Sheryl Woo: The Art of Maintaining Celebrity Wax Figures at Madame Tussauds Singapore

“Karina Kapoor gets touched the most. They touch her eyelashes; her lips. We encourage people to be gentle, but you’d be surprised by how rough people can get. You see her the moment you walk through the door, and people just cannot contain their excitement.

She recently acted in a new film. That makes people even more inclined to touch and take pictures with her. And we’re perfectly fine with that. It’s not our policy to stop people from touching. Please touch! That’s the whole point of the wax attraction.

People come to Madame Tussauds Singapore because it’s where you get to see your favourite celebrities up close. You always see them on TV or in movies, but the chances of meeting them in real life and snagging a selfie are slim. Here, you get to literally stand next to them.

I don’t have a favourite, but I quite like Queen Elizabeth II and the older wax figures. Most of the celebrities are young with nice skin. But the older figures have wrinkles and fine lines – they’re so realistic! A bit creepy, yes, but I find beauty in the details.

I work as a Studio Manager at Madame Tussauds. We’re located at Imbiah Lookout on Sentosa. It’s not a typical location for an attraction, but I love how we’re surrounded by nature and greenery. It’s very calming here, and the morning air is so fresh. 

Fun fact: Madame Tussauds Singapore is housed in a building that once served as a military hospital for British troops. During the Japanese Occupation, it was used as a barrack for the Japanese troops. Safe to say, this building is full of heritage and history.

As a Studio Manager, I manage a team that helps maintain the wax figures. We have 84 figures currently, and we ensure they stay pristine. I’ve memorised how all of them should look, from their hair and nails to their clothes and jewellery.

Hair is the trickiest to work with. The wax figures at Madame Tussauds use real human hair. And if you ask any woman in Singapore, maintaining curls in this humidity is tough. We have quite a time with Marilyn Monroe and the other female figures with curls.

We use hair wax on some of the men, too. We’ll have to wash and restyle their hair about once every two months. The wax figures get a full-on spa treatment. We carry them out of the exhibit, then wash their hair like how you’d see in a hair salon.

Before working full-time at Madame Tussauds, I worked as a freelance prop designer for theatre companies in Singapore. I’ve been in the arts all my life. I studied theatre at LASELLE College of the Arts and went to London to study prop-making.

During my time in the UK, I did part-time front-of-house roles at Merlin attractions like The Dungeons and Madame Tussauds London. I’ve always loved creative work and making things with my hands, and I did not see myself doing a full-time office job.

But when COVID-19 happened, I decided it was best to fly back to Singapore. Borders were closing, and I was curious how long I’d be in the UK. I didn’t even clear my apartment. I just packed my suitcase, thinking I’d be back in three months, but it ended up being two years.

The COVID era brought unexpected changes, especially in the entertainment sector. With the shift to virtual platforms, live shows in Singapore were paused, impacting many, including those in hands-on professions like prop-making. During this period, I found myself exploring new avenues as opportunities in my field were scarce.

A friend suggested I apply for a role at Madame Tussauds Singapore, which initially felt daunting due to the high-level skills required. Despite feeling slightly intimidated, I embraced the challenge.

The application process involved several stages, including a technical assessment focusing on wax usage and hair styling techniques, as well as an interview.

Guess what; I got the job! As someone from the freelance world, I wasn’t sure if I could survive or even hold down an office job. I was so used to having freedom over my schedule that I didn’t know if a full-time job was right for me.

In a blink of an eye, I’ve been at Madame Tussauds Singapore for almost two years, and I enjoy my work. The colleagues keep it fun, and constantly having new wax figures to work with keeps things fresh and creatively stimulating. It keeps me on my toes.

So, if you were to ask what’s the best part of my job, it’s creating memorable experiences. I’m the happiest when I see guests taking pictures and saying things like, ‘Oh my God, it looks so real!’ Because that means we did our jobs well.” – Sheryl Woo, Studio Manager, Madame Tussauds Singapore


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1 Comment

  1. What a fascinating read – opened the door to a world that I’d never thought of before. I had a real laugh at the image of them giving spa treatments to each of the figures. Creative expression takes so many forms, and it’s wonderful to hear how Sheryl has settled into her new role, embracing all the excitement that comes with learning and growing. Thanks as always Arman, for sharing a glimpse into the lives of those in your community. Big love. Justine and Michael (Reflections of Life)

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