Ever since he was young, professional truck driver Matt Smith, 28, from Andover in Hampshire, has always been fascinated with trucks. He has dreamt of driving the Coca-Cola Christmas truck since the age of seven, when he first saw the ‘Holidays are Coming’ advert.
“My love of trucks started when I was a kid. I used to have them as toys, and I remember drawing one on a Mother’s Day card. I drive Class 1 trucks for a living, and I’ve travelled all over the UK and parts of Europe, but there’s nothing like getting behind the wheel of one of the most iconic trucks in the world,” thrills Matt.
Matt also suffers from cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease caused by a faulty gene, which he has managed since birth. The debilitating effect of his condition means that it will eventually become harder and harder for him to perform his livelihood of driving trucks all around the country.
In August, he reached out to Coca-Cola on social media with a heartfelt request to drive the Coca-Cola Christmas truck, after being encouraged by his friends.
“I wanted to try and raise awareness for cystic fibrosis and show that it isn’t beating me, and one of my mates said why don’t you make a poster and put it on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and we’ll ask our friends to share it. So, I did that and it went on from there,” recalls Matt.
In a few hours, Matt’s Facebook post went viral and was shared and liked more than 50,000 times. It captured the imagination of the public and earned him widespread support, as well as the attention of Coca-Cola.
“They initially got back to me on Twitter, and then asked for my email address. So we started talking over email, and then on the phone,” he explains. “Then, they told me I was going to drive the truck and it was just unbelievable.”
“I’ve always missed the Coca-Cola truck tour whenever it’s been my way, and last year I wanted to try and see it but I was in hospital. When you see it on TV you think it’s all imaginary, you don’t think it’s a real truck, so seeing and driving the real thing makes it all feel real.”
Earlier this week at a private location, joined by friends and family, Matt was able to fulfil his childhood ambition and also become one of the first members of public to drive the Coca-Cola Christmas truck.
“The experience was unforgettable. It felt like I was in a dream from the moment I saw the truck to the moment I stepped inside. It had Christmas decorations everywhere, and I met one of the drivers who took me through the gears. I mostly drive new trucks now which feel like spaceships inside, but this one still looks and feels like a traditional truck.”
“It was such an adrenaline rush, and it felt like I was on a high all the time. I couldn’t stop smiling every time I changed gear and accelerated – my cheeks are still hurting! When I got to the end they’d made a big surprise by getting a choir to sing the ‘Holidays are Coming’ song to me, which was amazing.”
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Coca-Cola’s famous Christmas advert, which first appeared on TV screens in November 1995, and was originally known as the ‘Christmas Caravan’. It has since become a regular feature of festive TV schedules in more than 100 countries, and is now universally recognised as a personal countdown to Christmas.
When asked how Matt plans on raising awareness around cystic fibrosis next year, he says: “I just want to keep working as long as I can to show people with cystic fibrosis can still do challenging work like driving trucks, and to show other suffers that there are opportunities out there for them too.”
Bobby Brittain, marketing director for Coca-Cola Great Britain, said: “We’re thrilled to celebrate 20 years of ‘Holidays are Coming’ on our screens by giving Matt the opportunity to be the first member of the public to drive the truck. Seeing the delight on Matt’s face when he was behind the wheel reminded me that it’s these moments of happiness that make Christmas special.”