James May leads mockery of ‘Britain’s strictest headteacher’ over complaint about M&S Christmas advert

James May leads mockery of ‘Britain’s strictest headteacher’ over complaint about M&S Christmas advert

Former Top Gear host James May is among those mocking “Britain’s strictest headteacher” over her outburst against the M&S Christmas advert.

Katharine Birbalsingh, the leader of Michaela community school in Wembley, wrote a strongly worded open letter that hits out at the campaign, which she accuses of putting “two fingers up” to traditional values.

In the advert, a number of celebrities, including pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Queer Eye presenter Tan France, and Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham can be seen firing festive hats out of a snow cannon, burning Christmas cards, and throwing away games.

“I feel compelled to write to you to express my deep disappointment and outrage at your Christmas advert for 2023,” Birbalsingh wrote in the letter, which she shared on X/Twitter.

“You have a duty as our national department store to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for the sake of our children.

“When our nation is on its knees, trying to keep our spirits high for what we can all achieve together, this is not the time for you to encourage people to ignore the inspirational spirit of Christmas of self-sacrifice, gratitude, giving of one’s time and finances to help one’s fellow man, of children’s laughter, of magical tales of Father Christmas, of kindness and of beauty, and instead tell us to ‘do whatever we want for ourselves’.”

Katharine Birbalsingh, described as “Britain’s strictest headteacher” (PA)
Katharine Birbalsingh, described as “Britain’s strictest headteacher” (PA)

Birbalsingh continued: “I run an inner-city school in London, where we try hard to instil values of decency daily in our children. When Marks and Spencer puts two fingers up to these values, it makes our lives as teachers much more difficult and it stifles social mobility and happiness for our children, in particular for the disadvantaged.”

Quoting the character Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Ms Birbalsingh insisted that “selfishness is not what Christmas is about” and told M&S that it should be “showing us the way, with heartening adverts celebrating the values which Scrooge comes to embody”.

She called for the advert to be taken down because “you can do better”.

“We want our children to do more than exist as the old Ebenezer did, building his chain. We want our children to LIVE,” she concluded. “Please do not undermine us in this endeavour.”

Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor appears in Marks & Spencer’s Christmas ad campaign (M&S/PA)
Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor appears in Marks & Spencer’s Christmas ad campaign (M&S/PA)

Birbalsingh’s letter has been widely mocked for its grave tone, with many readers questioning why she felt so upset by a Christmas advert from a retailer.

“Are you OK?” one person asked, while Sheffield rock band Reverend and the Makers asked: “Did it hurt when the horse kicked you in the head?”

“What a waste of time,” another critic said in the replies to Ms Birbalsingh’s post. “You are arguing in favour of the most superficial and commercial aspects of Christmas to be maintained while ignoring the pressure and stress both emotional and financial that ideal puts on struggling families. Disgraceful.”

James May, who hosts Prime Video series The Grand Tour with former Top Gear co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, commented: “Good grief. Marks and Spencer is not our ‘national department store’. That will be John Lewis. Marks and Spencer is our national pants supplier. Get it right. You’re a ‘teacher’.”

LBC radio host James O’Brien tweeted: “All the very best parody accounts might as well go home now. There’s a new kid in town and they’re absolutely brilliant. The Scrooge stuff in particular is off the charts funny. Genius.”

“It’s so exciting how insane everybody is now,” journalist Imogen West-Knights said.

M&S apologised earlier this week after posting an outtake from the Christmas advert on Instagram, which showed hats in traditional Christmas colours of red, green and silver burning in the fire. Some claimed the image was inappropriate because the hats resembled the colours of the Palestinian flag.

The image was captioned: “This Christmas, do what you love... like saying no to paper hats.” The hashtag said #LoveThismasNotThatmas. M&S said the outtake from the advert it shared on Instagram was recorded in August, months prior to Hamas launching a surprise attack on Israel on 7 October.

“Today we shared an outtake image from our Christmas clothing and home advert, which was recorded in August,” the retailer’s statement said. “It showed traditional, festive-coloured red, green and silver Christmas paper party hats in a fire grate.

“While the intent was to playfully show that some people just don’t enjoy wearing paper Christmas hats over the festive season, we have removed the post following feedback and we apologise for any unintentional hurt caused.”