I have the privilege of working in London. As I sit at my desk I gaze out across the roof tops of London, out to the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye, even as far as The Shard. Then I swing my chair round and out the window I see the Emerald Dome that is… Madame Tussauds (well technically it’s actually the Planetarium).
I have to say if there is one thing that irritates me about London it’s the obsession with Madame Tussauds; I just don’t get it! Every day I see it, come rain, come shine, queues and queues of people crowding to get in. Why would anyone come all the way to London just to see a bunch of wax figures, worse than that, have their pictures taken with a bunch of wax figures. It wouldn’t be be so bad, but it’s a rather expensive tourist attraction, at £28 (adult). It’s just a load of all wax; wouldn’t you rather get up close and personal with the real thing? And, this being London, there is plenty of opportunity for that. It’s not too hard to cross paths with celebrities in London, I used to bump into Ricky Gervais every day on my way to work a few years ago, they’re everywhere, you just need to know where to look.
A good place to start is with a little research. Leicester Square regularly hosts film premiers, google what’s coming up there. Then there are back stage doors, with over 40 West End theatres, there are plenty to choose from and always a host of big names making their début. The backstage door is a classic for celebrity spotting, they have to leave the theatre at some point. I still remember the day my sister won her long waited for kiss from Christian Slater at a backstage door (I was so embarrassed I was hiding behind the bins across the road – camera in hand to capture the moment of course).
Then there is knowing the right areas, and then it’s as easy as hanging out at a pub on a sunny day or a stroll down the high street. Primrose Hill is a quaint little area of London (close to Regents Park/Camden – and also home to some great London views from the hill itself), many a trendy celeb lives down here such as Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law. Camden down the road is also a classic celebrity haunt; up until recently it was a well known fact that you didn’t need to spend too long over your pint in any Camden pub before coming across the diva of soul herself Amy Winehouse (RIP Amy). Or why not head down to Richmond on Thames on a Sunday afternoon for a movie, because that’s what Brad Pitt and his brood are currently doing every Sunday.
If you are satisfied in seeing wax-like-lifeless celebrities but would prefer to save yourself £30 then make you’re way down to Highgate cemetery, resting place for lots of history’s greats such Karl Marx, writers George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) and Douglas Adams, cinema revolutionist Carl Mayer, Charles Dickens’s family, and that TV hero Jeremy Beadle! (you might have to be English to appreciate that one). And if the showbiz names on graves doesn’t impress you the graves themselves might, the Cemetery is well known for it’s impressive Victorian, and Gothic architecture.
Night life is also another must for celebrity spotting. One very famous haunt is The Ivy restaurant near Covent Garden. You’ll be unimpressed by the exterior, but inside, those walls have seen much that the newspapers haven’t. You will have to wait outside to see the celebrities though, as it’s impossible to get a table here unless you have an Oscar on you or £100k in your pocket.
If you want meet some royals forget the palaces and make your way down to Mahiki in Mayfair, a favourite night club of the Princes (before Marriage tamed William). And yet again you will need to have married a prince to get through the door here (or afford a drink!).
Just up the road is the Punchbowl Pub, a beautiful Georgian pub with original features, owned by none other than Madonna & Guy Ritchie (well almost, Guy gained full custody of Punchbowl in the divorce a few years ago). With a stream of celebrities through the doors, it’s a little more authentic and historical than Mahiki. But be warned the pub was investigated by authorities a few years ago for charging tourists higher prices than the regulars.
So you see there are plenty of places to get your photo snapped with a celebrity, and so much more to London than Madame Tussauds.
Of course as much as I complain about the institution that is Madame Tussauds, I actually have a lot of respect for the woman herself. She was a revolutionary business woman of her time. In the early days she led a travelling show of her wax works having gained her skill sculpting death masks of those killed in the guillotine in France. It was the freak-show of it’s time (hmm well I guess not too much has changed since then) later her work progressed as important people (Kings and dignities) began asking for their image to be preserved in 3d, the oldest of these models is the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ waxwork modelled on French Madame Du Barry (Louix XV’s mistress) back in 1763. Eventually she settled her show for a brief while round the corner on Baker street then moved to the building that now is Madame Tussauads today, a building designed and purposed for the show, a business that has gone on successfully for over 200 years and stretched world wide. That’s quite an entrepreneurial spirit for a woman of that time, and an inspiration. Donald Trump would be so proud of her.
So next you walk past Tussauds and see her image emblazoned on the side (it’s the one that looks like the backside of a penny), be inspired by a woman who knew how start a successful business, …then just keep on walking past, with your £30 safe inside your wallet!