> Read Craig’s review of Madame Tussauds Check out my London blog for a full review, with photos
Madame Tussauds was founded in the early 19th-century, when Madame Tussaud came to Britain in a touring show. She opened up a museum in 1835, and it has remained one of London’s most popular attractions ever since.
Madame Tussaud was born as Marie Groszholtz in Strasbourg in 1761, and learnt her trade from Dr. Phillipe Curtius. She was soon appointed tutor to Louis XVI’s sister, and became an enemy of the people during the French Revolution. She spent her time making less-than-pleasant death masks for those who were guillotined.
Following the doctor’s death in 1794, she inherited his vast collection of wax-models and spent the next thirty-three years travelling around Europe. Her marriage to Francois Tussaud in 1795 lent a new name to the show – Madame Tussauds.
By 1835 Marie had settled down in Baker Street, London, and opened up a permanent display.
The gallery that we see today was built in 1884, thirty years after her death. It originally contained some 400 different figures, but fire damage in 1925, coupled with German bombs in 1941, has rendered most of these older models defunct. Fortunately, the casts themselves have survived – and you can see these in the museum’s history exhibit.
The oldest figure on display is that of Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV. She is nicknamed the Sleeping Beauty, and certainly lives up to the billing. Other ancient faces from the time of Tussaud include Robespierre, George III and Benjamin Franklin.
To make the models look as realistic as possible, genuine hair was glued to their heads, which was then washed and styled by a hairdresser. You can see row upon row of excess body parts too – arms and legs and solitary eyeballs from celebrity sit-ins. When the star’s firmament has faded from the papers, they are promptly melted down and re-used on the next big thing.
The models today take an incredible six months to complete, and cost over £30,000 each.
Have you ever wanted to have your photo taken next to Mohammad Ali? Or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well, now is your chance. All of the waxworks are life-size, and posed to look as real as possible. They have the Beatles playing guitars… James Bond with a Martini… Kylie in her skimpy shorts… and even a George Clooney machine spitting out cheesy chat-up lines!
A lot of the exhibits are interactive, so you can step forward and have a go. You can have your photo taken shaking hands with Her Majesty, for example, in ‘an audience with the Queen’ – or put a shot past David Beckham.
The Grand Hall is home to all of the religious leaders and political heavyweights. You can see many crazy get-togethers – Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln standing alongside Ghandi, and Picasso painting pictures with Beethoven.
But watch out for the fake guests sitting on the benches and taking photos in the corridor – you will undoubtedly stop and chat with a few of them, believing they are real!
The Chamber of Horrors is one of the most popular parts of the museum – where torture victims, criminals and hoodlums share cells with Adolf Hitler, Guy Fawkes and Count Dracula. Ghoulish sound effects and lighting displays enhance the scary atmosphere.
If that fails to scare you, then buy a ticket to Tussaud’s new Chamber Live exhibit. This is strictly off-limits to the under-12s, for a very good reason – it will scare the pants out of them.
The Spirit of London is a relatively new addition, and well worth the effort. A time-travelling taxicab takes you through 400-years of British history. You get to experience all of the sights – and smells – of pea-souper fogs, the Great Fire of London and Swinging Sixties hippy era.
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