HUNDREDS of Totton residents braved the bitter cold to watch Saints hero Franny Benali switch on the town's Christmas lights.

Franny performed the ceremony after taking part in the town's annual lantern parade - one of the biggest events on Totton's social calender.

The former left-back earned iconic status at Saints during a 15-year career in which he turned out a total of 389 times.

Earlier this year the superfit 50-year-old completed his mission to £1m for Cancer Research UK by taking part in seven Ironman challenges, which involved swimming, cycling and running a total of 140 miles each day.

Southampton-born Franny was asked about the gruelling triathlons as he prepared to switch on the lights in Commercial Road.

He told the crowd: "It was pretty brutal. It beat me up good and proper."

The ceremony included live music on the main stage, plus stalls in Library Road and a funfair in the car park at Totton Shopping Centre.

The parade was led by a man on a Penny Farthing bicycle, followed by the Big Noise Samba Band and representatives from schools and pre-schools in the Totton area, plus Father Christmas himself.

Families lined the large roundabout outside Asda to watch the lights being switched on.

A huge cheer went up as Franny walked to the front of the stage to perform the ceremony. He pressed a decorated plunger, illuminating a tree covered in red and blue lights as a huge US truck parked nearby sounded its horn in celebration.

Organisations which took part in the event included New Forest Rotary Club, Testwood Baptist Church and Wessex Heartbeat, which provided some of the lights.

The build-up to the ceremony was marred by the theft of some of the lights.

As reported in the Daily Echo, Cllr Neville Penman and fellow volunteer Ian Osborne were distributing the decorations in the town centre when the thief struck between 5.30am and 7am.

Two 6ft aluminium motifs with lights attached were stolen in the incident, which occurred near the eastern end of Commercial Road.