Christmas with the Carters: Jake and Nathan keeping this festive season country

Jake Carter tells Jenny Lee about going over the top when Christmas tree shopping with his brother Nathan and partying virtually with some of their country music friends

Brothers Jake, left, and Nathan Carter, host a festive country-music-inspired celebration from their home in Co Fermanagh this Friday
Brothers Jake, left, and Nathan Carter, host a festive country-music-inspired celebration from their home in Co Fermanagh this Friday

FOR singers Nathan and Jake Carter, Christmas means family, music and craic, and while this year might be a little different, the brothers are determined to celebrate the only way they know how – with a good old sing-song.

Even though they can’t go on tour as normal, they are inviting television audiences to join them as they host a festive country-music-inspired celebration from their home in Co Fermanagh.

In a special Christmas editor of Keepin’ ‘er Country, the musical duo will perform a host of their favourite Christmas tunes. They will be joined virtually by some very special guests including Lisa McHugh, Robert Mizzell and Cliona Hagan, who gives a stunning performance of a much-loved Christmas carol.

Viewers will see the brothers prepare for the holidays and decorating their home. The festive celebrations started early as the brothers went Christmas tree shopping, as Jake explains.

“I’ve been in the Christmas mood since November, but I love Christmas. I’m one of these Christmas addicts who love the whole buzz around Christmas of decking the house with decorations and getting in the Christmas spirit,” laughs the 22-year-old.

“I didn’t even know Christmas tree farms existed. It was like a little kid's dream. On the show you see us getting our own Christmas tree and, without giving anything away, it’s one of the biggest Christmas trees you will see. We had to cut it a little bit to fit into the house."

The enormous addition to their home also meant new baubles and lights had to be purchased.

“It took a full day to actually decorate the tree because of the sheer size of the thing. We were up ladders and one of us had to dangle from the top of the stairs to put the star on top.

“Obviously Christmas is going to be very different for most people this year and they won’t see all their family, so it was nice to go that extra mile on the decorations.”

Although he also has a base in Dublin, Jake has spent the majority of 2020 living in Enniskillen with his brother, including the spring lockdown.

“The first lockdown was tough for a lot of people but I enjoyed spending time again with Nathan to relax and to concentrate on my song writing. I've a catalogue off stuff that I can't wait to get into the studio and hopefully release an album towards the end of next year,” says Jake, who launched his first EP Three Things in 2017.

While happy to accompany his brother on guitar, especially for online concerts this year, Jake is more drawn to pop – a conscious decision he made so as not to be compared to his well established country-music-star brother.

“I love Nathan and I wouldn't be where I am without his support and help but I was drawn to the pop genre to carve my own path and, rather than be annoyed by being referred to as Nathan’s brother, his success spurs me on.”

This week Jake has digitally released a single of his favourite seasonal hit – an acoustic cover of River, the Christmas folk song by Joni Mitchell.

“Although it’s known more as a love song, it’s especially relevant at this time of year. I’ve always loved the song, especially Gavin James’s version,” Jake says.

Jake is also well known for winning the 2018 series of RTÉ’s Dancing With The Stars, where he was partnered by professional dancer Karen Byrne. The pair, who have since become girlfriend and boyfriend, wowed audiences with their moves to lift the glitterball trophy.

Although Karen did spend the first lockdown in Enniskillen, she has since returned to Dublin to work in her dance studio and to appear in the RTÉ soap Fair City and Jake was disappointed she wasn’t around to join in the Keepin’ ‘er Country special to try to teach his brother to dance on screen.

“Nathan isn't the best of dancers so when we work together we just stick to the singing,” says Jake, encouraging viewers to line-dance around their Christmas trees.

In the programme, viewers will also see the boys in the kitchen making some tasty treats and have a bake-off competition.

“We made a Christmas Yule Log. I won’t spoil it, but one of us was a complete disaster,” he laughs.

Jake, the youngest in his family, has fond memories of Christmas as a child in their native Liverpool with Nathan and their sister Kiara.

“I was the one in our house who loved Christmas and the whole idea of giving and receiving gifts the most. One of my fondest memories is getting a drum kit and wrecking everyone's head by playing it all Christmas Day long. I think Mum and Dad definitely regreted Santa Claus getting me that.

“I never did end up being a drummer but I also remember getting a guitar, which is still one of my main loves in life right now.”

Last year the whole Carter family flew to Enniskillen to be with Jake and Nathan and while plans are still uncertain this year, Jake is hopefully of making a flying visit back home.

“We usually have our parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all together, but obviously that isn’t possible this year with all the restrictions and my nan and grandad being in their 80s we need to be careful. We’ll just have to see but it would be great to see them,” he adds.

In the Christmas special the brothers will be sporting festive jumpers and Jake admits he had to go out and buy a new one.

“Anyone who doesn't wear a Christmas jumper is a bit of a Grinch. I actually have a Christmas jumper that I always wear but I couldn't wear it on the BBC as it has a bit of a double entendre around the word bells,” he laughs.

Having starred in his first panto, Aladdin, in Belfast’s SSE Arena in 2017, Jake was delighted to be starring as Peter Pan in the drive-in pantomime at Malahide Castle this month.

Also starring Fair City actor Johnny Ward as Captain Hook, the panto was filmed in advanced at the O’Reilly Theatre in Dublin.

“It’s great being able to help some families keep up the tradition of going to panto.”

Throughout the year Jake and Nathan have taken part in a number of charity initiatives and in January they will brighten up the life of a family from Mallow in Cork as they perform a private in-person gig for them, as part of a raffle which raised £12,000 for the children’s charity Make-A-Wish.

Optimistic about 2021, Jake’s message to music fans this Christmas is “just keep going and have a healthy and happy Christmas”.

“Hopefully there is now light at the end of this long Covid tunnel and 2021 will be a much better year for everyone. The live music industry took a huge hit, but I believe when it does return it's going to be bigger and better than it ever was.”

:: Keepin’ ’er Country at Christmas is an Alleycats production for BBC Northern Ireland and will be broadcast on Friday December 18 at 9pm on BBC One Northern Ireland. Also available on BBC iPlayer.