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VISITORS RUB SHOULDERS WITH WORLD CELEBRITIES IN LONDON

By Pam Hobbs

Ever fancy yourself sharing a podium with President Bush, or putting a friendly arm around the Queen - maybe judging American Idol hopefuls alongside bad-tempered Simon Cowell ? If so, I know just the place. Madame Tussaud's, the original wax museum on London's Baker Street, here since 1885, yet as bright and new as a freshly minted penny.

Years ago I came here on a school trip, ran up the entrance stairs and was first in line to give my ticket to a uniformed attendant at the top. He was a dummy, and I remember the derision of my classmates to this day. Well all that's changed. These days you exit an elevator to the flashing bulbs and cries of photographers, giving you a momentary glimpse of what celebrities must deal with. The real fun begins then, at a reception where you are invited to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. Created with modern materials and technology they are remarkably real. (At one point I waited a minute or more for a photographer to finish shooting a celeb, before realizing she hadn't moved and wasn't likely to.)

Several pose as movie characters for which they are known and loved. A youthful Marlon Brando for example lounges nonchalantly beside his motorcycle in a scene from The Wild Ones. Marilyn Monroe wearing her famous yellow halter dress cools off over the subway vent in The Seven Year Itch. Pierce Bronson is a very convincing secret agent posed with his signature Walther PPK.

The Queen has been modelled 22 times, the first when she was just two years old. Her current figure was created for her Jubilee celebration last year. Here she is flanked by Princes Charles and Philip, and if you are so inclined you can join them wearing a borrowed tiara. Diana is not part of the group, but coyly stands outside the cordon, wearing a dazzling scarlet blouse and skirt.

. Madame Tussaud's is located steps from Baker Street tube station. Hours of admission are 9.30 a.m. to early evening daily. For more details click onto www.madame-tussauds.co.uk