After proving to be a surprise hit in 2020, the second series of The Masked Singer could not have come along at a better time.
With the UK still on lockdown, the most ridiculous show on TV has given us some escapism to look forward to every Saturday night as we try and work out which stars are performing in disguise.
Obviously, a huge part of The Masked Singer’s appeal is the incredible costumes the celebrities wear on the show, with designer Tim Simpson knocking it of the park once again this year.
In the lead-up to the new series, Tim collaborated with ITV and production company Bandicoot, designing ideas they come up with together, and then overseeing their production in the Plunge Creations workshop in Brighton.
“They start throwing silly ideas at me and I start throwing silly pictures back at them,” Tim tells HuffPost UK about the creative process. “And then we basically put ideas together between us as a team.
“I then design those up, and make sure they come out of the workshop looking as spectacular as they need to.”
Here’s what we learned about this year’s costumes when we spoke to Tim, including which outfits had to be drastically altered in the process, how Covid-19 restrictions affected the team’s process, and which of last series’ outfits still hold a special place in his heart...
Like the rest of us, the team has no idea who the celebrities are when they’re putting the outfits together
“At the point where we’re designing the costumes, we are completely in the dark,” Tim says. ”And we have to have fittings, but not with the performer. So we have fittings with stand-ins who are the same body shape.
“We’re sent the [celebrity]’s dimensions, so we know what size these people are, and then the team sends us a stand-in who’ll then try on the costume, and we’ll then fit it to them.
“It’s not until we get to set that some of us find out who they are,” Tim adds, pointing out certain members of the team won’t actually find out a star’s identity until the big reveal on TV.
There were eventually 12 costumes fully made for the current series, but they were whittled down from way more
“I had a list of about 75 different ideas rattling around,” Tim reveals, noting that around 20 of those were then ”turned into actual working designs”.
Sadly, he had to remain tight-lipped about the designs that didn’t end up making the cut, explaining: “I’m very much sworn to secrecy on what I can reveal. I’ve got a stash of ideas that are sort of rumbling around.
“Some of them are left in reserve for – hopefully – series three. If The Masked Singer’s got a continued future, then you may see those... or they’re just silly ideas that I’ve then got in the cupboard if I need a fancy dress costume.”
When celebrities are first approached for the show, they’re given the opportunity to contribute ideas to the design of their costume
Tim explains: “At the early stages [we have] a collection of ideas that the production team and myself think might work as a group of costumes, and that will be more than the 12 that we need in the show.
“Then there’s a process of approaching the talent or the singers, to iron out which of that selection of costumes they might like us to develop specifically for them, or that they might just take straight off the page.”
There’s a pretty quick turnaround between the initial designs and the celebrities’ first performances
“I’d say that’s probably about three or four weeks in between,” Tim says. ”We had a lot to do in a not very long space of time this summer.
“We’ve got 12 costumes [that take] about a month each [to make], and so you’ve got a lot of balls in the air all at one time. And often, you can’t get all the costume done until the performer is signed up, so until the performer’s on board, we might have been able to make the mask, but we can’t make the suit. So a lot of it is stop-start until the producers have got the entire team together.”
He explains that around 45 people “with a whole range of different skills” work on the costumes, simultaneously, noting: “We’ve got sculptors who are sculpting the masks, we’ve got tailors, we’ve got people who can flock and who can paint and who can pattern cut and work in foams.
“There’s also metalwork going into the costumes, there’s electronics – not to mention the team that just organise everything and the logistics of buying all the materials in, which has been so much harder this year, because we weren’t able to just walk down the rag market and go shopping, we had to do it all online.”
As you can probably guess, the pandemic provided a few roadblocks during the creation of the costumes
“It was harder even at the design stage,” Tim recalls. “Normally you can go out and have a walk and chat to people and even see people on the street, and walk around interesting places and museums… and you couldn’t do that this time around.
“So my inspirations come from libraries of books and what I can find online, and bits of TV and film. So I’m trying to create ideas and find inspiration in a not very inspiring time, and that’s much harder.”
He adds: “And then when it comes to making them, we had to have our teams isolate into different groups, and we were bringing some people out of lockdown, we were some people’s first job out of lockdown, and that was scary for them. So we had some nervous members of the team who were just wary because they’d been locked up for however long it was.
