ACTOR Christopher Biggins switched on Southampton's Christmas lights in front of hundreds of onlookers.

After an excited crowd counted down to 7pm, Biggins declared the festivities had officially begun, with a projection of Father Christmas and his reindeer displayed flying across the Bargate.

In an exclusive interview with the Echo after switching on the city council lights, Biggins said: “Well, I tell you, I was very impressed with the people that came here tonight.

“There were thousands, it seemed like!

“I think it’s a testimony to what we want in our lives, is a bit of fun, switching on the lights, singing, dancing, and having a good time.

The ‘Porridge’ and ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!’ star continued: “There are a lot of things that are bad at the moment, so it’s great to see people enjoying themselves.”

The long-time theatre actor will return to the stage in December, playing the ‘Man in the Mirror’ in a performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, alongside Diversity.

Looking ahead to the pantomime, Biggins said: “The Mayflower is a wonderful theatre, I’m looking forward to it enormously.

“It’s my third or fourth pantomime there, I’ve done other shows there too and I love it to death.”

He added: “We’ve got a great cast and Ashley Banjo and the boys from Diversity are coming, it’s a wonderful supporting cast and I’m looking forward to it.

“I’ve heard on the grapevine that we’re the biggest-selling pantomime in the south, it’s going to be fantastic.”

The lights were switched on with Alex Lockhart, who will be performing as Ebenezer Scrooge at the MAST Mayflower theatre in December.

Cover band Massaoke Christmas Live! serenaded onlookers with the likes of I Want to Break Free and Fairytale of New York on Thursday.

Southampton’s annual Christmas market on Above Bar Street will be open to the public until January 2.

Tim Thorn, who runs Childs Fun Family Fun House opposite the Bargate, told the Echo his family have been coming to the Christmas market for ‘generations.’ He said: “It’s great to be back.

“My family have been coming here for three generations and it’s always something to look forward to.

“It’s a great night where everyone can get together.”