Is it possible to put a birthdate on celebrity culture? Was it when Andy Warhol exhibited his Marilyn Diptych in 1962? Or when Florence Lawrence became the world’s first movie star in 1908? Or with the rise of portrait photography in the mid-19th century? We have a theory – that it all really began when Marie Tussaud opened her wax museum in Baker Street, London in 1835.
Today, there are Madame Tussauds in 23 cities globally, where visitors can rub shoulders with lifesize figures who are so like the people they’re modelled on it’s uncanny. Sydney has Oceania’s only Madame Tussauds, in Darling Harbour on Aquarium Wharf. On entry you’re welcomed in style by a couple of men in drag – it’s Barry Humphries as Dame Edna and Guy Pearce as Felicia from Priscilla – and soon you’re entering displays of Australian history (meet Captain Cook, Ned Kelly, Saint Mary McKillop) and world leaders (Nelson Mandela, Kate and William, Gandhi). A startlingly realistic trio of former Prime Ministers stands in a row: John Howard looking uncomfortable, Julia Gillard looking quietly triumphant, and Bob Hawke, ready to party.
Other displays celebrate sporting heroes (Cathy Freeman, Dawn Fraser, Shane Warne), local music stars (Michael Hutchence, Barnesy and Farnsey), international pop idols (Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber) and supermodels (Miranda Kerr). To be confronted with people you may never meet in person brings with it the delight of discovery. Is Chinese basketballer Yao Ming really so tall (seven foot six)? Is pixielike Kylie Minogue really so little, and Nicole Kidman so slender? Superheroes are a big part of the fun, with displays of both Marvel and DC’s costumed crusaders – Wonder Woman and Aquaman are especially lifelike renditions. The ‘Party’ section has A-listers like Brad, Ange, Ryan Gosling and Johnny Depp standing around a bar waiting for you to schmooze with them.
Unlike your typical museum, interaction with the exhibits is encouraged at Madame T’s. Ride a wave with Layne Beachley and get a selfie with Lady Gaga or Chris Hemsworth. You can photograph yourself upside down on the ceiling with Spider-man, activate the Bat signal and help Superman lift a helicopter above his head.
In the ‘Music’ section there are karaoke booths where you can record yourself singing, and you can see yourself on the cover of a magazine in the ‘Fashion’ zone. New for 2019 is the ‘Lights, Camera, Bollywood’ exhibit with waxworks of stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Shah Rukh Khan and an interactive stage where fans can take part in a Bollywood dance routine. There’s more than enough to occupy an hour or two here, and you can even memorialise the visit with a wax cast of your own hand.
Tickets are much cheaper if you book them online – $35 for a regular adult ticket as opposed to $44 at the door ($24.60 rather than $31 for kids) – and you can bundle them with tickets to the Sydney Tower Eye, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Wild Life Sydney Zoo and the Big Bus for further discounts. Madame Tussauds opening times may vary due to private events.