London has gone into Christmas overdrive. A huge crystal star hangs over Knightsbridge and mammoth snowmen march along Carnaby Street. Covent Garden has rods of pulsing coloured lights and a towering “wishing well” sporting giant lit-up texts sent from shoppers’ mobile phones. The capital is fizzing and sparking with new ideas.
The capital’s stores are pulling out all the stops to give last-minute shoppers hassle-free service. Book your own personal shopper, shop until midnight and, in some stores, have gifts wrapped free, amid a deluge of discounts and special offers.
Watch out for “pop-up” shops, where an empty space is crammed short-term with decorations and present ideas. The temporary Shop of Delight is hosting demonstrations in Covent Garden, at 26 The Market. There, until Sunday, bone up on baking with CakeBoy, the master patissier Eric Lanlard, and learn mince-pie magic from creative ladies from the WI, or buy the bauble of the year from the über-outré Designersblock boutique (www.designersblock.org.uk). Printed on to fine bone china are pedigree pooches by artist Reiko Kaneko. Beautifully ribboned, they cost £14.70 each from 22 December to Christmas Eve.
Also in Covent Garden there are “shopping angels” — good-looking people billed as “essential arm candy” and complete with feather wings and halos. They hover in the unlikely heaven of Seven Dials. Book at www.sevendials.co.uk/shoppingangels.
John Lewis guides its shoppers with Christmas concierges in its fashion, lingerie and toy departments. Furnishing advisers can arrange curtains and blinds within a week. The food hall will create party menus and wine lists. These services run until 20 December. Call 0845 604 9049. Debenham’s, too, offers free personal shopping (0844 561 6161, or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
At Selfridges (www.selfridges.com), nobble a helpful Gift Guru for instant advice (look for the logo on a yellow T-shirt). Sort out your tree or table with an ace designer at Liberty by calling 020 7573 9944, or emailing email@example.com. At Harvey Nichols, choose luxury gifts in a revamped personal-shopping suite. Call 020 7259 6638.
Chaps in grey tails and green waistcoats are offering a “drive-through” service at Peter Jones in Sloane Square, SW1. Very posh “PJ butlers” will pop goods straight into your car. Phone your order in advance on 020 7730 3434 and pay by credit card.
Time to shop
Shopping runs very late this year. Ikea heads the list — it is open until midnight on weekdays at Wembley, with a free shuttle link to Stonebridge Park Tube station from 9.30am until closing. Croydon also has midnight closing. The winter sale starts on 18 December (www.ikea.co.uk).
Savour the luxury of Liberty from Monday to Friday until 10pm, and Saturdays until 9pm — its decorations department is its largest ever.
Get free wrapping at the Conran Shop (W1 and SW3). Or OKA in SW3, W11 and SW6 (www.okadirect.com) will pop your pressie in a free silk-tasselled box.
The wonder of the web
Sit by the fire and get ordering a fabulous spread of gifts and offers. Get a charming, free goosefeather Christmas tree (worth £19.95) at www.dotcomgiftshop.com with all orders over £30. This site has an in-house team designing gifts and decorations and also offers top brands. Boxed English Rose china starts at £5.95 and new cotton tote bags for cool teenagers are £5.99. There is free delivery over £50, otherwise £4.95 up to 18 December. Next-day delivery (order by 2pm on 23 December) costs £7.95.
Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish have crammed more than 600 of Britain’s small craft outfits on to www.notonthehighstreet.com (0845 259 1359). Andrew and Pauline Purves have eagle eyes for sharp design, as does Thorsten Van Elten (visit www.purves.co.uk and www.thorstenvanelten.com).
Find exquisite angels and Santas in hand-blown glass from Poland and Germany on Su Ridley’s website, www.mrschristmas.co.uk. Seasonal stickers couldn’t be quicker for windows and walls, with a bumper pack of contemporary motifs from specialists StickyUps (£29.99 on www.stickyups.com).
Use price-comparison sites to track best bargains in shops or on the web — try www.shopping.com. Best price-cuts are on TVs, DVDs, digital cameras, video games/consoles, electronic toys and even perfumes.
Food for thought
Luigi’s popular Italian deli in Chelsea (020 3051 9352; www.luigismailorder.com) is now doing hampers, with Italian treats such as succulent olives, cheeses, fresh truffles, dried porcini or a bottle of Limoncello.
Daylesford (www.daylesfordorganic.com) is the posh label for organic food, with hampers from around £75, or a Christmas “taster” for £30.
Pines and Needles (0845 458 2788; www.pinesandneedles.com) are the people to deliver, install and decorate your tree. Clifton Nurseries (020 7289 6851; www.clifton.co.uk) in W9 does an upmarket designer version of the same service for a decorated tree in a barrel. It also makes Christmas window boxes and edible wreaths.
Lillingston (020 7221 5820; www.lillingston.co.uk), an international events organiser, is doing “couture” Christmas decorating for rooms, lights, tree and table. But it’s pricey — £180 for “stocking stuffing” and trees from £500.