Working as a wax sculptor at Madame Tussauds is as much about reading personalities as it is about copying a subject's looks, learns Allison Morrow.
'I wake up at about 7.15am, run a bath and have some breakfast - usually Cheerios or something. It takes about an hour to drive from where I live, in Surbiton, to the studio in west London - the traffic is a bit of a nightmare.
I get to work about 9am and hopefully have a nice project sculpting a head or a body. I probably have four to six weeks to work on a project. So I'll be sculpting away, then I might have phone calls from different departments, saying, 'Can you come have a look at this. Can you do this? So I go through and check things with calipers. There are so many figures going through all the time; it's not as if
I have just one project. When you're sculpting one body, another one may be being finished, so there are all these different stages of heads and bodies you're looking at.
There's no such thing as a typical day. The work is always different, which is what I like. A large part of my day involves sculpting either the head or the body of the celebrity. The hardest part, I suppose, is just feeling as if I never have enough time. You really become a perfectionist in this job. I always feel like, 'Oh, if I just had a few extra days or an extra week ...'
We all break for lunch around noon. Usually we just bring stuff in and eat in the studio.
When I'm not working, I quite like sports, hanging out with my friends, my boyfriend - well, my fiance now.
It can be so hard to balance work with your outside life. Lots of people have loads of interests, but I've always loved sculpting. I've just been fortunate enough to do that for my job.
I distinctly remember when I was about 14, I went to Madame Tussauds with my godmother and I was absolutely amazed by what I saw - and I knew I wanted to work for them. I went to art school for three years.
After that, I worked for an artist and did mannequins for shops and stuff. About a year later, I started working at Tussauds. I've been there for the past four years.
To begin a portrait, ideally, we begin with a sitting.
It's best to try and get to know the subject's personality, how they stand, how they hold their hands. You find out how they want to be seen, from the styling to the hair to the clothes.
Thankfully, I've never had a bad experience during a sitting. But it was quite a funny sitting with Paris Hilton. We had to wait for ages to finally meet her at her boyfriend's place. She had a new little Chihuahua called Bambi and he ran around, this tiny little thing, and we were about to do the sitting when suddenly he peed everywhere. I turned to the assistant and she handed me tissues. It was a really surreal moment. It was so funny, just a weird situation to be in.
Meeting [singer] Beyonce [Knowles] was quite good. We met backstage one night and she was so relaxed.
She just casually did the sitting then suddenly she was performing in front of all these people. She's a very nice girl. Later, she came to have a look at [her sculpture] and she was quite pleased.
In the sitting, we use calipers to measure the subject then we photograph them from all different angles to match the hair, eyes and skin tone. It's amazing how when you're measuring people, and you call out the measurements, they'll say, 'Oh no, no, no - that's not right. It's 66, not 68, and you're like, 'Yeah, OK'. Usually they've just put on a bit of weight. We get that a lot. We have to tell people not to do anything drastic to their appearance before the sculpture is revealed. It's your worst nightmare to have someone standing next to their sculpture and looking nothing like it.
Afterwards, we go back to the studio and get started. Initially, the armature is constructed using aluminium wire and steel. To save time, the head and body are sculpted by two artists. I've sculpted 12 bodies and seven heads since I've been at Madame Tussauds.
We mould the head using a plaster-piece mould, which has wax poured into it. Then I clean the seams,
put the eyes in and put the teeth in. Each hair is inserted one by one by a colourist and a hair specialist. It is definitely a team effort. If one person did the hair, it would take about four weeks, so we do it in shifts. One sculpture may have more than four artists working on it.
There are six full-time sculptors at Madame Tussauds and as many as 15 freelance sculptors during busy periods. We can produce a wax figure in about two or three months, depending on how complicated the pose is.
The really tricky thing is to capture the personality as well as the form. You have to make sure everything - from the sculpting to the hair and the painting - is spot-on perfect. We've never really had anyone be disappointed. Sometimes the fans have a specific idea of how the person should look, but we can't please all of them.
It's really good to see the final product. The whole team gets together, we put it under the light, we have it dressed. And sometimes there's just a little moment and it's amazing - you feel like, for a moment, they're alive, like they're there. You've made something that looks just like them. That's what keeps you going.
People are quite curious when I tell them I'm a wax sculptor. It's good cocktail talk, that's for sure. I
think my mum always dines out on it. People always want to know who I've met, who's the nicest, what kind of stories I have. Everyone always jokes, 'Do the sculptures get melted down?' But no, we actually have a lot of storage. No one ever gets taken out. We update people, though, like Kylie Minogue has had at least three [updates] and [Britain's] Queen [Elizabeth] has had at least three or four.
I leave work around 6pm and head home. I always take a drive through Richmond Park on the way. Normally, I'll cook something like fish and vegetables in the evening - try to keep it healthy. Most nights I watch a bit of TV with my fiance and go to bed around 10.30pm.
We travel a lot for work but I always come back to London. Last year, there was a lot of travelling. It
was really hectic. A year ago, I would have said, 'I'd love to do portraits.' And this last year has been my dream. I got to do portraits and travel the world. I couldn't ask for more. '