There has been a constant and insatiable newsfeed of drama, debacle and tarnished dreams, and I am at pains not to add to any of the above. In fact I have been sitting on this blog post for a while.
Way back in 1992 when I was working in the marketing department at the original Madame Tussaud’s in London, which now bills itself as the ‘ultimate celebrity day out’, then, took a far more conservative approach to those in the limelight.
I remember that time well; Cape Town was spelt Capetown and Trafalgar Square was the epicentre of Anti-Apartheid protest and now celebration! Nelson Mandela had been freed and the first democratic election in South Africa had not yet taken place. The team at Madame Tussaud’s was very keen to include Mandela in the Grand Hall with other world leaders, as we already had Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the sole representative of South African leaders.
His office was approached and permission given to have what is called a sitting – where exact measurements are taken by the sculptors who would go on to make the wax head and hands and the fibreglass body. It was very difficult to get a time to do the sitting and the only place was in a hotel room at Heathrow airport, otherwise it was impossible to fit in with his hectic schedule.
Progress was slow, as a number of sittings are needed to check accuracy, but the figure was finally completed. He donated a suit (no Mandela shirts in those days), and when it was confirmed he would actually come into Madame Tussaud’s to do the unveiling, well, I have never been so excited! There was no work done that day and we all waited impatiently to be called in.
He wore a brown suit and was accompanied by Walter Sisulu the ANC Deputy President and small entourage. His figure was given a plinth just opposite the Royal Family in the Grand Hall and he had to stand beside himself for the ‘side-by-side’ photocall. I was struck by his big smile and warm words, but most of all, his modesty as he really couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. His smiling and friendly demeanour contrasted with his wax figure which portrayed a more solemn world leader which seemed at odds with the man himself.
I wanted him to stay, to have a cup of tea and talk to us, but he had more important work to do. He had a new constitution to write. Before he left, he came over and shook hands before roaring off down the Euston Road in a jaguar numberplate ANC 1.
On this Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, I wish him the peace and dignity he deserves.