A CHRISTMAS festival of food, music and comedy hosted by TV chef Tom Kerridge in Oxfordshire has been cancelled - just days before it was due to begin.

The celebrity cook had planned to stage a Pub in the Park event in Bicester for nine days later this month.

Live music would have come from The Kingdom Choir, which found fame performing at Harry & Meghan’s wedding.

It would also have featured comedy from Mark Watson, Reginald D Hunter, Ed Byrne and Angela Barnes, classic movies such as Star Wars, and a show by stars of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing - Kevin Clifton and his ballroom champion sister Joanne Clifton, along with their professional dance partners.

Film buffs were enticed with classic Christmas movies including Miracle on 34th Street, Love Actually and It’s a Wonderful Life, and favourites Jurassic Park, Back to the Future and Star Wars: A New Hope, plus winter family favourites Elf, Home Alone and The Grinch.

Tickets for the nine-day festival at Bicester Heritage went on sale on Tuesday. However, less than 48 hours later, organisers pulled the plug – blaming the public for not buying enough tickets because of Covid safety fears.

Pub in the Park’s Festive Theatre was set to run from December 15-23, with tickets costing £35 for adults and £12.50 for children. It would have see visitors to the former RAF airfield treated to a film, comedy set or theatre show while tucking into food perfected by Tom at his Michelin starred Marlow pubs The Hand & Flowers and The Coach.

The socially-distanced event would have seen groups of ticket holders entertained from the comfort and safety of their own pods, with seating for up to six people, spaced out in a large area in front of the big screen or stage.

But organisers claimed potential customers were worried about safety and the risk to their health of joining an event during a pandemic.

Neither Mr Kerridge nor organisers were available for comment, but in a statement issued just one day after tickets went on sale, organisers said: "It has become clear to us since we have put our Festive Theatre events on sale, that the majority of our customers are worried about the safety of a walk in event at this time.

"As we are only here to put on safe and comfortable experiences for our guests, we have made the difficult decision to not proceed with these events.

"We will be booking all of our talent to appear as much as possible in our programme next year."

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It is the second time this year a major comedy event has been cancelled near Bicester. In July a PopUp Picnic at nearby Poundon, was scrapped just days after being announced. It would have featured sets by Jimmy Carr, Matt Richardson, Hal Cruttenden and Andrew Maxwell. The cancellation was blamed on a sponsor pulling out.

Tickets included a hearty two course meal, featuring Mr Kerridge's twist on chilli con carne, which would have been delivered to individual pods.

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Reginald D Hunter

The chef, currently starring in BBC Two’s Saving Britain’s Pubs had been looking forward to the event, saying: “I am super excited to be involved in Pub in the Park’s Festive Theatre.

"Come and eat some great grub with a menu curated by me and my team while watching a classic Christmas movie, singing along to your favourite festive tune, tapping your feet to some dance legends or laughing your socks off to some of the funniest talent in the UK.”

Mr Kerridge, who also appeared on the Great British Menu, MasterChef and Saturday Kitchen and fronted his own shows How to Lose Weight For Good and Top of the Shop has just launched his own The Hand & Flowers Cookbook.

In an interview to publicise the book, he said hospitality had been hit hard by Covid, affecting him as a chef and restaurateur.

“There is nothing positive about what’s happened in the last six months, nothing,” he said.

“There is nothing positive for the hospitality industry. But what I will say is, the positive thing for us is we’ve reassessed the business. It’s kind of like taking the business to the gym. We’ve gone, ‘Right, okay, what do we need to do now to make it?’

“So that, in a way, is positive, but we’ve been forced into doing it, and that’s not comfortable. I wouldn’t have wanted it to happen. However, we’ve had to do it. And in a slightly twisted way, I’m quite enjoying it. I quite like the adversity, I quite like the decision making, I quite like the challenge and problem solving.”

But he is convinced things will improve – eventually.

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“I don’t sleep very well at the minute, because you’re constantly on edge,” he says. “The best way I can describe it is a bit like a really [bad] Saturday night service, so you’re cooking and there’s too many checks on and there’s a lot of pressure.

“It’s not enjoyable. But you’re focused on it, and you’re driving it and you know you’ll get to the other side.

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“If you can just focus on that and keep your mind clear – and just when you think you’ll get there, two more checks come on and they need another two steaks. It feels like that at the minute, but Saturday night service does come to an end. You do get through it. And you can go for a beer afterwards.”

And, he says, people still want to eat out and enjoy themselves.

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“Everyone loves eating, more importantly than that, everybody loves physical and emotional connection.

“Everybody loves chatting and being friends, handshaking and high-fiving and hugging. We can’t help it. We are emotionally and physically tactile; human beings like social interaction and at the minute, we’ve been told, ‘No you can’t do this and no you can’t do that’, but the moment we can, that doesn’t stop, it’s something we are.

“That will be back hugely, and that emotional connection and physical contact will be met by going out for a drink, meeting your friends, socialising, having a lovely time, whether that’s going to cinema, the pub, a restaurant, staying out for a weekend in a nice hotel, all of those things will come back.”