The creative director behind The Peak's scariest attraction tells Suzanne Dennis why every day's a scream.
'I get up just before 6am to start my 'horror' day. I'm an insomniac, so I often wake in the middle of the night as a result of some scary dream, which inevitably also results in me lying awake for hours and thinking of ways I can incorporate elements of my dream into my work.
I live on the English coast and do a three-hour commute to and from work [at the Tussauds Group Studios] in London each day, but I use that time to think of scary ideas, watch foreign movies, write stories or [gain] other creative input in relation to my work.
The first thing I need each morning and my No 1 priority each day is coffee. I'm a total caffeine addict and loved working in America as I could get a decent cup of coffee anytime of the day or night - heaven!
I use my laptop on the train to get other work-related things done and also travel with the same people on the return journey each day. I have a good laugh with them and use them as my guinea pigs, running ideas past them for their input and feedback. They all work in different professions, so their comments are many and varied and often include things I have not considered. We also have things such as organised whisky or origami nights on the train journey home and this further promotes friendships among us long-haul commuters.
The studio I work at is based in West London, where the creative resources for the whole Madame Tussauds group are based. I have previously worked on many projects across the group, so one day I could be doing something very historical and accurate at Warwick Castle [in the Midlands] and the next day I might be doing Barney's children's show at [theme park] Alton Towers, so the variety we have is incredible. If someone had said to me a decade ago that I would be working for the same company for 10 years, I'd probably have laughed at them; however, every day is different, exciting and a challenge, so that has kept me inspired all this time.
When I arrive at the studio each day, I continue my design work on any of our many live programmes happening around the world, such as the new Scream attraction opening in Hong Kong, or revising the Scare attraction at Madame Tussauds Las Vegas, which is a future project I am working on. We are redefining our global brand because the Scare programmes have become an integral part of the Madame Tussauds experience and these are constantly changing.
The studio I work at is a fun-filled environment. We have a 'playroom', where we can play with various games and toys, plus other creative stimulations located on the design floor. All of these diversions serve the dual purpose of relaxing us when we need a break and stimulating us in relation to new ideas. I also enjoy visiting the wax figure sculptors to see which Madame Tussauds personality
they are creating.
The first project I worked on was the Scary Cave [at theme park Chessington World of Adventures, southwest London], which involved snakes and spiders. I was in my element. I'm happiest when I'm working with anything scary and this spills over into my personal life, as I keep snakes and spiders at home. At the moment I have a tarantula and a ghost corn snake and I find these much more interesting than the usual domestic pets such as cats or dogs. I previously had a python. Snakes are happiest when they can find somewhere dark and warm to curl up and go to sleep.
I travel a lot for work, so I don't think it would be fair to keep a dog or a cat; I would rarely see them and would depend on other people to feed and walk them when I am away. However, people are a little concerned when they open my fridge at home. It contains little in the way of food, mainly because I am travelling so much, doing either the daily commute or travelling overseas, but it does always contain a bottle of vodka for me and several frozen mice for the snake.
One of the highlights of my years spent creating attractions for Madame Tussauds was two years ago, in New York, when we launched the House of Wax scare attraction. I had seen the original Vincent Price version years ago and loved it. It is a cool film and has inspired many of the ideas I included in the scare attraction. We managed to secure some of the props from the original movie and the more recent revised version of the film. Paris Hilton and the sheriff in the movie attended our opening.
Hong Kong's new scare attraction, Scream, is a short, sharp, terrifying experience based on an asylum where the patients are on the loose. It gives the impression you may be their next victim, where they can play with you, trap you, terrify you. There's only one way out and you have to find it. I sometimes sit in a concealed corridor - I always know we have a successful attraction when I hear the screams of the people visiting it for the first time. We use wax figures and some seriously gory props, plus we have different areas that would be found in an old asylum, such as a morgue, operating theatres and patient wards, all with features guaranteed to scare people out of their wits and have them searching desperately for the exit.
There are, however, a few things that scare me and one of these is The Peak Tram ride. I'm scared of heights, so my daily trip up to The Peak is a very scary, stomach-in-mouth experience for me. Give me a boring old three-hour commute on a train any day.
In Britain, I live near the beach, which is so relaxing and chills me out after my daily commuting grind into London or after an extended period spent travelling overseas. I have spent time sitting on beaches in Hong Kong to relax, however, I always seem to be in town during cool weather or when there's a typhoon. People seeing me sitting rugged up on a nearly deserted beach probably think I'm nuts. However, as soon as I see the sea I remember to breathe and immediately relax.'
Madame Tussauds' Scream opened at the beginning of the month.