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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there