Touching Olly Murs – A visit to Madame Tussauds Blackpool!

I was recently asked the question, “How would someone with a sight impairment enjoy visiting a venue that is completely visual, such as Madame Tussauds? How would that work?” As someone who frequently visits museums and art galleries that provide accessible tours, this intrigued me to find the answer. I planned a visit to the Blackpool venue to find out more!

Touching Olly Murs image 1Upon my arrival, I was greeted by the staff members who helped to plan my visit and they lead me and my Guide Dog, Tami, into the main entrance, away from the busy crowd of tourists, for a specialised talk and tour of the many wax figures and interactive sets on offer.

The attraction on the ground floor opened with various popular television stars and personalities, among whom included Simon Cowell, Jeremy Kyle, Bruce Forsyth, Keith Lemon, Gok Wan, Alan Carr, and Graham Norton. Each wax figure was audio described to me; detailing their poses, outfits and backdrop arrangements, as well as additional bits of information such as how the figures were made, how much time and money was spent to develop each one and even what the real celebrities were like during the unveiling process at the venue itself!

Touching Olly Murs image 2I was invited to touch and explore the figures I was most interested in to get a better idea of what they look like visually, in terms of height and posture, and what they were wearing. I was eager to have as many photos as possible taken with my favourite waxworks to show my friends and family back home and each photo was very kindly taken by my guide.

My tour guide also frequently informed me, before entering each new section (or floor) of the venue, when the lighting was going to change and when the surface area of the flooring would differ in texture and direction. Lift access was available to me and my Guide Dog and staff were on hand to ensure that the lifts were always ready and waiting for me when I wanted to visit the next floor.

Touching Olly Murs image 3The floor above was the one I was most interested in visiting, as it was that of the famous cobbles belonging to Coronation Street! I was very enthusiastic to explore this area as someone who has grown up with the popular long-running soap.

The Corrie section began at the Rovers Return Inn (of course!), where Hilda Ogden stood outside very proudly, and it is a fully-functioning and licensed pub for those who wish to buy a drink and something to eat. Ken Barlow and Bet Lynch were positioned alongside the bar and Deidre Barlow was sat at a nearby window-seat. Around the corner stood Jack and Vera Duckworth with Vera covered in bright, floaty fabrics with her trademark big, circular earrings – which were very tactile to touch!

This was certainly my favourite floor of the visit. Everything was so detailed and true to the show, and I felt like I really was inside the Rovers Return – with the atmosphere of the guests having a drink helping to complete it!

Touching Olly Murs image 4Famous musicians made up the next selection of figures I wanted to visit, including megastars such as Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and Leona Lewis. My absolute favourite, though, was the newly-installed Olly Murs wax figure – the pinnacle of my visit! – and I didn’t hesitate when I was invited to touch and explore his face to get a better understanding of what he looks like and the sheer amount of intricate detail crafted within the newly-installed figure’s facial structure.

From his light feathery eyebrows and eyelashes, to the softness of his trademark quiff, and the coarse stubble running along his jawline, I had the unique opportunity to “meet” my favourite modern singer and experience something very personal and meaningful to me – to see Olly Murs for the first time – that I wouldn’t have been able to have had otherwise with my small amount of deteriorating vision. My severe sight impairment meant that I got to have a unique, intimate experience that a lot of other people probably wouldn’t have had even with their fully-functioning sight. In front of the Olly Murs display was the opportunity for a professional photo with the star, where I happily posed for a snap, and I purchased my photo at the end of my visit cased inside a special Madame Tussauds frame!

The final crop of waxworks that I wanted to explore were the ‘Best of British’, including the Royal Family, The Beatles, the girls of Ab Fab and home-grown comedians such as the Two Ronnies, Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd and Benny Hill. I now know that I am even smaller than the Queen, and her crown and other regalia felt absolutely majestic with the many encrusted jewels and pearls! Catherine’s dress was equally as stunning, draped in a textured sequined floor-length gown.

I had an absolutely wonderful time in Blackpool and would like to thank the Madame Tussauds staff, especially Trudie and Debbie, for such a memorable and special visit. I would love to visit again in the near future, perhaps to another venue to explore even more of the figures on display across the country – though none will top my favourite, Olly Murs!

Touching Olly Murs image 5

So, in response to the original question that piqued my interest; “How would someone with a sight impairment enjoy visiting a venue that is completely visual, such as Madame Tussauds?” The answer is, quite simply, that the Madame Tussauds staff will ensure that any visually impaired or blind visitor coming to their attraction will have as equally a memorable visit as a sighted person. They will be offered a guided tour, audio description and safe lift access, as well as the opportunity to have photos taken with each waxwork and a personalised, tactile approach to the figures on display.

I highly recommend the visit to those wanting to go! For more information visit Madame Tussauds Blackpool or call their bookings team on 0871 282 9200 for further information.

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Kimberley is a Henshaws volunteer and service user of over two years. She is Co-Chair to the RNIB young person's campaigning network, Envision, a blogger, columnist, artist and an illustrator; previously the RNIB's Young Illustrator for 2014.