North Tyneside's 'Santa' bin man to be honoured with bin lorry procession following his death aged 49

Craig Browell who would dress as Santa every Christmastime during his job as a bin man
-Credit: (Image: Angela Browell)

Tributes have been paid to a dedicated bin man who brought joy to children at Christmas by going to work dressed as Santa.

Craig Browell, from Wideopen, worked for North Tyneside Council's waste collection service for 15 years. He had previously trained as a chef and during his culinary career had worked at Newcastle's Theatre Royal and the banquet suite at Civic Centre.

His wife Angela Browell said he was a "brilliant" chef and his Sunday dinners were "lush", but he was "born to be a bin man" and "loved" his job. Each year, he would don a Santa suit for the two weeks leading up to Christmas and embraced the character so much that his young daughter Willow, now aged seven, was convinced that her dad was "the real Santa".

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Sadly, on June 28, dad-of-three Craig passed away, aged 49, almost four years after being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma on December 23, 2020, which is a rare form of blood cancer.

Angela, 37, said: "Craig was absolutely crackers and always up for a laugh. If he was going to make somebody laugh or smile, he'd do it. He wouldn't care if it made him look daft or silly. If he was going to make someone feel happy, he'd be up for anything."

Angela believes Craig's idea to dress up for work came from seeing local bus drivers wearing Santa suits during the festive season. He bought a cheap Santa costume for his shift, which kept ripping due to the strenuous nature of his role, and he would have to buy a new one every couple of days.

She said: "It was literally hanging off him by the end of the day and we went through loads of these little thin suits because he'd be lucky if it lasted a couple of days. A few years ago he decided to get our neighbour, who is a seamstress, to make him a suit out of fleece. It's got the proper lapels on and it looked like a proper Santa suit and it has lasted him well."

Angela added: "If you asked our daughter Willow who Santa was she'd always say her dad because she's never known anything different than seeing her dad dressed as Santa. When you take your kids to see Santa, she would always say 'I know that's not the real Santa because it's not my dad'."

Craig Browell who would dress as Santa every Christmastime during his job as a bin man
Craig Browell who would dress as Santa every Christmastime during his job as a bin man -Credit:Angela Browell

Craig featured on ChronicleLive in 2019 when he arrived at a little boy's home with his bin wagon dressed as Santa and accompanied by his elves, fellow bin men Michael Fletcher and Craig Gallon. The aim was to surprise Theo James on his 5th birthday after his dad contacted the council to enquire about a special visit for his bin wagon obsessed son.

Angela said Craig "loved that day" and that the little boy "couldn't even talk to him" because he was that in awe. "He absolutely loved that he'd made that little boy's day. He was so happy when he came in", she added.

But just two weeks after the special shift, Angela said that Craig had to take time off work as he started to experience symptoms such as pain and fatigue. She explained that he was so tired he felt it was no longer safe for him to drive the bin wagons and, with the exception of returning to work for two weeks in July, he was unable to work again.

Angela said: "Multiple Myeloma is usually one of the cancers that takes longer to diagnose because a lot of the symptoms at the start are fatigue, picking up infections, achy bones - it literally could be anything. Craig was diagnosed because he was so fit and healthy but he started putting on quite a bit of weight, even though his lifestyle hadn't changed. You can see in the video he did back in 2019 that he had a proper Santa tummy, which he didn't normally have.

"He was so tired too and had achy bones. He'd been back and forward to the doctors for about six months and they were doing bloods but they were coming back okay. At first he was diagnosed with tennis elbow, which is really common in bin men. And then it was frozen shoulder. But he was so tired that he would literally come in and collapse on the sofa. Our little one was only two-and-a-half at the time and he couldn't pick her up because he was so exhausted."

Angela added: "He was eventually sent for a scan on his shoulder which found lytic lesions, holes in the bone, and then he had a bone marrow biopsy in the December. The doctors hadn't even got the full results back and they rang us on December 23, 2020, and said you need to come in now. They knew he had some kind of blood cancer because the levels were so high."

Craig Browell pictured with his wife Angela in hospital
Craig Browell pictured with his wife Angela in hospital -Credit:Angela Browell

Craig, who leaves behind a loving family, including his three children Holly, 21, Geordie, 18, and Willow, seven, fought until the very end, Angela said. She added: "He tried and took everything they threw at him. He literally fought until his very last breath."

He will be greatly missed by his family, who have thanked staff at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital Ward 33 and Northern Centre for Cancer Care (NCCC) who cared for Craig. His family have also arranged for a number of touching tributes to reflect Craig's personality at his funeral at Whitley Bay Crematorium on Monday, at 3pm.

Guests will receive a personalised shot glass and a shot of tequila at the wake as Craig was a self-confessed "tequila connoisseur" and would tell people "I don't want that [stuff] with the red hat on, it has to be the proper stuff".

Everyone attending is invited to wear Crocs, socks and shorts, because it would be his outfit of choice regardless of the weather. And guests are also invited to wear Newcastle United shirts or camouflage, to reflect his love for The Magpies, fishing and target shooting.

Dad-of-three Craig Browell
Dad-of-three Craig Browell -Credit:Angela Browell

A bin wagon convoy will travel behind the hearse on the way to the service. Bins are also being delivered to the crematorium and instead of carrying a cane, the funeral director will push a bin when leading the procession. His colleagues will also follow behind pushing bins.

And in a further tribute to Craig, today, his son Geordie has an interview for a job as a bin man at North Tyneside Council in the hopes of following in his dad's footsteps. If he secures the job, he plans to continue Craig's legacy of dressing as Santa at Christmas time, and will be donning the same suit that was tailor-made for his dad.

Angela said: "I'll be so proud of him. He wants to follow in his dad's footsteps and Craig would be over the moon for him, he really would."