Londonist Gets A Sneak Peek Inside The O2’s New Elvis Exhibition

By Stuart Black Last edited 38 months ago
Londonist Gets A Sneak Peek Inside The O2’s New Elvis Exhibition ★★★☆☆ 3
Presley's 'American Eagle' jumpsuit and cape.
Presley's 'American Eagle' jumpsuit and cape.
The early years.
The early years.
Exhibits from the peak of Presley's career.
Exhibits from the peak of Presley's career.
Army fatigues.
Army fatigues.
Original sheet music for Love Me Tender.
Original sheet music for Love Me Tender.
Elvis flavoured lipstick.
Elvis flavoured lipstick.
Old merchandise: hats, badges and bubblegum cards.
Old merchandise: hats, badges and bubblegum cards.
New merchandise: Christmas tree baubles in the gift shop.
New merchandise: Christmas tree baubles in the gift shop.

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

All photos by José Farinha.

If you’re planning on visiting the new exhibition of Elvis memorabilia that’s just arrived in Greenwich via Graceland, you’d better pack a couple of peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwiches. This is the largest retrospective of the singer ever mounted in Europe with over 300 artefacts spread across the huge space in The O2 previously occupied by the ill-fated British Music Experience. And the objects on show range from the stuff Elvis kept in his pocket (rings, credit cards, the keys for Graceland) to the huge (his wagon-like Cadillac).

Elvis never came to London — and in fact only set foot in Britain once, for three hours, during a stop-over flight (and apparently he once turned down £5 million to play just 10 nights at Wembley) — so fans will pleased to hear that this impressively-staged exhibition will be staying in the capital for the next nine months.

Opening tomorrow, and with an inaugural visit from Priscilla Presley taking place next week, the show is aimed squarely at the King’s devotees. Low-lighting creates a reverent atmosphere and the relics are set in neon shrines and illuminated cases, the focus less on the man and more on the legend.

There is a vague historical thrust, taking visitors through Presley’s life from a series of ante-rooms containing his birth certificate then onto childhood curios and memorabilia from his early recordings as well as his stint in the army. Then it opens out into a huge circular space where the sense of history dissolves. It’s the best stuff in the show, demonstrating the pomp of his middle years: guitars, capes and karate suits are all present and correct, with the evocative sounding American Eagle and Lion Head jumpsuits taking pride of place alongside other iconic costumes.

Naturally, merchandising is a big part of the show, with interesting historical examples such as bubblegum cards and branded lipsticks (to “keep me always on your lips”), and then outside, there’s not one but two gift shops stuffed to bursting with fridge magnets, Christmas tree baubles and the rest. You can also get a tailor-made Aloha Suit, Belt and Cape made for just £2,900.

The tragic downbeat end of Elvis’s life is conspicuous by its absence and the show could be accused of lacking real insight into him as a human being. A quote about how he always suffered stage-fright is revealing but about as deep as it gets. Don’t expect a warts-and-all investigation into the nature of celebrity.

However, it has to be said that this show is undeniably cool and not as tacky as many sceptics might expect. The wall-to-wall posters show the lip-curl and quiff from every angle, the videos offer about as much of that swivelling pelvis as any fan could desire, and the music is irresistible.

Elvis At The O2: The Exhibition Of His Life runs from 12 December until 31 August 2015. Tickets cost £9-£18.

Last Updated 11 December 2014

Russell Stewart

Thanks for a great review, the exhibition was designed by Edinburgh based designers Cubit3d www.cubit3d.com working in close collaboration with Graceland. A real honour to work for The King!

Spelling Guy

What's a "sneak peak"?

Alan O'Kelly

Thank yer very much.

Karen Lucy Mckay

Hi what is the song at the beginning of the exhibition?