For weeks on end – and at the time of writing – I remain “on standby” to go to Mosul in Iraq. Being on call is one of the most disruptive and exhilarating aspects of my job as a television journalist. Sometimes, when the phone rings, it is only to say “stand down”, as happened recently when I had been primed to head to Berlin.

However, in TV-land, hazard comes in many guises – and as I recently discovered, disguises too. I do not know what the actor Nigel Harvey looks like “in his civvies”, but in full-fig, he looks like an archetypal Santa Claus. Indeed, he was recently named Britain’s Best Father Christmas, in which capacity he was invited into the Sky News studio.

The interview fell to my co-presenter, Claudia, but when Nigel/Santa said that being an award-winning Father Christmas required speaking “as St Nicholas should”, I was unable to curb my enthusiasm.

“How,” I chipped in from the wings, “can you talk like St Nicholas, who was a 4th-century Greek bishop?”

Nigel stroked his snow-white beard, eyes narrowing over half-moon spectacles, before shooting back, quick as a flash: “Well, it’s taken me a long time – not as long as some of your questions, though, Colin.”

Laughter in my ear from the gallery confirmed that Nigel, an actor by training who thinks it is folly for us to spend a fortune on grottoes and a pittance on the man in the red suit who sits in them, had hit his mark.

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