Living proof that Madam Tussaud's has a new model army

It is not easy to capture the wit of the singer Jarvis Cocker in wax - or any other part of him for that matter. But the sculptors are giving it their best shot.

In Madam Tussaud's day, wax works were fairly crude. Not now. Technological advances and increased attention to detail are leading to ever more life- like models worth pounds 20,000 apiece. Subjects now spend up to six hours at several sittings to enable the sculptor to measure and mould to perfection. It is six months before a star is born.

The Pulp singer is only three weeks in, but is already unmistakable. Eyes part vacant, part soulful, enigmatic expression and slim limbs are taking shape. The effete pose was chosen by Jarvis himself, as were his clothes (black flares and Seventies jacket).

Stuart Williamson, 48, who together with the make-up team, has sculptured the waxworks for 17 years, said: "We put a lot more effort than we used to into making the models lifelike. We take hundreds of measurements. We even get a sample of hair if they'll let us. We are meticulous about detail and the results are much better than they were 10 years ago." The uncannily lifelike model of the footballer Eric Cantona, unveiled earlier this year, is proof of this.

Julia Deane, 32, a hair and make-up artist, has seen many advances in colouring techniques since she joined Madam Tussaud's in central London 12 years ago. The transition from water colour to oil paint has been significant. "Water and wax don't mix well," she said. "It used to be impossible to get fine detail. There was one basic colour for the whole head. With oil, you can put in every little freckle, dot and vein. You can gradually build up the texture to create a three-dimensional look."

But the success of the make-up depends on the model. "If someone looks like the real person it is much easier to colour," she said. "I'm doing Meryl Streep at the moment. Stu paid a lot of attention to detail, so I'm not having to compensate for slight discrepancies."

Not every waxwork ages at the same rate. The Beatles still parade their Sixties style, but the Princess of Wales, like many of the royals, is constantly updated. Diana's latest lookalike has been hailed as a triumph, a marked improvement on previous models. She originally gave one sitting before she was married and sculptors have since relied on photographs and measurements taken then. This year, however, she gave a fresh sitting.

The use of photography has also improved. "We stand the subject on a turntable and swing them round gently, taking photographs from every angle," Mr Williamson said. "We take pictures of their eyes and enlarge them 20 times to get every single detail."

There are around 400 models on show at Madam Tussaud's and the line-up is constantly reviewed. The Duchess of York bit the dust when her decree nisi came through earlier this year. At least she is intact - unlike the MP and former Greater London Council leader Ken Livingstone and the actor Charles Dance, whose heads will go into cold storage while their bodies are recycled.

A temporary exit from the exhibition may also be caused by excessive public adulation. "Joanna Lumley [the actress] has to be taken out on a regular basis, because she is so popular," said Diane Robertson, a spokeswoman for Madam Tussaud's. "Her hands get scratched from people holding them to take pictures ... And then there's Naomi Campbell, men are all over her, getting their girlfriends to take pictures of them with her." The supermodel's image is now protected by a red rope to keep the crowds at bay.

Although skills and techniques have advanced, some models remain unchanged. Madam Tussaud herself worked without the aid of photography, oil paint or technological wizardry, and her final work, a self-portrait from 1842 when she was 81, is still on show. She stands centre stage in the exhibition which draws millions of visitors each year.

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