'My Name Is Prince' puts Paisley Park in London's heart

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My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
Entry to "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)

As I make my way to the O2 today, there is no rain in London, purple or otherwise, but a sea of ruffles, sequins and oversize buttons. The fans have received the memo, and have turned up with color-appropriate accessories. Purple hats, scarves, and handbags are swaying, people are singing and enjoying the exhibit from head to toe; even the staff walking around are humming the songs that spring from the loudspeakers.

Initially intended to run for 21 days to echo Prince's unparalleled series of shows at the O2 Arena 10 years ago, My Name is Prince, The Official Exhibition has exceeded expectations, and will now give music-lovers on this side of the Atlantic an extra 50 days to come and celebrate Prince's life work, and to take a close look at items brought over from Minnesota one year after Paisley Park officially opened for tours. A crowd-pleaser, the exhibit follows Prince's career through a host of dazzling custom-made accessories, memorable outfits (complete with matching high-heeled shoes), guitars and vinyl records. Fans will not exactly be surprised, most artifacts being almost instantly recognizable, but they won't be disappointed.

London's O2 Arena
London's O2 Arena, site of 'My Name Is Prince' exhibition. Christie Goodwin

The exhibit highlights Prince's multiple talents: playing all 27 instruments on his debut album; composing; producing; arranging; performing; and if that's not enough, also designing his instruments and outfits. A dimly lit corridor showcases several guitars, including a Gibson L6S he played on American Bandstand in 1980, his first appearance on national television. We can see it with the modifications Prince made for the Dirty Mind tour, with one corner of the body sawed off, leopard-print fabric glued onto the body and decorative lights installed around the edge. A few feet away is the vintage cloud bass Prince purchased for André Cymone, which served as inspiration for the cloud guitar featured in Purple Rain (custom-made by Minneapolis luthier, Dave Rusan).

Instruments on display at the My Name Is Prince exhibition
Instruments on display at the My Name Is Prince exhibition, left to right: Prince's faux leopard-print Gibson guitar; the orange Cloud guitar made for Prince's 2007 Super Bowl halftime performance, used during The Earth tour in 2007; and the original bass that was the inspiration for Prince's Cloud guitar. John Wagner Photography

A large room is dedicated to 1999 and Purple Rain, with a dazzling collection of outfits, notably the purple trench coat with the signature white ruffled shirt from the movie, and the sparkly sequined cape Prince wore to the 1985 Academy Awards ceremony.

Original neatly typed lyrics for "1999", "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious" with some handwritten notes and corrections are on display in this room. "I never expected he'd be so tidy," says the woman next to me, also staring at the lyric sheets. "He was an artist, so creative, you know…" she adds. "I expected him to be all over the place."

Everything here speaks of someone extremely dedicated to his work — with a love for details — who wanted to be involved in every aspect of the creative process. The Purple Rain case includes manila envelopes with his trench coat design, with corrections, and Dreams notebooks (the movie's initial title) with early script ideas written in purple ink, questions about which songs would work, and dialogue between Prince and Vanity (who had been originally cast as the female lead), where she explains the origin of her character's name, Nikki. We catch a glimpse of Prince in action here; there is a behind-the-scenes feel to these items, we can almost see him reworking the words and costumes, his personal touch undeniable.

The largest area in the exhibition is dominated by an expansive Symbol Stage, with a gold symbol microphone stand at the very end, and an array of outfits interspersed with screens playing various music videos. Unperturbed by the strobe lighting in this room, people smile, nod and dance as they make their way around the stage, matching the items on the stage with the videos playing alongside. The chain hat worn in the "My Name is Prince" video sits around the corner from the cloud suit and shoes featuring in "Raspberry Beret," as well the guitar Wendy played in the same video. The statuette from Prince's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 is on the stage too, and several ASCAP Awards are on display around the room.

Accessory buffs can feast their eyes on Prince's glittery ear cuffs, his 3RDEYEGIRL sunglasses worn on Saturday Night Live in 2014, and his crystal-encrusted cane featured on V magazine.

Toward the end of the visit, an address sign leads us to the modest Paisley Park room, but despite the purple carpet and velvet benches, there is no suspension of disbelief. I was expecting to be transported to Chanhassen — where, incidentally, I spent my first Christmas far from home — but the room only offers a quick nod to his chosen hometown, falling short of representing the multipurpose estate where Prince carried out most of his life's work. A copy of the proclamation from Chanhassen Mayor Denny Laufenburger declaring October 28, 2016 Paisley Park Day, and a purple jacket from the Lovesexy tour with "Minneapolis" in big white letters on the sleeve remind us that Prince was devoted to his home state, and Minnesota reciprocated that love. Is the humble representation of Paisley Park meant to perpetuate a sense of mystery? A handful of TVs showing images of his studio and mention of a few artists who recorded there is all we get. Maybe I'm just too demanding.

Jackets from Prince's Lovesexy tour, with Minneapolis on the sleeve
Jackets from Prince's Lovesexy tour with 'Minneapolis' emblazoned on the sleeves. John Wagner Photography

Finally, the NPG Music Club room gives us a chance to say goodbye or, as one fan put it, "see you at the aftershow." Many visitors have come prepared, with essays, embroidered messages, porcelain doves, and pictures to leave on the memorial fence. I sit down on one of the many comfortable purple benches and cast one last glance at the high-collared shirts, tambourines and heart-shaped mirrors while I listen to the last item on the audio guide — a three-minute "Purple Rain" guitar solo. After three hours of time travel in the company of an artist who was brilliant in every sense of the word, I step outside, the music ringing in my ears.

Eugenia Sestini lives in London, where she teaches languages and works on the perfect ending for her debut novel.

Resources


My Name Is Prince, The Official Exhibition - official site

The O2 - official site

12 Photos

  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    Entry to "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    Prince quotes festoon the escalator to the "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    Outside the gift shop for the "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    Quotes by Prince are part of the design in and around the "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    Visitors can find the Tamboracca in the gift shop at the "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    Gift shop at "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition at London's O2 Arena
    Inside the gift shop for the "My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition" at London's O2 Arena, visitors can browse or even buy a Prince signature model guitar for roughly USD 2800.00. (Eugenia Sestini for MPR)
  • Writer Eugenia Sestini after visiting My Name Is Prince exhbition
    Writer Eugenia Sestini after spending three-and-a-half hours at the My Name Is Prince exhibition at London's O2 Arena. (courtesy the author)

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