True stories behind Xmas songs – death, written in 15 minutes and disappearance

There's no escaping Christmas songs at this time of year – but did you know what inspired some of the festive season's biggest hits?

From tragic losses, to heartache and small acts of kindess, some of the world's biggest hits have been inspired by events in the writer's lives.

Other festive hits were written in less than 15 minutes, while others may not have been released at all.

READ MORE: Paul McCartney to Mariah Carey – Eye-watering royalties stars earn from Christmas songs

Here, Daily Star takes a closer look at the stories behind some of your favourite Christmas songs.

Bing Crosby – White Christmas

White Christmas is one of the best selling festive song of all time, with more than 50m sales of the song worldwide since its release in 1941.

However, the song is reported to have inspired by a number of different events – and there is no definitive confirmation about the events surrounding the record.

One report suggests that the song was inspired by the tragic loss of writer Irving Berlin's three-week old son, who died on Christmas Day in 1928.

Speaking in the book White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, author Jodie Rosin said: "The kind of deep secret of the song may be that it was Berlin responding in some way to his melancholy about the death of his son."

However, CBS News reported that Irving was inspired to write the song while he was staying in Beverley Hills, but was homesick for his family.

Meanwhile, Smooth Radio reported that the song was written by Irving Berlin on the set of the film Top Hat in 1935, where he suggested it to Fred Astaire and the film's director Mark Sandrich as a potential song for a future Astaire-Ginger Rogers film.

Although Fred Astaire loved the tune, but Mark Sandrich is said to have passed on it.

Instead, White Christmas featured in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby, with his version of the song widely played every year.

Whatever inspired White Christmas, it is certain that Irving knew he had written a hit, with author Jodie Rosen telling CBS News: "He came into his — his– song publishing offices and — and announced to his musical secretary, 'I've just written a new song. Not only is the best song I've ever written, it's the best song anybody's ever written.' And that song was 'White Christmas."

Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You

All I want For Christmas Is You has become a festive staple, with the iconic Mariah Carey track finally reaching number one in the UK in both 2021 and 2022.

But did you know that the song was almost not released?

Smooth Radio reported that there were fears of releasing a Christmas album at the height of a musician's career, as these types of albums were "usually the kind of project to undertake towards the end of a musician's waning career".

Mariah's co-writer and producer Walter Afanasieff said: "Back then, you didn't have a lot of artists with Christmas albums. It wasn't a known science at all back then, and there was nobody who did new, big Christmas songs."

However, Mariah and her record label decided to go ahead and release the song as part of Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas, with the iconic record written in just under 15 minutes.

Walter added: "So we were going to release it as kind of an everyday, 'Hey, you know, we're putting out a Christmas album. No big deal."

That's not all, as despite being a Winter favourite, All I Want For Christmas Is You was written in the Summer – so Mariah used some tactics to evoke the festive spirit.

The New York Post reported that Mariah brought Christmas lights and trees into the studio to create the festive mood, with producer and song-writer Walter Afanasieff, laughing as he said: "There was even talk of bringing in some snow at one point, but we didn’t go with that, thank God!"

East 17 – Stay Another Day

While Stay Another Day is often considered a festive love song, the true story behind the song is filled with sadness.

The song is filled with heartbreak, as it was written by lead singer Tony Mortimer about his brother's suicide.

Speaking to The Big Issue, Tony said: "It's so odd that it's a Christmas song.

"I wrote it about my brother's suicide – so it's about the end of a relationship, and missing someone.

"That's what it’s based on, and I think people like that. It might have been a hit because people felt sorry for me or whatever, but it's also a very nostalgic song for Christmas, for looking back over the year and times gone by."

He also explained to the NME that only his fellow band members knew who the song was about, and that the truth was only revealed when he was asked about the song's meanings during interviews at the time.

Tony also admitted that the song was inspired by a close friend of his who lost her father, saying: "As he was dying in his hospital bed, he woke up and came back for another 24 hours.

"When people are leaving, you always wish you had one more day with them, and that's where the title came from."

Stay Another Day reached number one in 1994, but Tony admitted that he struggled with the song becoming a Christmas classic that is played every year.

Tony told The Big Issue: "I got over hearing Stay Another Day all the time at Christmas – I've accepted that. There was a time when that song just didn't go away, it was a nightmare. Now I've got over it."

Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine

Cliff Richard has become one of the undisputed Kings of Christmas, after landing multiple number ones including Saviours Day.

His 1988 classic Mistletoe and Wine is regularly played every year, but the song itself was not originally written by Cliff.

Instead, the song was written by Keith Strachan, Leslie Stewart and the late Jeremy Paul for their 1976 musical Scraps.

Scraps was a modernised version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, with the original song winning an Ivor Novello Award before being turned into a film starring Roger Daltry.

However, Sir Cliff heard the song and adapted it to include some alternative lyrics, with his 1988 version staying at number one for more than four weeks.

Speaking to Daily Mail, songwriter Leslie Stewart said: "The song is a bit different from the original, it was never written as a one-off but as part of a musical."

He added: "I find it very hard to be critical of his version because it was very successful.

'I'm quite grateful it did well, it was the third best-selling single of the 1980s so it was incredible to be involved with."

Band Aid – Do They Know It's Christmas?

Sir Bob Geldof was one of the visionaries behind the charity single Do They Know It's Christmas, which brought together some of the biggest stars of the eighties.

After watching a broadcast BBC News about the famine in Ethiopia in 1984, he said the footage had "stayed with him," – but that it was actually wife Paula Yates who kickstarted what would become Band Aid.

The Boomtown Rats singer Bob shared the story behind Band Aid at an In Conversation Event, celebrating Live Aid and 100 years of the BBC, as part of the BFI and Radio Times TV Festival on May 20, 2022.

He said Paula Yates had subsequently left a message in the bowl asking any visitors to the house to donate five pounds for charity following the BBC News broadcast, with Bob saying: "At that moment. I knew I had to do something."

He also credited Paula with helping him connect with friends and Do They Know It's Christmas co-songwriter Midge Ure, saying: "I called Paula – 'find out who is on The Tube and see can we get something together.' So that's how it started.

Bob also revealed that the final line-up came together as he knew a lot of the big artists at the time, thanks to Paula Yates presenting work, saying: "Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, George Michael would come down to our house, all the new guys came to our house because I knew them through Paula knowing them from The Tube."

He added: "We knew LeBon and the [Duran Duran] guys very well, George Michael. My confidence built, because to them I was the older generation, just like we had been in 1976 with all the guys before us."

"I think it was because luckily because Paula did The Tube, we knew them well. That's what happened."

Wham! – Last Christmas

Wham's Last Christmas was one of the greatest festive tracks never to get to number one, after it was pipped to the post by Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas?

It is also one of the most iconic tracks of the festive season, with the song even inspiring a film of the same name.

Speaking about writing the famous song, Wham's Andrew Ridgeley previously revealed that Last Christmas came about when George Michael suddenly 'disappeared' for over one hour.

Writing for The Mail on Sunday, Andrew revealed that he and George were sitting down for a bite to eat, when the singer mysteriously vanished upstairs in the house.

However when he returned, Last Christmas had been born.

Andrew said: "We’d had a bite to eat and were sitting together relaxing with the television on in the background when, almost unnoticed, George disappeared upstairs for an hour or so.

"When he came back down, such was his excitement, it was as if he had discovered gold which, in a sense, he had."

The pair went back upstairs to record an early version of the song, and the rest, as they say is history.

Andrew continued: "George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music. Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts.”

Chris Rea – Driving Home For Christmas

Chris Rea's Driving Home for Christmas tells the tale of the struggles to trying to get to those you love during the festive season.

As such, it is no surprise that Chris Rea's own struggles inspired this Christmas classic.

The singer explained to The Guardian that he was parting ways with his record label at the time, and that they wouldn't pay for his train home from London to Middlesborough.

This left Chris driving home with his wife, but the couple unfortunately got stuck in snow on their way back.

He said: "We kept getting stuck in traffic and I’d look across at the other drivers, who all looked so miserable.

"Jokingly, I started singing: ‘We’re driving home for Christmas…’ Then, whenever the street lights shone inside the car, I started writing down lyrics."

The singer also admitted that if he is ever stuck in traffic, he winds down the car window and starts singing it to other drivers to cheer them up!

If I’m ever stuck on the M25, I’ll wind the window down and start singing, ‘I’m driving home for Christmas’ at people in cars alongside. They love it. It’s like giving them a present."

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