TRIBUTES have poured in for a man who brought joy to children across the city by dressing up as Father Christmas.

Mike Childs died aged 77 on Thursday. He had worked as the chief Santa on Brighton and Hove Buses’ festive Santa Bus for 17 years and was still donning his red costume and bringing smiles to the faces of children the week before he died.

Mike, who lived in Whitehawk, was also the Santa in residence at the various grottos organised by The Argus and Brighton’s Donatello restaurant.

Elsa Gillio, who runs the charity Argus Appeal, said: “Nobody did it better than Santa Mike. By the time he finished talking to you you were left in no doubt that Santa exists.

“He was an inspiration to other would-be Santas and was a stickler for ensuring Santa etiquette was always adhered to.

“I’m so pleased he was still doing what he loved right up until almost the end.”

Mike’s motto was “believe in the magic”. One of his last acts of kindness was making a surprise visit to children Sienna and Jude Mulhare.

Mike was married to wife Sue for 27 years and between them, they had six children – Lara, Jason, Sarita, Maria, Des and Lorraine. Sue said: “He was lovely. He was a very jovial person. He was very good with disabled children and he’d sit in his grotto at the Amex Stadium to see them.

“When they asked his age, he’d always smile and say he was over 100 years old. He was just like Santa, actually.

“He looked like him and he acted like him too. He was a very generous person and very gentle.

“He was a great grandfather and had a large family. But he loved to sing, and he was also a DJ. He used to play classical music to crowds with his earphones in. He was very funny. It’s a bit quiet in the house now.”

Linda Page, wife of former Argus editor Terry Page, saw Mike’s generosity first hand. when he made a special visit to their great-nephew Dougie Sadler, five

She said: “Santa Mike had a magic touch which was brought home to me when he visited Dougie at his home.

“Dougie has metachromatic leukodystrophy, an incurable condition which usually results in children living only a few years. Santa Mike arrived in a brightly lit Santa bus and Dougie, who is unable to walk, was carried aboard.

“His face lit up when Santa presented him with a Christmas gift and spent time with him and his grateful parents.

“Santa Mike had a special way with children. He gave my great nephew and my family a magic moment that they will never forget. He was a wonderful man”.

Brighton and Hove Buses said it will pay tribute to Santa Mike on Thursday as the Santa Bus travels around Whitehawk –Mike’s home turf – with his family riding on the bus.

Managing director Martin Harris said: “Santa Mike was the real thing, always ho-ho-ho-ing and ready with a wave and a smile. He has been with the Santa Bus from the start and he’s played a central role in raising more than £250,000 for local charities to help people in need.

“We loved him, and the hundreds of our colleagues and volunteers who have worked with him on the Santa Bus over the past 15 years will deeply feel his absence, as will all the people who come out every year to meet the bus. The Santa Bus won’t be the same without him. Our thoughts and our hearts are with Santa Mike’s family today.”