Can a Christmas Number One in the music charts really make you a millionaire?
The Christmas hit film About a Boy portrays Hugh Grant as a lazy, irresponsible bachelor made rich from the royalties of his late father’s Christmas hit.
But can festive hits really be a life-changer for personal finances?
Decide for yourself! We’ve compiled a list of the UK’s top 10 Christmas music royalty earners:
While there is some argument as to whether the cheeky chappies from the East End are actually singing a Christmas song at all (doesn’t the word “Christmas” have to feature in the lyrics somewhere?), they’re not complaining. Writer Tony Mortimer rakes in £97,000 a year in royalties from the 1994 Christmas number one – though not without some ambiguity. While everyone assumed it was a cheesy song about a Christmas break up, Mortimer actually revealed years later that he wrote it about his brother’s suicide.
Reaching number one in 1988, Cliff Richard’s modern day Christmas carol was recently banned in all Costa coffee shops after it was polled as one of the UK’s most hated Christmas songs of all time. Despite this indictment, the Christmas classic still hauls in £100,000 a year for its writers and performer, though their purposes may have been somewhat at odds: originally written for a 1976 musical called “Scraps,” the song was intended as a socialist critique of the middle-classes and their lack of concern for the poor. Sir Cliff took the socialism out, put the religious in – and penned a Christmas winner!
Another melancholic Christmas ballad, 2000 miles achieved modest success when it reached number 15 in the UK charts in December 1983. Written about the death of the band’s original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, the Christmas song of love and loss features on multiple Christmas compilations and proves you don’t need a number one to guarantee a reasonable return every year!
Jona Lewie wrote and recorded the Christmas hit in 1980, where it reached number 3, pipped by two John Lennon songs re-released following the Beatle’s death. Lewie has said that the protest song was not intended as a Christmas hit, but the line “I wish I was at home for Christmas” coupled with some cleverly placed brass arrangements prompted the record company to push it as such. Not that Lewie is complaining – he’s been documented as saying “it sold about 3 or 4 million copies, so I never had to get a proper job! It accounts for about 50% of the total income stream.”
Paul McCartney wrote, sang, played percussion and instruments, and produced his Christmas offering – making him a one-man band and receiver of all royalties! Despite making the Costa Coffee Christmas banned list, the song still receives considerable air-time during the festive period and has been covered by Kylie Minogue, Diana Ross and The Monkees. It is estimated that the song has earned McCartney £12 million to date!
Written and produced by the late George Michael, the Wham! Christmas favourite never actually made it to the top spot in the UK. While it reached number one in Denmark, Slovenia and Sweden, it achieved only a number two spot in the UK in 1984. Wham! donated all of the royalties to the Ethiopian famine that year, though the duo’s classic has been a firm favourite ever since, generating a decent £300,00 per year. George Michael was found dead on Christmas day in 2016 and his sisters and former lover, hairdresser Fadi Fawaz, are currently embroiled in a bitter legal battle over his £105 million fortune.
Written by Irving Berlin in 1942 and popularised in the film of the same name, White Christmas is not only the best selling Christmas song of all time, it is also the world’s best selling single, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million. Covered by Frank Sinatra, and more recently Michael Buble, the song is still an international Christmas favourite and proof that you can’t beat a bit of nostalgia, sentiment, and a good old crooner at Christmas!
Carey’s uptempo Christmas corker was kept out of the number one spot in the UK in 1994 by East 17’s Stay Another Day, though it reached number one in several European countries. Hailed as a modern day Christmas classic, it has sold over 16 million copies since its release and is the 11th best selling single of all time. Carey co-wrote the song with composition partner Walter Afanasieff in about 15 minutes and originally didn’t want to record it. We’re guessing that she’s glad she changed her mind – given that 15 minutes work has amassed over $60 million dollars (as of 2017)! Not a bad dividend for quarter of an hour’s graft!
Written by Jem Finer and Shane McGowan it was declared Britain’s favourite Christmas song in 1992, and has entered the top 20 at Christmas on fifteen separate occasions since its release in 1987. For many it is considered the season’s anti-Christmas song, an emotionally real tale of a couple fallen on hard times that takes the form of a kind of call and response slurry of insults. The formula was obviously a successful one and earns the writers a decent yearly wage.
The number one slot goes to the 70s glam rockers from Wolverhampton.
Written by lead vocalist Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea, the UK’s highest earning Christmas song reached number one in 1973 and features on countless Christmas party albums. The song was written as a reflection of a very British family Christmas in a time of social chaos (following the miner’s strike) and intended to inspire a sense of optimism and hope (“look to the future now, it’s only just begun”) – good advice for Britons in the current Brexit crisis!
But does it earn them enough to retire on? Noddy Holden has been quoted as saying to the BBC: “It’s definitely a pension plan, yes. It was never designed to be that way but it has taken on a life of its own.”
So, if you find yourself with a free moment this Christmas (or 15 minutes if you’re Mariah Carey!) and feel the Christmas muse sitting on your shoulder, it might be worth putting pen to paper and fishing out that dusty guitar from the attic – it might just set you up for life!
We would like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our readers.