It's a chilly winter's morning in Knightsbridge and I'm standing by the staff entrance to the most famous department store in the world. It has just gone 8am but already the pavement outside Harrods is flooded with workers finishing their coffee before hurrying inside, ready to start their day.
Most famously owned by the Al-Fayed family, the 177-year-old department store was sold to Qatar Holding, the Qatari royal family's investment company, last May. I'm assured Christmas remains its key period. Indeed, from July until the end of the festive period, more than 100,000 shoppers are expected to visit its seven floors every day. Even with an additional 500 temporary staff, its core 5,000 employees will be stretched beyond belief. Who, you might ask, would want to work here?
Well me, actually. Ten years ago I applied for a temp job in the store's homage to all things festive, Christmas World. Clearly lacking the requisite yuletide spirit, my application proved 'unsuccessful'. But today, a decade after my initial rejection, I've finally got the chance to work a Christmas shift at Harrods. I'll be helping staff to fluff pups in the Pet Spa, blow balloons in the toy department, doll up Christmas trees, pack hampers and giftwrap the unwrappable as the store gears up for its busiest time of the year.
Suitably kempt in black so as to blend in with the staff, I nervously follow the short tunnel underground from the staff quarters to my first port of call, the aforementioned Christmas World, on the second floor. This year, owing to popular demand, this department opened in July, although they've had requests for baubles since March and the Father Christmas Grotto is long sold out.
This morning I'm helping to 'refresh' the Christmas trees so, with the aid of two charming visual merchandisers, I decorate an artificial 8ft pine within an inch of its life using silver leaves and bows. This department is big business so how it looks is crucial, explains David Miller, Director of Harrods Home: 'We have a lot of tourists and customers who come to Christmas World purely for the novelty factor.' To meet standards, they refresh the dozen or so trees every day, increasing their staff tenfold in order to get everything finished by the time doors open.