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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2003, 12:15 GMT
That's Blair and Becks! No wait...
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine

Whether it's Becks in Posh's knickers or Tony Blair letting George Bush win at tennis, Alison Jackson's seemingly snatched photos of celebrities cause a double take. How does she make fantasy seem so real?

Blair and Beckham in a scene devised by Alison Jackson
Alison Jackson and look-alikes
"Oh my gawd, it's David Beckham!" shrieks an American tourist as she spies the football star chatting to the British prime minister.

It is a rare insight into the private lives of two people who live their lives in the glare of publicity. The pair clown around with a football in a sauna - recently vacated by Sven Goran Eriksson - in the window of a London department store. Becks is clad only in a dressing gown, Blair in an inappropriately brief pair of swimming trunks. Every so often, the PM clutches his chest, exhausted with the effort.

Anything more than a passing glance reveals this tableaux to be a clever fake. "Dammit," sighs the Beckham fan. "Wouldn't it have been cool if it was him?"

The scene has been devised by Alison Jackson, the artist behind BBC Two's Double Take series, whose images of stars caught unawares prove that the camera can lie.

Meticulous planning goes in to perfect these fantasy scenes which chime so neatly with what we want to believe.

A glimpse behind palace doors

Each setting tallies with what we think we know about the star - Sven in a sauna, David Seaman and David Beckham preening in front of a locker room mirror, Prince William edging on to a deserted throne - and Jackson puts much thought into how these very public figures might behave away from prying eyes.

For her book Private, she photographed the Queen taking tea in bed, surrounded by corgis stealing titbits from her tray - this was long before the Mirror's revelations of life behind palace doors.

"I put myself in her shoes to work out how she might behave if left alone in private. She struck me as rather a lonely woman who loves her corgis, so to feed them off her own breakfast tray seemed perfect," Jackson says. She was pretty much spot-on - the Mirror's fake footman revealed last month that Elizabeth II feeds toast and marmalade to the corgis gathered under the royal table.

Intimate moments

Jackson's shots are grainy, as if snatched by a long-lens paparazzi, and speak volumes about the celebrity involved (not to mention our obsession with knowing all about their lives). "It is well known that Tony Blair likes celebrities, so I made him friends with David Beckham," Jackson says.

Sometimes this attention to detail extends right down to a particularly telling pair of knickers - Kylie wriggling into a purple sparkly thong, or the Queen in big, sensible pants.

A look-alike with El Becks tattooed on his bum
We want to believe in that tattoo
"The details are very important - you don't need many visual clues to work out who it is if these are absolutely right, such as too-tight Speedos for Tony Blair and fluffy mules for Carole Caplin."

Most important of all is choosing the right look-alike. While all bear a resemblance to their more famous counterparts, some are uncannily similar once make-up and wigs are in place. Jackson's Tony Blair - who she calls Tony while directing scenes - is practically a spitting image, with his profile matched to the PM with the judicious application of make-up.

"He came through this great agency I work with, but I also find people on the street and in restaurants. I go up to people and ask if I can use them in my photos. Occasionally it is the person in question, as happened with James Hewitt. How embarrassing. He just laughed and said 'you can't afford me'."

Doubletake will be broadcast in the UK on 30 December on BBC Two at 1045 GMT. Alison Jackson's book Private is published by Michael Joseph/Penguin, priced 14.99


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