The Bing Crosby song White Christmas is about a Los Angeles resident longing to spend the holidays in more wintry climes - and for Stephen Maitland-Lewis, who was brought up near Sheffield before emigrating to California, the lyrics are reality. Star reporter Rachael Clegg spoke to him about his unconventional Christmas time.
BING Crosby could have been singing about Stephen Maitland-Lewis when he crooned the lyrics to the Irving Berlin classic White Christmas.
‘The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway’, he describes in the first verse. ‘There’s never been such a day, in Beverly Hills, LA.
‘But it’s December the twenty-fourth. And I am longing to be up North. I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.’
Stephen, who was brought up in Baslow, also thinks fondly of festive times spent in colder climes.
So much so that every Christmas he makes a point of hanging a festive wreath adorned with holly berries on his front door - a Mediterrenean-style entrance bathed in balmy LA sunshine.
There’s certainly no need for gritting the roads in this part of the world.
Instead the sun beats down on the terracotta tiles on Stephen’s terrace where even in the depth of December he enjoys heat-hazy views of miles of softly swaying tree tops, and the LA skyline. So while for most of us here in South Yorkshire Christmas Day is about crackling log fires and keeping warm, Stephen will be relaxing in shirt sleeves around his Beverly Hills home.
And perhaps, if the mood takes him, he might take his open top Mercedes for a leisurely spin down Rodeo Drive.
Stephen moved to California in 1991 with his second wife, Monika, an art dealer who specialised in 17th and 19th-century Flemish art.
He bought a home and a hotel in Palm Springs and went into investment banking, and the pair remained married until 1995.
But getting divorced didn’t put him off California.
Stephen stayed put and in 1999 bought a home in Beverly Hills.
Then, in 2006, he met and married his third wife, Joni, a former professional dancer and chairwoman of the Society of Professional Dancers. Joni has danced with Sammy David Jnr, Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly.
This year the couple will be spending Christmas together at their home near Hollywood - and Stephen will be reminiscing about Christmas back home near Sheffield.
Christmas in the USA is less of a big deal than in Britain, according to Stephen. “Christmas Day is just one day off and some people may finish at 3pm or 4pm the day before. It’s not like in the UK where people like to have a few days off. And there is no Boxing Day, which I miss.”
While families and friends in the UK will be enjoying a festive tipple or two of Christmas spirits, Stephen says that isn’t the case in California either - as there isn’t really a party season in which to get drunk.
And the sprawl of LA’s city limits mean not driving isn’t really an option.
“Drink and drive rules are very strict here - the police have road blocks where they run ‘sobriety tests’ every Friday night, but there’s always a column in the local paper telling people where the road blocks are.”
And what Stephen misses most about the UK is a cosy traditional local pub.
“There is no equivalent over here to the English country pub.”
One thing he doesn’t miss is the weather. “I have a complete aversion to snow - I do not want to be shovelling snow!” he laughs.
But he says pretty much everything British is available to buy in LA.
“Even the things you might miss from England are available here - you can buy anything, even Marmite.”
Stephen, aged 67, no longer has any family in England as his children have settled in the States - but he visits London for one week every year.
“I love going back to the UK - there’s something so nice about walking into a little pub and having a beer.
“I remember working in the City in London and everyone would huddle in pubs with a beer after work.”
Stephen worked as an investment banker in the UK but is now a full time author.
His latest book, Emeralds Never Fade, tells the story of two German boys who enjoy teaching each other to play the piano. But one of the boys, Leo, is Jewish, and as the Nazi party grips Poland and Germany, he must flee. His pal, Bruno, is called up to serve in the German army.
The boys’ paths do not cross again until later in life, when Leo, a banker, and Bruno, a risky business speculator, are dragged into a fateful battle over a family heirloom.
Stephen was drawn to the subject matter out of personal curiosity and personal interest.
“I am fascinated by that period of history but also the book explores the banking world, which I worked in for a number of years, so it combines personal experience with World War Two history,” he says.
And, in true LA style, the book was launched at a celebrity-peppered event.
But it’s not just at book launches where Stephen runs into LA royalty. “I’m going to lunch today at a place called the Milky Way,” he says. “It’s a restaurant run by Stephen Spielberg’s mother - she’s a real character!”