‘Everybody wants to know how much I make’: Noddy Holder on Merry Xmas Everybody

<span>Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

With the 1973 No 1 back in the charts, Slade’s original frontman chats sideburns, custard pies and royalties

I’m about halfway through my interview with Noddy Holder – as in Slade’s “It’s Chrissstmass” Noddy Holder – and I really need to ask him that question. Except, isn’t it a bit rude? A man’s finances are his own personal kingdom …

“I bet I know what you’re going to ask,” laughs Holder. “You’re going to ask me … how much money do I make each year? Everybody wants to know how much money we make!”

A day doesn’t go by without someone shouting ‘It’s Chrisssstmass!’ at me at the top of their voice

It’s certainly a valid question. Merry Xmas Everybody was released in 1973 (Slade’s third No 1 of the year after Cum On Feel The Noize and Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me) and has charted eight times in the 80s, twice in the 90s and every year since 2006.

It’s currently number 30 in the charts, has been streamed 88m times on Spotify and has been released for the first time this year with a video, an animation that has had more than 150,000 views and counting. Surely the royalties must keep Holder rolling in top hats, platform shoes and luxury sideburn shampoo?

Related: Snow joke: why the Christmas No 1 single is still big business

“Well, I can’t put a figure on, because it’s just different every year,” says Holder, cryptically. “Some years it’s used in an advert or movie. There’s been all sorts of cover versions, from the Spice Girls, Tony Christie and Oasis” – Noel Gallagher recorded an acoustic version for The Royle Family’s 2000 Christmas special. “I’ll get my annual PRS [Performing Right Society] statement and the cross-section of artists who perform it on their Christmas tours is amazing. All four of the original Slade share performing rights but it just happens that Jim [Lea] and me were the main writers, so we earn more.”

Oh, go on, give me a figure, I plead. “It’s like having a hit record every year. So it’s a nice pension plan, I’ll say that,” Holder smiles. The PRS has quoted £512,000 annually, but the Daily Mail reckons it’s more like a cool £1m.

Merry Xmas Everybody came about after a challenge from one of Jim Lea’s elderly relatives, and was written in one sitting after a night down the pub.

“Jim’s mother-in-law said: ‘How come that you’ve never written a song that could played every year for a birthday, Christmas or Valentine’s Day?’ The first song I’d ever written, in 1967, was this hippy, psychedelic song called Buy Me a Rocking Chair to Watch the World Go By, but the rest of the band said it was rubbish. Jim had this melody knocking around, so he put my hook and chorus into his verse and played it to me round his house. That night, I was drinking with the locals and my best mate, our tour manager, Graham Swinnerton – Swinny – at this jazz pub called the Trumpet in Wolverhampton. I went back to my old bedroom at my mum and dad’s, rather merry, and wrote the lyrics in one go.”

Slade had just finished a big European tour in July 1973; the first ever band to play Earl’s Court. Four days later, Slade’s drummer, Don Powell, was in a car crash, killing his girlfriend and putting him on life support for six weeks.

“The doctors said if he’s ever going to play the drums again, he needs to get behind a drumkit as soon as possible,” says Holder. “Our manager, Chas Chandler, decided we should head to New York, out of the limelight, to record Merry Xmas Everybody. The studio was within an office complex, so we went out on to the staircases to add echo to the choruses. People were going about their business with these four mad Englishmen screaming at the top of our voices about Christmas. It was a boiling hot New York summer in August, so hardly Christmassy. Plus Don couldn’t remember the drum part, so we had to record it in tiny pieces.”

With pre-orders of 600,000, Merry Xmas Everyone went straight to No 1 for six weeks, selling over a million all over Europe.

Related: Slade guitarist Dave Hill: ‘I’d come out of work, put on my costume and suddenly I’d be Superman!’

“So we did TV shows in Scandinavia, Germany, France and Belgium,” continues Holder. “The big one was Christmas Day Top Of The Pops 1973. We beat Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday to Christmas No 1 – fellow Brummies and good mates – so they snuck into the audience and pelted me with custard pies. So that’s the performance I remember.”

So is Holder surprised that Merry Xmas Everybody is still as loved nearly 50 years later?

“We never dreamt that it would still be so popular. I came up with the line “Look to the future now, it’s only just begun,” because the country at the time was in a terrible state with electricians, bakers, miners and gravediggers all on strike. It’s just as valid today because of the state the country. Look the future, it really has only just begun.

“People associate me with Christmas, like I’m Santa’s little helper. I’m sure they half expect to see me walking down the street in platform shoes and a top hat shouting “It’s Chrissstmass!” They forget we had about 40 other hit singles. A day doesn’t go by without someone shouting “It’s Chrissstmass!” at me at the top of their voice. When I’m doing my Christmas shopping, I probably get it 40 times a day. But after 50 years, it still makes me smile.”

Watch the official video for Merry Xmas Everybody here.