Fri, Dec 10, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Tussauds nativity bemuses and bewilders

WAX BLASPHEMY?A new waxworks nativity scene at Madame Tussauds in London has sparked outrage from conservative evangelicals -- and confusion for some visitors

THE GUARDIAN AND DPA , London

"I'm a bit worried about the three wise men," says Robyn, who is here from South Africa. "Bush, Blair, and who's the one in the middle?"

That's Prince Philip.

"Oh, hasn't he aged. I love the sheep Hugh Grant's holding, though. It's so lifelike," she said.

The celebrity nativity at Madame Tussauds waxworks museum in London is dividing opinion. The people who know what's going on love it. Everyone else just looks confused.

"Do you think it's irreligious?" a young man from South Korea was asked. The thought clearly hadn't crossed his mind.

"You know, David Beckham as Joseph and Posh [Spice -- aka Victoria Beckham] as the Virgin Mary. Bit blasphemous, don't you think?" the reporter asked.

"Yes, now you've said it, I can see that it is," he said.

An immaculately dressed middle-aged couple, who stand out among the baseball caps and fleeces, were asked what they thought.

"We're Catholics from Austria," said Birgit, "and we think it's funny. In this room, it's OK. Anywhere else, it wouldn't be."

Bear in mind that this room includes Jean-Paul Gaultier in a kilt, Jerry Springer and Tom Jones and this isn't even the Chamber of Horrors.

Most of the nativity celebrities were chosen by a poll of visitors in the autumn, but the "sexy shepherds" were added by Madame Tussauds.

Hardly anyone recognizes the British TV personality Graham Norton. The man from South Korea thinks he's called Norman, and Birgit confuses him with Jack Nicholson. A crib sheet would be useful.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a disaster, too -- too dark and brooding. It just doesn't look like him. The clothes are brilliant, though: purple pantaloons, a brown smock and an extravagant leather hat with a feather -- exactly what he wears to visit Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

US President George W. Bush is also hopeless. Even Suzette, who is on holiday from Connecticut, doesn't recognize him.

"Oh look, Jordan," she says to her daughter when I point him out. "It's the president."

Meanwhile, the Times of London said the response from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams's office has been limited.

"Deary, deary me," the newspaper quoted the Reverend Jonathan Jennings as saying.

Jenning told the Times that each generation had a right to re-interpret scripture but suggested the waxwork might have gone too far.

Conservative evangelicals in the Church of England were more scathing.

"Anything that invites us to laugh at what God did is something that He will take very seriously. In the Ten Commandments we are told not to make any images of God. This scene shows how wise that commandment is," Reverend Rod Thomas said.

Vatican officials told the Times said the tableau was "if not blasphemous then certainly in very poor taste."

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