The big Bing theory
Top costume and puppet designer Tahra Zafar has worked on everything from blockbuster movies to the London Olympics. She tells MARION McMULLEN about her new challenge to bring CBeebies favourite Bing to the stage
What was it like working on the opening and closing ceremonies for the London Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies?
IT WAS extraordinary to do – 23,000 costumes. I’m very proud of it. It’s was the equivalent of having my own West End show. It was a great career moment and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it.
Was there a lot of secrecy involved in the planning?
EVERYTHING had to be kept secret beforehand; especially the involvement of the Queen for example. I was deeply involved with that and was working with the Palace to do doubles of the Queen’s outfits. They were incredibly helpful.
We knew what we were doing for the ceremonies was going to be amazing and we wanted it to be a complete surprise. It was a bit of a ‘phew moment’ when it all worked. Great fun.
How did your interest in costume and puppet design begin?
I DID theatre design at Central Saint Martins. It was set and costume design and all that side of things. I’ve gone on to work on so many films and TV shows and it’s an amazing industry.
I’ve worked on a lot of costume effects and creature effects. It’s working with the script and the day to day side of things. It’s also coming up with ideas and solutions to problems. I like the challenge of it. I find it fascinating.
Have you clocked up a lot of air miles working on film projects like Star Wars VII The Force Awakens, X-Men First Class and Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone?
I’VE travelled a lot for my work. It’s very exciting. I’ve been to America and Dubai, places like that, but you normally end up working in some industrial area or a retail park for very long hours.
There are quite complex techniques we use in puppets. It’s a developing science. We’ve been using 3D printing a lot lately and cutting edge techniques, but sometimes it is the most simple jobs that are the most complicated and take the most work.
Are you a natural problem-solver?
I LOVE a challenge and working out how to make an idea work. I’ll keep thinking of it while I’m pottering around the house and, as I’m loading the dishwasher or something, I’ll suddenly think ‘That’s how we can do it.’
Are you surrounded by any of your creations at work?
(LAUGHS). There’d be no space to do anything if I was surrounded by funny creatures and puppets. There’s simply no room in my workshop. It’s always full with the latest project I’m working on.
You’re about to make a lot of youngsters happy with the first tour of Bing Live! How did it come about?
I’VE worked on a lot of pre-school shows like In The Night Garden, Zingzillas and Bing. The characters are very strong on the CBeebies show and the challenge is trying to create something that is still the bunny Bing that everyone knows and loves.
We did some workshops and trials last year with children and looked at the size of the puppets. You have to be able to see the characters on the stage, but you don’t want them looming or too big and scary. We’ve worked hard to get them just right and they are very tactile and friendly as well.
How is Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance involved in Bing?
MARK RYLANCE is the voice of a character called Flop on the TV show and is fantastic. He is such an amazing theatre actor and it is going to be great to have a Flop in the theatre.
(Laughs) It’s just a shame we are not going to Shakespeare’s Globe, where he used to be artistic director. We should try and push for that one next time.
What’s the best part of your job?
IT’S an extraordinary thing when you create something and you then see it come to life on TV or film. You go ‘wow’ that was smashing. I love working on pre-school programmes and creating a lifetime of memories for children. It’s so special. When you are walking down a road and you see a child clutching a toy of a character that you have helped to create, it’s a wonderful feeling.
Growing up, what did you watch yourself?
JACKANORY and Blue Peter, but I remember the best time on TV used to be just before the Six O’Clock News when they would show programmes like The Herbs, The Clangers and The Magic Roundabout. Everyone would rush home to watch them... including the adults. The premiere UK tour of Bing Live! runs from June. Go to bingliveshow.com for ticket details.
Creating memories for children is one of the best parts of Tahra’s job
For the TV show Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, inset, provides the voice of Flop, above, one of Bing’s animal friends