Tahra Zafar is the animatronics, puppet and costume maestro whose career spans blockbusters Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Star Wars VII, theatre including Phantom of the Opera, Lady Gaga’s Monster Tour - and even a spell working with the Queen on her first and only acting role.
Tahra was head of costume for the Olympic and Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies at London 2012 - where Her Majesty was one of 23,000 people she had to dress. But ask the creative whiz what character she’s most proud of working on in her three decade-plus career, and the answer isn’t Hermione, Gaga or R2D2 - it’s Upsy Daisy, the ever-happy doll with rainbow-coloured hair, who Tahra designed for the original TV show of In the Night Garden. “She’s just smashing,” Tahra beams. “Upsy Daisy is a girl character who avoids the usual stereotypes - she isn’t overly bossy, or stuffed with props. And she’s a star of one of the most popular pre-school shows ever; I’m very passionate about young kids’ entertainment - it’s such an exciting thing to be the first one to show something creative to children.”
BAFTA award-winning In the Night Garden remains one of the most popular children’s television series ever made: one of its 100 episodes is still screened nightly and are regularly on iPlayer most-watched lists - despite no new episodes having been made on the 12-year-old show since 2010.
Lucky then for In the Night Garden’s characters - who include blue cuddly Igglepiggle, cave-dwelling Makka Pakka, the Tombliboos and their awkward trousers, and the family of Pontipines, as well as Upsy Daisy - that there’s still one way for pre-school children and their parents to discover new adventures taking place in the picture book-like garden: at the new, live UK theatre tour of more than 50 venues which heads to Blackpool Grand in September.
The show tells the tale of Igglepiggle’s Busy Day, as he hunts for his friends by following their funny sounds until he finds them all - and fans will recognise all of their favourites. Tahra has spent months working on the design and costumes of the puppet characters for the new live show, “because, to the children in our audience, In the Night Garden’s characters are like friends that they know really well: they have to look exactly as they do on their home screens. The puppets have to be perfect.”
The puppets’ design is in safe hands, though: Tahra first designed Upsy Daisy more than a decade ago. “Working on her was my first job after I returned from maternity leave with my now 14-year-old,” she laughs. “I used to bring my then-toddler into the workshop, and the crew would all watch how she responded to our characters - luckily, she laughed at all the right times!”
Children’s theatre, Tahra adds, “is all about being together, taking in a shared experience, escaping everyday worries, being taken somewhere different. I love sitting in the audience and seeing all these very active toddlers watching the show, entranced - they’re completely still, blown away by it. It’s magical to see.”
In the Night Garden Live heads to Blackpool Grand on September 7 and 8. To book, call 01258 290190.