Fairytale of New York may finally reach No 1 after Shane MacGowan’s death

Shane MacGowan and his wife Victoria Clarke at home
Shane MacGowan and his wife Victoria Clarke

It is the most played Christmas song in the UK this century but has never reached number one in the British charts.

Now, Fairytale of New York is a contender to be top of the pops for the first time after Shane MacGowan, the hellraising frontman of the Pogues, died aged 65.

The much-loved song had already risen 33 places in the Official Singles Chart, from 86 to 53, before MacGowan’s death was announced, with the festive season approaching.

“As usual, it was already heading back into the Official Singles Chart Top 40 this week and, while it is currently too early to give an indication of the scale of the streaming surge, we would very much expect it to rise back into the top 20 over the coming days, perhaps even higher,” Martin Talbot, the chief executive of Official Charts, told The Telegraph.

He added: “It has become a genuine contender for this year’s Christmas number one – a chart position which this classic has never previously reached. What a fitting tribute to Shane that would be.”

The news of the singer’s death came too late to have an effect on this week’s chart, which is due on Friday.

But on the iTunes charts, the bump in popularity was already reflected by Thursday afternoon.

The song jumped 20 places to hit number one in the UK’s list of iTunes’ top songs, according to Kworb, a website that analyses music data in real time. Meanwhile, the song had risen four spots to number five on Apple Music’s top songs following the news.

Kirsty MacCOLL and POGUES and Shane MacGOWAN live on stage
Kirsty MacColl, left, sang the festive duet with the much-admired musician - Patrick Ford/Redferns

With more than two million copies sold, Fairytale of New York is officially the most played Christmas song in the UK this century.

The much-loved duet with Kirsty MacColl, who died in a speedboat accident aged 41 in 2000, was a 1987 Christmas number one in Ireland.

But it was beaten to the top spot in the UK by the Pet Shop Boys’ Always On My Mind.

“Behind the glorious words, as if they’d been handed directly to MacGowan by some cosmically laughing, Martini-swilling Celtic Bacchus, came a huge power,” Sir Bob Geldolf told The Telegraph.

“At once musical, joyous, rebellious and vastly, hugely manically danceable and true.

“His passing is particularly poignant at this time of year as we listen to Fairytale of New York – a song that resonates with all of us,” said Micheál Martin, the deputy prime minister of Ireland.

The song remains hugely popular to this day, but its lyrics and traded insults between the male and female singers have attracted controversy in recent years.

In 2020, the BBC edited out derogatory terms for homosexuals and women used in the song, with the band’s apparent backing.

‘Greatest songwriter of his generation’

MacGowan, who was born in Kent to Irish parents, had suffered a long period of ill health, including spells in intensive care. He had been using a wheelchair after a series of falls, including one in 2015 which broke his pelvis.

He was discharged from St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin last week after lengthy treatment for viral encephalitis, a rare condition that causes the brain to swell.

His wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, said the “love of her life” and “measure of her dreams” had died.

“I am blessed beyond words to have met him and to have loved him and to have been so endlessly and unconditionally loved by him and to have had so many years of life and love and joy and fun and laughter and so many adventures,” she wrote on Instagram.

She added: “You gave so much joy to so many people with your heart and soul and your music.

“You will live in my heart forever. Rave on in the garden all wet with rain that you loved so much. You meant the world to me.”

MacGowan married the Irish journalist in Copenhagen in 2018 after 32 years together, including an 11-year engagement.

Movie star Johnny Depp, a long-time friend and occasional collaborator, serenaded the couple on the guitar during the wedding.

Nick Cave, who had previously performed with the singer, said: “A true friend and the greatest songwriter of his generation. A very sad day.”