubber pipe on live TV.' I'm 61, why in God's name would I want to sleep in a jungle and eat bugs?"
That aside, Noddy believes that little has changed in the world of showbusiness since his heyday.
"Programmes such as the X-Factor are no different to the days of New Faces," he says.
"I think Simon Cowell is great. He tells the truth, even though it's probably not what a lot of these deluded, untalented acts want to hear. You've either got talent or you haven't and someone's got to tell you the truth or you just wouldn't survive in this business.
"There are too many people out there these days who want instant fame - the money, the big cars - without grafting.
"Don't get me wrong, you've got to have selfbelief, but you've got to earn your success. With Slade, we were in it for the long term and we always knew it would take hard graft not just to get to the top but to stay there.
"I was singing in working men's clubs with my dad when I was seven and I think if you've had humble beginnings they remain your backbone.
"As my dad used to say, you can only sleep in one bed, drive one car and wear one suit at a time - and he was right.
"My mum and dad taught me to keep my feet on the ground, I hope I've instilled the same thing, particularly the work ethic, in my own kids [Noddy and his wife Suzan have a 12-year-old son, Django, and he has two daughters, Jessica, 28, and Charisse, 30, from a previous marriage].
"Even when I was in my 40s my mum used to say, 'When are you going to get a real job?' When I stepped through the front door in Walsall, the Slade stuff just didn't come into it as far as she was concerned."
Noddy believes that his mother only realised just how famous he had become when he appeared on This Is Your Life in 1997 - a full 25 years after his greatest success.
It was only in 1999, when he was awarded the MBE and appeared in a live 40th anniversary episode of Coronation Street a year later that he says she finally accepted he had "arrived".
Noddy has remained busy since leaving Slade, with acting and presenting roles on television and radio.
He is currently a regular TV critic on Radio 2's Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie show, will next month get his own star alongside Ozzy Osbourne's in Birmingham's new Walk Of Fame and harbours an ambition to host a quiz show.
And will he be listening to his own song at Christmas?
"Christmas has always been a family time at home for me," he says.
"I do most of the cooking anyway and love to take control of the kitchen.
"It's always turkey and, yes, of course I'll put on a Christmas CD and Merry Xmas Everybody will inevitably be on it.
"Of course people get fed up if they hear it playing in October. I think they banned it once at Manchester Airport and in Currys - but that was just because of the 'bah, humbug' crowd. Two weeks later it was back on again.
"I certainly never get tired of hearing it. I hear it while I'm out doing my Christmas shopping and love it when people point me out and say, 'There he is, it's Noddy, he's singing this song'. It's great."
The Mail on Sunday's Slade Merry Xmas Everybody album
1 Merry Christmas Everybody Click here to listen
2 Mama We're All Crazee Now Click here to listen
3 Gudbuy T'Jane
4 We'll Bring The House Down
5 Far Far Away
7 Take Me Bak 'Ome
8 Thanks For The Memory
9 How Does It Feel
10 Cum On Feel The Noize Click here to listen