Who do you think you are? Lookalikes make a killing in cult of celebrity

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The Independent Online

Is there only one David Beckham? Not any more: the country's obsession with celebrity has led to a tripling in demand for lookalikes and celebrity doubles.

And, as with celebrities, there is also a pecking order for their doubles. Beckham's double is constantly appearing at events, while the lookalike of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat character is the latest big hit, telling party guests about Kazakhstan "customs" in the run up to the release of the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Francesca MacDuff-Varley, director of A-List Lookalikes, based in Leeds, said its work ranged from corporate events to public relations and "stunts". One of her clients, who resembles Victoria Beckham, was used as a body double in a Walkers Crisps advert because the former singer is scared of horses.

One Michael Jackson lookalikes has been used as a decoy for the real singer, and she said doubles were even flown abroad. "People are so obsessed with celebrity they will presume they are staying in the same hotel as the 'real' singer Robbie Williams, for example," she said.

She said the demand for lookalikes had at least tripled over the past six years. When the "Intimately Beckham" perfume and cologne were launched, lookalikes of the couple launched the fragrances across the country.

The London toy store Hamleys has used a lookalike of the actor Johnny Depp, playing his Jack Sparrow character, to market toys based on the Pirates of the Caribbean films. And Chantelle Houghton, who achieved fame as the "nobody" who won Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother, started her career as a rather dubious lookalike of the heiress Paris Hilton.

Jez Lee, the founder and managing director of FakeFaces, the agency that signed the first David Cameron lookalike this week, has almost 600 people on his books. "People are cottoning on that they can make money from being a double, regardless of whether they look like top celebrities, or Coronation Street characters," he said. Clients earn upwards of £300 for taking part in an advertisement.

Mr Lee said he received hundreds of applications from people wanting to double for celebrities but only the best two or three were likely to be accepted. If they were good, and the work was there, it was likely to become a full-time job, he said.

Mr Lee has seen his business triple over the last three years. "People want to believe they are seeing the 'real' celebrity, and have their photo taken with them," he said.

Gene Daily, manager of the Toplookalikes agency, is a Clark Gable lookalike. He believes the internet has led to a "huge increase" in the number of agencies representing lookalikes. He recently sent his Marilyn Monroe lookalike to Shanghai to appear in an advertisement for South Korean television.