Sophie Conran takes inspiration from the Queen Mother for a perfect Christmas - get her tips and dessert recipes

MIRIAM FOLEY

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it can also be stressful for those of us charged with organising the elaborate festive celebrations. Sophie Conran knows a thing or two about hosting, so we spoke exclusively to the product designer, cook and author – also the daughter of Sir Terence Conran, the designer and restaurateur who founded Habitat to get her top tips and three of her sweetest recipes. Now all we need is a sprinkle of snow for that perfect white Christmas...

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Tell us your top tips for hosting this Christmas...

- "I heard that the Queen Mother had famously good parties and her fail safe trick was to serve her guests with a delicious and very strong cocktail when they arrive! A nice mulled wine is perfect too, and it also fills the house with gorgeous Christmassy smells, especially good served with a warm mince pie.

- I like to plan my menu well in advance and create a running order of meals before - so that I can be organised with the food shopping. I try to remember to check my guests' dietary requirements, and get a big order of nibbles and drinks.

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Sophie Conran's Christmas pudding

- Canapés don't have to be complicated. I love bruschetta, which are simple and tasty. Choose elements that can be made in advance, and involve the whole family in the prep if you can. It's always nicest when it's team work and everyone gets stuck in, and they will enjoy themselves all the more if you have the Christmas music playing, the drinks flowing and the lights twinkling.

- Go to as many Christmas markets as you have time to. There seem to be more and more, in town halls or high streets, it can be so inspiring seeing what's out there and a great atmosphere too, it really gets you in the Christmas mood. I like to pick up some new decorations every year for the house and tree. There seem to be lots of woodland-themed decorations at the moment, which can be really fun and enchanting if you have small children.

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- Go for a country walk or potter around the garden picking up foliage to incorporate into a wreath, table-centres and fire-place displays. If you want to break away from holly and ivy, use eucalyptus and pussy willow, or pick up apples, cinnamon sticks, tangerines and bayleaves from the green grocers. I have some evergreen magnolia that needs a bit of a trim, so I am going to use the large glossy leaves mixed with white amaryllis to go in a big vase in the hall.

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Sophie Conran's mince pies with rose pastry


- I always add an enormous amount of white fairy lights first and angels hair, which is those little strips of silver and then the decorations. Using just two complementary colours helps make it all look more cohesive. Masses of ribbon bows tied all over the tree look fab too.

- When it comes to wrapping, get plenty of your favourite paper and a complimentary ribbon, sweet little tags and perhaps a paper flower or berries to finish it off. Don't forget sharp scissors and the sellotape, too.

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Sophie Conran's lemon posset


- I love to have plenty of scented candles around the house, in guest bedrooms and halls as well as the sitting room, especially to cover the smell of wet dogs and worse! So I've put together a beautiful new range. My favourite is called Sparkle and has the scent of a flower called a "pink" as well as lots of spicy notes. It's delicious and very Christmassy."

For more tips and recipes, visit Sophieconran.com

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