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A Christmas Carol comes to Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland

por Kai Cardillo (2020-01-03)


With the days growing ever colder, most of us are desperately trying to avoid winter's icy embrace.

But in London's Hyde Park, the cold is being welcomed with open arms. For inside a marquee-sized hangar this week, a team of very well-insulated artists were putting the finishing touches to a spectacular ice kingdom that has been some eight months in the planning.

Two-tonne blocks of ice, a single snow sculpture weighing the same as 18 black cabs, frosty creations standing taller than a double decker bus: the Magical Ice Kingdom, part of the Winter Wonderland attraction, is big. And very, very cold.

Some of the frozen structures, such as Big Ben, can be built from smaller blocks of ice, joined together.

The temperature is hovering around -10c — on a par with Siberia and only slightly warmer than a household freezer (-18c) — when my five-year-old daughter Elise and I are invited along for a behind-the-scenes preview before this week's official opening. We've been told to ‘wrap up', but nothing quite prepares you for that first blast of lung-assaulting cold air. It's no surprise most of the team are decked out in attire typically seen on ski slopes.

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Share Showing us around is the man they call the ‘Ice King', Philip Hughes, who has presided over this year's spectacular, themed on that most festive of tales, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

When we meet he's directing workers in fluorescent bibs and thermal gloves as they turn an icy building site into a magical slice of Victorian London. Scrooge is there, of course, suspended from the ceiling by wires attached to his legs and shoulders; he's mid-flight on his voyage to seasonal redemption, hovering just over Big Ben, an illuminated structure, six metres tall.

‘Scrooge flying, that's a real first,' says Philip proudly.

Jess Gilpin meets Scrooge at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

How to hoist a 30-stone icy miser into the air was a conundrum Philip's team worked hard to crack. ‘He's got four fixing points with holes drilled through and wires attached, and he's fixed to a truss that moves up and down to make adjustments,' he says reassuringly.

Scrooge's empty bed is there too, with the covers flung back, pillows plump (or as plump as an ice pillow can be) and Marley's ghost standing in the corner, rattling his frozen chains.

But the biggest creation is a colossal snowman in the shape of the Ghost of Christmas Present. Weighing 40 tonnes (about the same as seven bull elephants) he looks Bacchanalian with a leafy garland around his head. ‘He was based on Bacchus,' smiles Philip. ‘And the snow artists did exactly what we showed them.'

The whole process of creating the ice kingdom begins each year in March 

There's also a couple skating, children throwing snowballs, a snow Christmas tree and even a snowman — looking far more polished and professional than anything Elise has ever knocked up in our garden.

There are 500 individual sculptures to put in place before gaps on the hard black floor are filled with snow (a process that involves three days of an enormous snow machine, pumping around the clock) and a picket fence installed to make sure visitors don't get too close.

There's even a snow slide and snow thrones for those not too worried about icy bottoms (Elise is delighted by her throne, me less so).

So, 특별한 아이 how do you create an ice kingdom? Philip, who has spent 25 years in the world of ice sculptures — from making ice bars in India to the massive ice urns deployed for an exhibition opening at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (they slowly melted as the event unfolded) — says it takes a lot of planning.

‘The whole process started in March. We brainstorm ideas and think really hard about what will work. A Christmas Carol really appealed because it's a traditional story and very Christmassy.'

Storyboards become intricate scale drawings that are printed on to lining paper and stuck to blocks of ice.

Vogue Daniel wraps up warmly to wander through the frozen landscape created by the ice artists

Artists then begin the intricate carving process, using everything from chainsaws to tiny custom-made tools for creating the finest details, all of which have been designed for ice and snow. This includes rosewood handles, because it tolerates the constant cold, wet conditions and Japanese chisels made with hardened cold steel. Carving starts in June (under very cool conditions, of course), with about half the sculptures produced between June and November, and the rest created on site in the two weeks before opening. The largest blocks, at two tonnes each, are produced in a factory in Belgium and the international team of ice artists work on them overseas, before they are crated and shipped to the UK.

Other structures, such as Big Ben, can be built from smaller blocks of ice, joined together. How? ‘We iron them,' says Philip. ‘We use an iron to heat a flat steel plate which effectively becomes an even bigger iron, although it doesn't need to be very hot.' The heated steel is held against a flattened edge, with the joining piece of ice then held to the melted surface. The icy temperatures mean that within a minute the join refreezes firmly.

Keep off the snow! Jaxson Chandler-Scott gets up close and person with some of the amazing frozen animals

Specialist snow artists join the team to build the snow sculptures, a process that involves a giant snow-making machine shipped from Belgium, similar to those used on ski slopes — a whopping wooden crate and four men who stand in it and stomp on the snow to flatten it.

When it's all compacted, the crate's sides are removed and, hey presto! you have a giant block of snow ready to carve.

Once everything is in place, industrial-strength coolers, powered by bio-fuel, are positioned around the exhibition to ensure everything stays as it should be.

Which is icy. Very very icy (baby). And beautiful.

The Magical Ice Kingdom is open until January 5 and is pre-bookable online.  
Oh look...I'm a chip off the cold block! 

Sculptor Asanga Amerasinghe turned me and Elise into ice statues, starting with photos and a computer-operated engraver. 

As ‘Ice Mummy' emerges, Asanga, who runs his own firm, Techne Ice, uses a power tool to add further dimensions, cutting a hole between my arm and hip. 

Hand chisels, made of Japanese steel, are used to add detail. ‘Blunt tools cause cracks,' says Asanga. Result? She's like me...with a frosty stare!

Beth Hale and her five-year-old daughter Elise, left, were turned into ice sculptures by ice sculptor Asanga Amerasinghe

Beth and her daughter Elise stand beside the statues that have been hewn from an ice block

Blocks of ice are cut out to make the freezing statues of Beth and her daughter

Ice artist Asanga used an electric chainsaw to cut away at the corners of the ice block

Asanga spent time hacking away at Beth's ice face with a sharpened chisel 

find out about Asanga's work at techneice.com 
Read more:
A Christmas Carol Ice & snow sculptures in the Magical Ice Kingdom