As the Barbie movie’s July 21 release date fast approaches, London has fallen under the Mattel doll’s spell. A pink TARDIS has popped up on the North Bank. The London Eye has been lit up in Barbie’s favourite colour. Mega-fans are planning on dressing up in full-on Barbie garb to watch the film, with many of us considering watching two blockbuster films – Barbie and Oppenheimer – in one sitting in the name of #Barbenheimer. Seriously, are we okay?
All this hype has almost made us forget what this is all about – the dolls themselves. It might not feel like it, but these guys have been going for way longer than the movie’s marketing campaign. Since 1959, more than a billion Barbies – and considerably fewer Kens – have been sold worldwide. And there have been plenty of famous Londoners among them. From pioneering scientists to onstage superstars, these are the locals who’ve been immortalised in plastic.
Bowie is so iconic that he got not one but two Barbie dolls made in his honour. Mattel first channelled the rockstar’s unmatched style in 2019, recreating the instantly recognisable Ziggy Stardust look from his ‘Space Oddity’ era. In 2022, round two saw the release of another doll, this time to mark the 50th anniversary of the late singer’s fourth album, ‘Hunky Dory’. The ‘Life On Mars?’ music video was recreated, complete with ’70s glam-rock look powder-blue suit and matching eyeshadow.
Queen Elizabeth II (and Prince William and Kate Middleton)
To celebrate the Platinum Jubilee, Mattel released a doll-sized version of Queen Elizabeth II, dressed elegantly in one of her most memorable looks: an ivory gown, a blue riband adorned with decorations of order and a crown (obvs). It sold out on the John Lewis website in three seconds. But Her Maj isn’t the only Windsor to get the Barbie-doll treatment. In celebration of their one year wedding anniversary in 2012, Mattel released mini plastic versions of Wills and Kate in their Royal Wedding outfits. Awww.
A bonnetted Barbie-doll version of the famous British nurse Florence Nightingale was released in 2020 as part of the Barbie Inspiring Women Series. Credited as the founder of modern nursing, the Mayfair-based medic focused on sanitation and the psychological wellbeing of the wounded during the Crimean War. During her career she worked across London and founded the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital. What have you done lately, Malibu Barbie?
Dina Asher-Smith is the fastest British woman in history, whose athletic accolades include British records in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay, and was the first Briton to win three medals at a World Championships. If that wasn’t enough, she is (in terms of her record) the world’s fastest teenager ever over 60m and 200m. A likeness of the professional sprinter was released as part of Barbie’s one-of-a-kind ‘Shero’, collection which includes dolls of other female athletes from across the globe, such as French soccer player Amandine Henry, Portuguese surfing champion Teresa Bonvalot and Turkish Paralympic swimmer Sümeyye Boyacı. Who knew an inanimate object could make you feel so lazy?
Dame Jane Goodall
Living legend Dame Jane Goodall was given the Barbie treatment last year as part of The Barbie Inspiring Women Series – joining activist Rosa Parks and poet Maya Angelou. Originally a Hampstead girl, Goodall has spent more than 60 years in Tanzania studying and protecting chimpanzees, discovering they are omnivores and can make and use tools like (some) humans. In a fitting nod to her conservation work, her figure is made from recycled materials, wears khaki field attire with boots and comes with binoculars, a notebook and most importantly David Greybeard, the first Gombe chimpanzee to trust her. No, you’re crying.
Sir Elton John
Channelling the dazzling charisma that the Rocket Man has in spades, this tribute to the legendary singer and all-round glamourpuss was released in 2020 to coincide with the 45-year anniversary of his record-breaking concert at Dodgers Stadium in 1975 – the largest single-artist concert in history (at the time, anyway). This fun-loving Barbie doll dons an ‘Elton’ embossed bomber jacket, denim flares, a purple bowler hat, and sparkly, hot-pink shades. There’s no way this girlie is heading home before 2am.
Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
Born in Camden, and earning her degree from Imperial College London, Maggie Aderin-Pocock is one of Britain’s leading space scientists. Earlier this year, she was named a Barbie Role Model – alongside other women in STEM including YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki and German marine researcher Dr Antje Boetius – to celebrate International Women’s Day. Just like its namesake the doll has long braids with a purple tint, wears a starry dress and comes with a mini James Webb Space Telescope. The doll was never put on general sale, but Aderin-Pocock said she hoped it would inspire girls to not only reach for the stars, but to work among them.
Not only was Neasden gal Twiggy one of the world’s first supermodels, she’s also the first living person to have a Barbie doll designed after them. In the 60s, she became known for her slight frame, boyish bob and exaggerated eye makeup and appeared on the cover of glossy magazines like Vogue. In 1967, Mattel released her plastic mini-me dressed in a green, yellow and blue mini dress paired with yellow boots. The box advertised the doll as having a ‘twist ’n turn waist’, ‘bendable legs’ and ‘real eyelashes’ – don’t ask.