Madame Tussaud brought her show to London in 1802, 32 years after it was founded in Paris, and it’s been expanding ever since, on these very premises since 1884.
There are now some 300 figures in the collection: current movie A-listers who require no more than a first name (Keira, Brad, Benedict), as well as their illustrious forebears for whom the surname seems more appropriate (Monroe, Chaplin), plus Bollywood gods and goddesses (Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor); a bevy of Royals (not least Wills and Kate), and sundry sportsmen and -women – not just Nadal, Tendulkar, Muhammad Ali and Messi, but an Athletes’ Village of 2012 Olympians, among them Jessica Ennis and Usain Bolt. Rihanna can be found hanging out among the Music Megastars, while Dickens and Einstein kick back together in the Culture section.
If you’re not already overheating, your palms will be sweating by the time you descend to the Chamber of Horrors in ‘Scream’, where only teens claim to enjoy the floor drops and scary special effects. Much more pleasant is the kitsch ‘Spirit of London’ ride – a taxi pod through 400 years of London life.
It’s the experiences and rides like these that make Madame Tussauds much more than a museum of dummies. This is a lively place to come, and although its’ hugely popular, the journey through is well managed. Even the most reluctant star spotter among your party can’t help but crack a smile.
Tussauds also hosts Marvel Super Heroes 4D. Interactives and waxworks of Iron Man, Spiderman and an 18ft Hulk provide further photo-ops, but the highlight is the nine-minute film in ‘4D’ (as well as 3D projections, there are ‘real’ effects such as a shaking floor and smoke in the auditorium).
Throughout the year there are special exhibitions themed to the seasons or the latest entertainment stories, but in May 2015 the latest permanent gallery, dedicated to the Star Wars movies, opened to critical and fan acclaim, and it comes as the climax to your visit.
The Star Wars walk through is truly impressive. Working with Lucasfilms Ltd to get costumes, looks and set design right, Madame Tussauds have excelled themselves. You can explore the swamps of Dagobah, pose for photos alongside Han Solo in the Cantina, take your place at the controls of the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca or try to free Princess Leia from her chains in Jabba’s Throne Room.
Step into the swamp to meet Yoda and feel the soft ground beneath your feet as the musky smell of a 900-year-old Jedi’s home fills the air, then balance yourself on a glass-walled balcony and imagine what it would be like to reach out to the black-gloved hand of Darth Vader.