Six-year-old Tilly Morton-Cairns, from Gateshead, was born with a rare virus which has left her profoundly deaf and often unable to communicate.
But, thanks to intu Metrocentre, Tilly has been able to ‘speak’ to the most important person of all; Santa Claus.
As part of its Christmas festivities, the North East shopping centre arranged two special sessions with Santa and Mrs Claus for children who communicate via sign language.
“When I heard about that I just knew I had to take Tilly,” said mum, Hayley, 27. “She’s been to see Santa in previous years but has always left feeling a little sad and disappointed that she couldn’t communicate with him.
“But this was so different – it was truly magical. From the moment he started to sign, her little face just lit up.
“She started signing back and even tried to speak – although we were all a little taken aback when she said she would like a turtle for Christmas. Thankfully, I think she means a toy one.
“It was so fantastic to see her so happy and I truly think she will remember this for the rest of her life.”
Because Tilly’s grandma couldn’t accompany the couple and Tilly’s dad Paul, on their trip to see Santa last Sunday (Nov 22), Hayley decided to film it – and the film has gone viral, touching the hearts of more than half a million people across the world after Hayley posted it on Facebook.
“I never dreamed it would touch people in the way that it has,” said Hayley, “but I suppose I can see why. For Tilly, it really was a Christmas miracle – and isn’t that, really, what it’s all about?”
The idea for a signing Santa came from the centre’s marketing team while planning new ideas for Christmas. After learning members of the intu Metrocentre Customer Services teams received sign language training, they wanted to incorporate their new skills to spread the spirit of Christmas to children with hearing difficulties.
“We wanted to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to enjoy our Christmas programme and that children with hearing problems would be able to join in the fun, too,” said Helen Atkinson, marketing manager at intu Metrocentre.
“We run a packed programme of Christmas events and activities but this has been incredibly special – not just for Tilly, but for all the other deaf and hard of hearing children who came along to meet signing Santa.”
The second session with signing Santa will take place on Sunday, (November 29) from 10am to 11amand members of the centre’s Customer Services team who have been trained to use sign language will also be on hand on the day. All places for the next signing Santa session have now been allocated.
To see the film of Tilly’s meeting with Santa, visit
For more information about the centre’s Christmas programme, including Santa’s Grotto, visit www.intumetrocentre.co.uk/Whats-on/Christmas.