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'I get my kicks from plastic bricks'

Guy Bagley building Lego models

Work doesn't have to be a chore. For the second in our series on dream children's careers, Lucy Rodgers meets a man who never outgrew a childhood passion for building with Lego.

Guy Bagley has single-handedly designed and built some of the most famous buildings in the world - including a large part of London - down to the very last brick.

Mini London
Follow the yellow, blue, green and red brick road: One of Guy's creations

But the 37-year-old master builder didn't have to lift a trowel or use a single digger - because his architectural creations are built entirely out of Lego.

Guy is the chief model maker at one of Britain's most popular theme parks, Legoland, and is paid to construct the thousands of sculptures at the park, much to the envy of the attraction's many younger visitors.

But, instead of a future of building out of coloured bricks, when Guy was a little boy he had the rather more common dream of being a train driver.

"I had Lego as a child, but I never thought I would be doing this for a living," he laughs.

Millions of pieces

Guy heads a 12-strong team which spends its days maintaining as well as designing and building models - from six-piece pigeons to a huge Boeing 747 cockpit made out of 2.2 million bricks.

They start their working day at 7am, before the park opens its gates, when existing models are checked for wear and tear and made safe for visitors. They then spend time coming up with new ideas for attractions, designing them and making them a colourful reality.

LEGO FACTS
Vikings' River Splash
Company founded in 1934
More than 400bn bricks made
Voted Britain's top toy in 2008 survey

There are almost 55 million plastic pieces, or "elements", currently in use at the park. All are the "bog standard" bricks that can be bought in 10 colours at any toy shop, Guy explains, so in theory anyone could replicate any of his models.

It was the noted modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who believed "architecture began when two bricks were put together". Guy Bagley remains truer to that description than just about any real world architect.

He particularly enthuses about the merits of the classic eight-stud brick because, he says, "no matter what you build it is used".

The team is busy because the park is always evolving, with the large Miniland London section regularly updated to reflect current events, such as the addition of mini runners when the capital's marathon is taking place.

"We are adding lots of new things constantly - it is an obsession," confesses Guy, who regularly finds himself on a busman's holiday when building models at home for his young son.

Team 'undefeated'

Some of the largest models Guy has worked on, such as the dragons or the replica of US landmark the Empire State Building, can take the builders half a year to complete.

Guy Bagley with his Lego models
I wouldn't change it [his job] for all the tea in China
Guy Bagley

According to Guy, the hardest task with Lego is getting the required level of detail using bricks. But, he says proudly, his team has not yet been defeated by any challenge thrown at them.

"Everything we have been asked to do we have done - down to the Boeing cockpit," he says.

For Guy, the greatest job satisfaction comes when he reveals his creations to the public for the first time.

"When you build a model and bolt it down and see guests admiring it, that's a high," he says. But even dream jobs have a downside, and for Guy, it's not the elements he builds with but the elements most of us avoid by working in a warm office - the weather. The cold and a rain make things less pleasant, he says.

So, what does it take to follow in Guy's footsteps? The right attitude is essential, he believes.

LEGO BUILDERS
Salary: General model makers 19,000-30,000+
Numbers: 12 UK Legoland builders
Breaking in: Take courses in art and design, keep a portfolio of work
Source: Legoland/Careers Advice

"Being a child at heart. You have a lot of fun in the job. You have to get on with people - it is a very people place. You need a passion for it."

As for skills, a background in art and design can help, he says, and practice is crucial.

"You can train. Like anything experience is important - the ability to turn a two dimensional image into a three-dimensional model."

Lego test

While others in his team come from work in theatre set design or sign making, Guy started as an industrial model maker. While constructing architectural models, he was commissioned to create one for the then new Legoland. This led to a prized interview and the job itself.

Technosaurus
Guy gets the most satisfaction from seeing visitors with his models

"It was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time," he says. As part of the selection process, Guy was given a box of plastic bricks and an hour to build either an animal or a building from scratch. And, he recalls, his resulting parrot succeeded in winning over his future bosses.

But he admits: "I could do better now."

Guy advises would-be professional model builders to keep a portfolio of their work, including the designs and photographs of their best creations. But, most of all, they should "keep the passion going", he says.

However, any of those wanting to jump into Guy's shoes any time soon may face a long wait. After 16-and-a-half years in the job, he declares he will not give it up without a fight.

"I wouldn't change it for all the tea in China."


Below is a selection of your comments.

This is a very timely article as we are in the middle of the FIRST Lego League season at present - the Cambridge regional tournament was on Saturday, there were Essex and Bristol tournaments last week and there's a tournament in Edinburgh today... it's a competition for teams of children aged between nine and 16 to design, build and program Lego robots to carry out a set of missions, and to also prepare a related presentation on a scientific theme - this year it's Climate. The technical challenge this presents would daunt many grown-ups - seeing the children achieving astonishing things themselves is quite remarkable. I'm currently in my fourth year as a coach, and my team has just qualified for the UK National Final, so I'm absolutely delighted.
Catherine, Cambridge, UK

My nephew (aged 10) is a Lego addict and I've said to him several times "Wouldn't it be cool if you could get a job at Lego testing all their designs or inventing new ones".
Fiona Bravington, High Wycombe

Loved Lego as a kid, still have it in my mum's cupboard at home - 2-ers, 4 ers, smoothies. I used to take the square town boards and use them to make aircraft carriers with runways. You could make catapults with elastic bands and I think my love of construction today was founded through endless buildings, tower blocks and houses of the future with angled panels to channel wind into turbines. The technical series - anyone remember the Car Chassis? It was a monster of a model and took ages to build. The pride when those pistons went was immense. Very jealous of your job, Guy, if only I'd spent more time playing with Lego and less at school, things could be oh so different...
Alastair, Ireland

I've find Lego very useful for teaching children to swear. All my kids have played with it at some time and it's amazing how many small pieces I can find when I'm not wearing any shoes - and they are very hard. "My, my!" I exclaim loudly, "I appear to have injured my foot unexpectedly! What silly child overlooked this piece?" - or words to that effect...
Scouse Pie, Liverpool, UK

What a dream job. I'm pushing 50, but I'd love to get paid for playing with Lego all day.
Tom Fulep, Derby

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