OVER the past decade, the festive lights switch-on event was full of surprises. From huge crowds to celebrities and fireworks drama, the city used to mark the start of the Christmas season with a bang.

However, this all came to a stop with the pandemic, and has not returned. 

It was still lit up with illuminations, such as the giant star in the city centre, just without the official star-studded countdown.

From torrential rain and Joey Essex's car being mobbed by fans, to firework malfunctions and the iconic 'Phil Mitchell' making an appearance, there have definitely been some 'switch on' nights to remember.

Here's a rundown of the years to remember: 


Despite an evening of rain, rain and more rain, hundreds of people flocked to the Market Square to watch seasonal celebrity Father Christmas, mayor of Salisbury John Walsh and local hero Molly Fisher, of charity Encircles, turn on the Christmas lights last year.

Instead of the traditional choice of a celebrity, this event paid homage to the community of Salisbury, by the city council encouraging residents to nominate a local do-gooder to be involved with the festivities.

The event was also aided by live entertainment from Disco Dion, The Zoots, Starcast and Liam White. Even the Grinch made an appearance!

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Former Olympic medalist and world champion athlete Colin Jackson switched on the lights in 2018, with the then Mayor of Salisbury Mike Osment and (of course) Father Christmas.

Colin gave some advice for any young athletes in Salisbury: "The most important thing is to have fun in what you do. If you enjoy it, and have fun, you'll want to work harder at it.

"For me, I always say to youngsters just try something you're going to have a good time doing and that will make it much easier, even when training is really hard."

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Actor and comedian Antony Cotton, best known still for his Sean Tully character in Coronation Street, switched on the lights in 2017, with the then Mayor of Salisbury John Lindley, and (you guessed it!) Father Christmas.

Around 10,000 people joined the festivities in the market square, enjoying street entertainers and seasonal food and drink stalls.

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Reality TV star Joey Essex was greeted by screaming crowds when he switched on the city's Christmas lights four years ago.

This year's festivities also saw the return of a fireworks display, after rockets shot into the crowd during the 2014 event.

Essex, who has featured on The Only Way is Essex, Splash!, I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here, The Jump and more, was joined onstage by the Mayor of Salisbury Derek Brown and Father Christmas for the switch-on, and was taking selfies of the crowd.

As Essex was driving away his car was mobbed by fans eager to catch a closer glimpse of the star.

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EastEnders star Jake Wood, who plays Max Branning, switched on the lights in 2015 - the year which also included a light show, with video graphics beamed onto buildings in the Market Place and Blue Boar Row, and fake snow.

This event, held without the traditional fireworks display, got mixed reviews on Facebook.

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This was not only the year Steve McFadden, aka Eastenders resident Phil Mitchell, came to Salisbury as the Christmas lights celebrity guest - this was the year fireworks malfunctioned in front of around 15,000 people.

Speaking before the switch-on, Steve said: “I am flattered and honoured [to take part]. It is a lovely city. I have been here a few times in the past and loved it.”

But once the lights had come to life the event came to an abrupt halt, as fireworks plunged into the crowd and burning debris rained down, injuring 15 people in total.

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Thousands packed into Salisbury’s Market Place in 2013 to watch Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood turn on the Christmas lights.

An estimated 14,000 people turned out to watch the dancer, director and choreographer push the plunger before the sky was lit up by fireworks.

Revel Horwood told the crowd he loved Salisbury because it was the place “where [he] had found love”.

He told the Journal he has visited the cathedral, which he described as “wonderful” and joked that, after his recent hip replacement operation, “I wish they’d put in a Stannah - there’s a lot of steps!” and said he’s looking forward to seeing the newly refurbished Market Place finished.

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The weather played havoc with Salisbury’s Christmas lights switch-on event in 2012, and organisers were forced to scale back the event due to high winds and the forecast heavy rain.

The fireworks display was cancelled and the Guildhall steps were used instead of setting up a stage and a big screen.

Some of the town’s lights were not even switched on as people left the Market Place, and the then Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service had to be called in during the event to retrieve a set of lights that blew down in Blue Boar Row.

Although a flock of teenagers were not put off by the lack of fireworks or the weather as they turned up to catch a glimpse of X Factor boyband District 3, with members switching on the lights with the help of Father Christmas.

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Keith Chegwin “popped” into Salisbury during the 2011 switch-on of the city’s Christmas lights.

The television personality, who hosted Cheggers Plays Pop, The Saturday Swap Shop in the 1980s and previously bared all in I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here, entertained the 10,000-strong crowd before beginning the countdown to the lights switch on and a firework display.

The £22,000 spectacle also included live entertainment from the newly formed Salisbury Rock Choir and local musicians.

Pictures by Tom Gregory and Spencer Mulholland