Elvis is back in the building – six years after Elvis on Tour graced the O2, many of The King’s possessions, clothes, and vehicles have taken up residence in London at the new Arches London Bridge space, a short walk from the station’s Tooley St exit.
As the child of an Elvis obsessive, there’s not much I don’t already know about the hick from Tupelo, Mississippi, who went into Sun Records to cut a disc for his mother Gladys and subsequently became the biggest music star in the world.
In a career which started in rough rock ‘n’ roll and ended with Vegas residencies in sparkly jumpsuits, Elvis Presley achieved a lot in a career which only lasted a mere couple of decades.
Forty-six years after his death at 42 he seems unshakeable at the top of the tree – quite an achievement for an artist who only performed the songs of others, often making them his own.
This exhibition has over 400 items arranged across the ground floor of the space. There is no printed guide – instead, you receive a headset that allows you to listen to background at key points in the exhibition. Good for novices, but I used it sparingly.
What I did like – and is a definite improvement on both previous exhibitions (2014’s Elvis at the O2 being the other) is the care and thought of putting the exhibits in context.
Where something comes from, and why it is significant, is important if you want to attract (and impress) the casual attendee. Why is this man an enigma still after all this time?
So when you see Presley’s Army material, his daughter Lisa-Marie’s baby clothes, or his personal items (jewellery, glasses, wallet, the last record he listened to, the statue of Jesus from his bedroom, even his doorkeys) you get a feel of the man.
We move through those days of poverty in Tupelo, born Elvis Aron Presley to Vernon and Gladys, one of twins (Jesse Garon never breathed). His birth certificate, school book, and more illustrate the youngster who became legend.
With immense success came wealth, and lots of gold – not just a telephone and microphone (gold-plated for practicality), but the gold belt we saw in the clip where Elvis joked with reporters about being “shy and humble”, the gold lamé suit, and a Rolex he was given as a gift.
The red Ferrari Dino is here, taking pride of place in its own space and is lit and presented beautifully. Car and bike aficionados will love the display of assorted vehicles here, in pristine condition.
Presley’s films are often regarded as a mixed bag, with his Hollywood output steadily declining to what I feel is the nadir, Tickle Me (but if you want to see the feather that promoted the film, that’s here too). Posters, clips, and ephemera like scripts and pressbooks are fascinating snapshots of the time.
The 1968 Comeback Special was a turning point in the Elvis legend – and one I would recommend to any novice. If you’re still not convinced after viewing it, I can’t help you!
An array of costumes from that broadcast are here, and as we head into the Vegas and Aloha years, there are so many you must remember to look above you to see the collection of suits on the platform.
Add to these a display related to Presley’s love of karate, his scarf collection, a bit on merchandise, and a small exhibit on Baz Luhrmann’s recent Elvis film, and you have a fine set of material for the committed or the curious.
There is also a dedicated gift shop on site where you can buy clothing, replica jewellery, or a £25 souvenir brochure. And you can even write a message on the wall as you leave – mine? “The King is alive :)”.