What epitomises Christmas in London for you?
The parties. I always know Christmas is coming when my inbox starts to fill up with party invites. It’s a wonderful time to catch up with people through work-related gatherings, or to meet up with friends. It’s the season of partying!
What’s your earliest or best Christmas memory?
I was once given a tape recorder, one of those Sony ones with a flip-up front. My sister recorded me singing Hopelessly Devoted to You, because I was so into the film Grease, and she promised that she wouldn’t share it with anyone. Well, of course she promptly went into the family dinner and played it to everyone. I wasn’t the best singer, so it was a little embarrassing. But honestly, every Christmas is great. I always used to spend it in Cornwall with my grandparents so it’s always been a family affair. My mum, who is 77, has only missed two – one when my brother was born, and one when he got married abroad.
What smells and tastes do you associate with the festive period?
Mulled wine. That spicy, warm cinnamon thing – you don’t get that at any other time of the year.
Do you prefer Christmas pudding, Christmas cake or a chocolate yule log?
I like really full-on food at this time of year, and I love cold Christmas pudding after you’ve had it for lunch, served with Cornish clotted cream.
What’s on your Christmas list to give and/or to receive?
I like giving ‘experiences’ – I’m not very good at giving ‘things’. But if I do, they will be things that support an activity, such as scuba diving. My daughter is an accomplished rower, and I once bought her a sculling boat. So I don’t buy that many gifts, but when I do I make them useful – something like membership to the Tate, or The Photographers’ Gallery. Then, to receive… well, I don’t expect posh gifts, but I do like jewellery, and I’ve been lucky to have been given some very nice jewellery. I love it when my kids make me stuff. My daughter started studying photography and she gave me the first picture that she had ever printed herself. And I hate telling people what to buy me – I love presents that people give me that are not what you would buy yourself. If you don’t like them, you can just pass them on. The Dutch have a custom of doing this – recycling presents – which is great.
What’s your Christmas gift-wrapping style?
My mother reconstitutes every piece of wrapping paper, so when I am with her it’s a challenge to find a piece without Sellotape marks. I’m a good wrapper. I do it neatly, but I’m not into posh wrapping paper. Sometimes I might add a ribbon if there’s one to hand… if I’m pushing the boat out.
Do you have any special, unique or unconventional Christmas traditions?
I swim every year. I swim in the sea, wherever I am, on Christmas Day. I dress for the occasion always with a Santa hat on. I used to live with a Dutchman who didn’t believe in Christmas, so nearly every Christmas we’d go out of the country with the kids and we’d end up somewhere like Mexico, swimming in the sea. These days it’s at home with my family in Cornwall. And I still swim. I know swimming on New Year’s Day is more normal, but I’m all about Christmas.
Do you own a Christmas jumper?
No. I’ve got loads of jumpers but I don’t have a Christmas one. We do Christmas jumper day at work, but I adapt an ordinary jumper. I tend to hang baubles off me. I’m not a humbug.
Underwear or socks?
Socks. I don’t really believe in pants.
Perfume or eau de toilette?
What’s your favourite Christmas film?
At Christmas I like really bad romcoms – anything that isn’t stressful, full of blood and guts or too intellectual. Generally, something I’ve seen five times before.
Do you have a favourite Christmas song?
The Dutch sing a lovely song nu zijt wellekome that my girls can sing. That’s really nice.
What signifies the start of the festive season for you?
The minute the clocks go back, which coincides roughly with Bonfire Night. Suddenly we’ve gone from summer to winter, so I can get in the mood. Up until then I’ve still got my T-shirts on.
What do you think is the best way to help others at Christmas?
I look in on neighbours and friends, but I do that anyway. I like to be hands-on with helping or making or assisting. So I’d say just being nice to people is important, and yes, there is something about the festive season that means we should make an extra effort to make good things happen.
Professor Sadie Morgan is a co-founding director at RIBA Stirling Prize-winning architects studio dRMM. She is also chair of the Independent Design Panel for High Speed Two (HS2), a commissioner for the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and a London Mayor’s design advocate. She was recently given the inaugural ‘Female Architectural Leader of the Year’ award at the BD Architect of the Year awards.