Rain could not dampen the festive spirit in St Albans on Sunday as hundreds turned out for the Christmas Lights switch on.

EastEnders star Steve McFadden, who has played Albert Square hardman Phil Mitchell for the last 20 years, had the honour of pushing the big red button this year in front of cheering crowds.

Steve, who is starring as the Evil Flesh Creep in the Alban Arena panto, was joined on the St Peter’s Street stage by his Jack and the Beanstalk castmates who jeered the crowd as the countdown neared.

Thanking the audience for his "lovely welcome", Steve said he was very happy to be in St Albans.

He said: "I’m almost a St Albans resident, the St Albans Arena is my local theatre really as we film EastEnders just up the road in Borehamwood. It’s great to be here tonight, and I hope people come and see the show."

Ten schoolchildren from across the district led the crowd in the final countdown for the switch on, as everyone on stage piled in to help Steve push the button at exactly 5.30pm.

The Christmas festivities had kicked off at noon as families made their way around the dozens of food and gift stalls set up in the shopping street.

Visitors also enjoyed a temporary funfair, which included a helter skelter and bouncy castles, as well as seasonal refreshments and Santa’s Grotto throughout the afternoon.

Live music and dance performances were played from the stage at the top of St Peter’s Street, with Christmas songs, carols and party favourites belted out into the night.

The St Albans Christmas Lights Switch On Show was opened with a performance by 38 students at Excel Performing Arts, who showcased two dance pieces choreographed especially for the event by West End performer Steven Houghton.

St Albans Mayor, Councillor Geoff Harrison, greeted the crowd before the switch on.

He said: "We’ve all been looking forward to this. It’s always a brilliant night. It’s a pleasure to be here with you all. I’m incredibly proud of St Albans."