Leeds' real-life Santa Gary vows to continue magical Middleton Christmas grotto in memory of 'Mrs Claus' wife

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Middleton’s very own Santa Claus has vowed to carry on bringing smiles to children’s faces, following the death of his beloved ‘Mrs Claus’.

Gary Gater, 58, had become a festive fixture in Middleton, playing Santa Claus for hundreds of adoring children eager to share their Christmas wishes with the big man. But tragedy struck when Gary’s wife of 25 years, and faithful “Mrs Claus” sidekick Jaine passed away earlier this month, part way through organising this year’s event.

Gary would not cancel, however, and with the help of family and friends, wants to create an event Jaine would be proud of. Speaking of the grotto’s origin, former Yorkshire Evening Post print worker Gary said: "We both decided just before lockdown that we would do it. We bought loads of stuff and did it from my bar in the back garden.”

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Last year’s event saw the couple donate £800 worth of toys to Leeds General Infirmary’s children’s cancer ward.

Gary with wife and "Mrs Claus" Jaine, and Gary transformed for action as Father Christmas.Gary with wife and "Mrs Claus" Jaine, and Gary transformed for action as Father Christmas.
Gary with wife and "Mrs Claus" Jaine, and Gary transformed for action as Father Christmas.

"People came from all over to see Santa and the elves,” he added. “Last year they said it was the best Santa they had ever seen.”

Gary and Jaine had only recently started preparing for the 2022 event, which they had planned to be better than ever. But tragedy struck earlier this month, when Jaine died suddenly following a brain haemorrhage at age 54.

Gary is now doubly motivated to make this year count, saying he wanted to put on the event in tribute to Jaine. Unfortunately she isn’t going to be here this year,” he said, “It’s definitely a tribute to her. Everybody knows her.

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"People didn’t think we would carry on doing it, but she had been getting everything ready. So I said ‘in the memory of Jaine, we are going to do it’.”

Since the announcement, Gary has been overwhelmed with offers of help, and his grotto is now set to boast mascots including Buzz Lightyear and Spiderman.

But the main attraction will always be Santa.

"Being Santa is brilliant,” he said. “It is absolutely out of this world. Some children are handicapped, and it’s lovely to see a smile on their faces.

"Last year, some of the children didn’t want to leave. You had never seen anything like it.”

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Gary added that the event will also go further in its charity fundraising efforts.

“We want to go further and give money to a children’s home,” he said. “We have got a lot of people on board too. Times are hard for everybody right now, but we are getting there. So far, we have 200 people coming to see Santa."

So will Gary carry on playing Santa in the coming years? "I have to do it for my wife,” he said. “I don’t think it would be possible not to do it.”

Gary’s granddaughter Kaysi Gater, 19, is stepping in to help with the organisation of the event. "I have been a lot more involved this year,” she said. “We’re all looking forward to it. My granddad has a few grandkids who are still young, so there is a lot of excitement.”

Kids will get to meet Santa on Saturday, December 10 at Gary’s address in Middleton Park Grove. For more information, or to secure your ticket, visit the event’s Facebook page.