Looking for Life in the Waxworks
Our Big Ticket family pass for Blackpool offered entry into Madame Tussauds. I’d never been to a waxworks before so we popped in for the chance to get up close and personal with some old and new celebrities. But while the waxy celebrity exhibits were undeniably lifelike and entertaining, to me they were also missing one vital ingredient; life. But then, that kind of thing was on my mind…
I’m feeling ghoulish before we start
It’s late on a cold spring afternoon on Blackpool’s seafront and most people have gone home. Aside from a couple of staff photographers waiting to capture our experience, we mostly have Madame Tussauds to ourselves. A waxworks is probably not the best choice of attraction to visit the day before a family funeral, and this ‘end of day’ atmosphere magnifies the stillness and my sombre mood. But even in other circumstances I think I might still find Madame Tussauds Blackpool a little unsettling.
There’s something strange about being able to invade the personal space of a celeb without being pulled off by a bouncer. And something weirder still about how real theses figures look and yet how unreal they are. It is undoubtedly a ‘them and us’ situation. We are alive and they are not. In the half hour we are there, we age a half hour. We have half an hour more life experience, half an hour more wrinkles, half an hour more emotion, half an hour more breath. The waxy figures stay exactly as they were when we entered. They stay exactly as they were when someone took a mould of their face. And in some cases, that was a while ago.
Capturing the past
A waxworks is all about a moment in time. And many of the figures I’m drawn to are from my time, my childhood. In Coronation Street. it’s like I’m back in the 80’s. In the Rover’s Return it is Bet who stands at the pumps. And Hilda is still in charge of the mop.
“Do old people watch Coronation Street?” asks Hannah, a child of the download and the DS. In my childhood everyone watched Coronation Street. Endless ‘watercooler moments’ in a time before the phrase ‘watercooler moment’ had entered popular culture. These characters were part of my life.
Morecambe and Wise floor me
Morecambe and Wise were a big family favourite too. They used to make me laugh. They were two of the staples of British comedy and their legacy remains. I stand in front of them with respect. I touch Eric’s cheek. But it is still and cold. The wax figure doesn’t make me laugh. It makes me nostalgic. And it reminds me that he is gone.
It’s interesting to measure the present against the past in this way. David Attenborough looks like he’s only managed to get around a couple of jungles so far, and there’s no sun damage. The shoulders of Louis Walsh clearly don’t bear the weight of years of rejecting flawed singers. You’d only have to compare the face of Jeremy Kyle here to the guy you see on the telly to see how the unpalatable lives of others have affected him in real life. In a wax museum no one has ever brought him their questionable morality, their raw anger, or their ambiguous parentage.
And no one ever will. His waxy brow is permanently untroubled. When my children grow up and have children of their own, Jeremy Kyle will still be standing here wrinkle free. Unless he becomes unimportant in the world’s eyes and then I guess he will go to the Tussauds grave. What happens to wax figures when they die? Do they get a decent send off? Or are they melted down into candles? Does an artist unweave all the hair from their head? It all makes me wonder.
Death is how it all began at Madame Tussauds
As I said, I’m in a dark mood. But then it’s not all me. Towards the end of the museum, where the little statue of Madame Tussaud stands, there is some history about the museum. I learn that it all began with the death mask. Marie Tussaud lived a colourful life at a turbulent time in French history. She made casts of the heads of victims of the guillotine, sometimes when they were still coated in blood. One of her most famous masks was a mould of the head of Louis XVI, after his execution. The early Madame Tussauds exhibition began as a touring Museum of Terror. Undeniably, a part of her business took her closer to death. And today I measure my own height and wrinkles against it. One of the world’s popular tourist attractions has a powerful impact for me.
I had thought the point of visiting a waxworks was to have a snap with a famous person, to stand next to The Queen or find out just how teeny Ant and Dec are. That’s what most people do, and they have huge fun doing it in many countries of the world. But maybe it can be more. Celebrity or eternity? Check one out and see what it means to you.