Madame Tussauds: The place where time stands stillReported by Metro.co.uk on Friday, 15 June 2012 (on June 15, 2012)
*It is more than 170 years old but has remained as popular as ever. Just what is the secret to Madame Tussauds' success? Metro finds out.*
If you have ever stood outside Buckingham Palace hoping to catch a glimpse of the Queen, you’ll know you can be in for a very long wait.
But fortunately, there’s somewhere in London she can always be found and is more than happy to be photographed.
In fact, she won’t even flinch if you give her a nudge. We are, of course, talking about her waxwork.
Last month, Madame Tussauds unveiled its 23rd incarnation of the British monarch.
Despite being made from a blend of wax and moulded from a cast, she is barely distinguishable from the woman we saw waving at the crowds during the jubilee celebrations.
And, although this version is even less likely to smile, it isn’t putting off the visitors. ‘The Queen is the most popular attraction in Madame Tussauds and always has been,’ said Liz Edwards, spokeswoman for the attraction.
‘She is certainly the most photographed figure that we have and people travel around the world to see her.’
But Her Majesty’s waxwork is by no means the only doppelgänger on display at Madame Tussauds.
‘We always try to make sure we reflect what’s going on and are part of the news agenda’, said Ms Edwards.
‘So this year we’ve got the Queen but we’ve also got the Olympics, which is why we’ve made Tom Daley and Usain Bolt. The hardest ones to guess are when you’ve got politicians. We had to watch this year’s American presidential race very closely because we have to make sure we’ve got availability and time to make a new president or prime minister quickly.
‘When Obama was running against McCain, we had clay heads of both figures. We also made David Cameron before he became prime minister.’
Accordingly, London’s former mayor Ken Livingstone has recently been moved to the archives.
‘But not melted,’ laughed Ms Edwards. ‘I don’t know where that rumour came from!’
The Queen's latest waxwork is prepared for the monarch's Diamond Jubilee
Since Madame Tussauds opened, more than 500million people have flocked to its flagship London museum to stare in awe at its collection of life-like figures.
However, back in the early 19th century when the attraction began as a travelling show, the waxworks didn’t retain quite the same accuracy as they do now.
These days, each new waxwork takes about four months to create, using more than 500 body measurements taken during a series of sittings with the subject, as well as the combined skills of 20 sculptors and artists.
As Pamela Pilbeam, professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of the book, Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks, explained: ‘The models were just heads and hands.
‘There was no real attempt to get a likeness because nobody knew what the people actually looked like.
‘There’s even a cartoon that shows workers swapping the heads around.’
Tussaud, who died in 1850, prided herself on giving the historic background of her waxworks by selling a catalogue with detailed information about the models.
‘She educated people,’ Prof Pilbeam continued. ‘She was teaching history.
‘It was very limited but you weren’t just going to look at something.’
Tussaud, who, according to Prof Pilbeam, was an ‘absolute vicious brute’ because of her ruthless work ethic, could also be seen as a pioneer of viral marketing.
As well being featured in all the major newspapers, she was mentioned in novels by popular authors at the time, such as Dickens and Conan Doyle.
‘Nowadays, it’s not doing so much educating, it’s just celebs. But that’s what she was interested in – celebs,’ Prof Pilbeam added. ‘Back then, Queen Victoria was her star.’
But one aspect of Madame Tussauds’ appeal has remained timeless. ‘Right from the start, in Paris and then in London, you could go right up close to the waxworks and touch them,’ said Prof Pilbeam.
‘In other museums, the models were all roped off. This was one of the reasons her show was so attractive.’
Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University and author of Celebrity/Culture, said the ability to get close to the figures now manifests itself in a modern form that gives us an insight into the nature of tourism today.
‘Most people who go are just taking photographs of themselves,’ he said. ‘Documenting the experience has replaced the experience itself.’
But why, in the face of 3D movies, interactive games and simulators, do people still flock to see a room full of static wax dummies?
‘Waxworks are such an old fashioned type of entertainment,’ Prof Cashmore continued. ‘It’s from a different age but it has adapted and survived.
‘The original Madame Tussauds contained waxworks of military leaders, monarchs and people who were recognised for their greatness.
‘Nowadays, celebs are the main currency so they decided to go with that.
‘But because Tussauds is now such an institution in itself – and it has become like an informal wonder of the world – the people who go are getting a piece of actual cultural history, whether they know it or not.’
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