The Story Of... 'Driving Home for Christmas' by Chris Rea

15 December 2023, 10:59

Chris Rea - Driving Home for Christmas
Chris Rea - Driving Home for Christmas. Picture: TopPop/YouTube

By Tom Eames

Since it was remotely acceptable to play Christmas music, we've been jamming along to one of our all-time favourites: 'Driving Home for Christmas' by Chris Rea.

"Top to toe in tailbacks..."

And it got us thinking, what was the backstory to this jaunty classic that we can't help but chuck on when we're on our way home for Christmas?

Here's all you need to know about the festive classic by Chris Rea:

  1. Who wrote 'Driving Home for Christmas'?

    Chris Rea in 1988
    Chris Rea in 1988. Picture: Getty

    Chris Rea first wrote the song in 1978, 10 years before he released it.

    He needed to get home to Middlesbrough from London's Abbey Road Studios. His wife had come down to drive him home in her Austin Mini to save money, as it was cheaper to drive than travel by train, and his record company was not willing to pay for the rail ticket.

    While stuck in heavy traffic and snow falling down, Chris started looking at the other drivers, who "all looked so miserable".

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

  2. It was actually written for Van Morrison and he never intended to release it

    Describing it as a "car version of a carol", Chris later revealed that he wrote it for Van Morrison in mind, but did not manage to get it to him.

    Chris never planned to write a Christmas song. It wasn't until several years later, that during testing pianos with keyboard player Max Middleton, he found a tune which fitted the lyrics.

    It was first released as a B-side to 1986' single 'Hello Friend', but was later re-recorded with some strings, Middleton's distinctive jazzy intro, and a typical 1950s Christmas carol-style arrangement.

  3. Shockingly, it was a flop

    Chris Rea - Driving Home for Christmas
    Chris Rea - Driving Home for Christmas. Picture: Magnet

    Incredibly, the song only reached number 53 back in 1988, but slowly became a Christmas favourite over the years.

    After downloads were included in the charts, it re-entered the top 40 in 2007, and eventually reached 26 in 2016.

    With streaming now included, it has now reached a new peak of number 11.

  4. Chris Rea rarely plays it live

    Chris Rea - Driving Home for Christmas (Live at Hammersmith Apollo 2017)

    It's probably fair to say that the tune isn't Chris's favourite!

    But every now and then, he indulges his fans with a festive performance.

    One year while playing at the Hammersmith Odeon, he was "badgered" into playing it by his road crew. And boy did he go big. Watch a recent performance of the song above.

    He said: "I went, 'If I’m going to sing this f***ing song, we’re gonna do it properly.' So we hired 12 snow cannons. We put three feet of artificial snow in the stalls. The venue charged me £12,000 to clean it up."

  5. There wasn't a proper video until 2009

    Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas (Official Music Video) HD

    While he recorded a video of sorts for Dutch TV show TopPop in 1986, there wasn't a 'proper' promo until over 20 years later.

    In aid of the charity Shelter, various celebrities appeared in a new video, including Martin Shaw, Gail Porter, Jimmy Greaves, Matt Di Angelo and Lionel Blair.

    Rea said: "I wanted to do something special this Christmas and what better way than to help keep a roof over people’s heads when they need it most – at Christmas. By teaming up with Shelter we can hopefully make a difference".

  6. Who has covered it?

    Stacey Solomon Driving Home for Christmas

    Stacey Solomon covered the song in 2011 as her debut single. Originally intended to be used in commercials for Iceland, it was later released as a single to raise money for Alzheimer's Research UK and children's hospice charity Together For Short Lives.

    It reached number 27, one place lower than Rea's chart peak.

    The song has also been covered by the likes of Tony Hadley, Gavin James, Michael Ball and Joe McElderry.