“Then, when we got to set, the whole process is [supposed to be] everyone all mixed in and working together, everyone up close – and we couldn’t do that. We were in smaller teams, everyone behind the scenes was masked... so you’ve got the Masked Singers, but also the masked film crew and the masked sound crew and the masked costume team. So everyone was in masks, we were all gloved up, and that process on set was very different again.”
Of this year’s characters, Sausage almost had a very different design altogether
Before Sausage came to be, Tim says the production team “asked me to do a cone of chips”.
“I started drawing chips,” he reveals, “and I just thought, ‘that doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t matter what I do to it, it’s not going to work’.”
The idea then came for him to introduce a sausage into the mix, but Tim did have one other thought first.
“I thought, ‘I don’t know about a sausage, I think I want to go gherkin’,” he recalls. “So, I drew up a gherkin with green arms, and I was really pleased with it. It looked completely daft. And I sent it to the production team, and it was a flat no.
“They said, ‘it’s going to be a sausage’, and I said, ‘OK fine, it’s going to be a sausage’. I thought I’d got a really fun gherkin over the line, and actually it turned into Sausage. But it’s so much fun as Sausage. And I think it’s really caught the public’s imagination.”
There’s one aspect of Sausage’s design Tim is “gutted” not to have been able to pull off, though
“We did think about doing complete reprints for Sausage’s newspaper,” Tim reveals. “There was a thought that after each performance we’d completely rewrite the newspaper. And that would have been fun, to have a whole new set of stories, every time Sausage went out on stage.
“But we looked at the logistics, and it just wasn’t going to be viable. And I’m a bit gutted about that, but you don’t lose much. And there are still some secrets to be found in the stories that are on Sausage already. So it’s worth a little bit of a read.”
Harlequin’s costume required some big thinking outside of the box
Tim says he wanted “high drama” for Harlequin, recalling: “I wanted to go massive on the skirt. Because the [masked] face is larger than a human face, if we’d gone normal-sized on the dress, it just wouldn’t have worked.
“They contacted me to ask how wide the dress would be, and I was like, ‘well, it’s going to be eight foot across’. Even the team in the workshop said, ‘we just won’t be able to do it’. And I said, ‘come on we can figure this out’, because we make weird things all the time.
“Eventually,” Tim adds, “instead of using normal boning, which is what you’d generally use to make a crinoline skirt, we’ve ended up using fibreglass tent poles, because they’re rigid enough to get the strength.”
Grandfather Clock has some surprisingly high-fashion origins
“I was looking at some catwalk clothing that had been designed by a few designers where they’d overlaid suits one on top of one another.” Tim remembers of the time he was designing Grandfather Clock.
“I really liked that idea of the fine tailoring, mixed in with the ability to have layered fabrics and play with that idea. That had been in the back of my head – so when the producers asked me to do a grandfather clock, I thought, ‘I don’t want a Disney grandfather clock costume, I want something that feels like a suit’.
“And so, by bringing those two ideas together, Grandfather Clock ended up being one of my favourites, because of the really quality tailoring that’s gone into the suit”.
But Badger has a pretty interesting origin story, too
“I just really didn’t want to do a classic, old, fusty badger,” Tim says, when asked why he thought to make the woodland creature a biker. “The badger people are most used to is Badger from Wind In The Willows, and I think that’s informed how we’ve seen badgers for years and years.
“But actually, badgers are our biggest carnivores in this country. That’s something to think about – other countries have got lions and tigers, we’ve got the badger, so we might as well celebrate it as being an angry, powerful, rock and roll kind of beast. You know, people used to fight badgers, they’re quite formidable. And I wanted it to feel like it saw itself as formidable, but maybe not as formidable as it would hope.”
Tim continues: “I wanted a Badger that looked like it really rated itself, but might have its best days behind it. That was the kind of look that I went for.
“I wanted to find a slightly portly badger, but we didn’t end up bulking Badger out as much as I’d hoped. I wanted Badger to be a little bit more schlumpy, but in the end, we’ve ended up with a really cool rock and roll badger.”
The team “went around the houses” when it came to designing Blob
“We didn’t want to have Blob on wheels originally, but the costume became so big and so hefty, we realised the only way to do it was to have it on wheels,” Tim says.
“We’d hoped to have more movement in the costume originally, but the sheer scale of Blob just turned him into something ridiculous.
“I think it was actually quite fun, in the end. It gives a load of character to it that it just slimes around, it is just big blobby and slimy.”
Blob was also the only character the production team insisted was on the line-up for the current series which led to many redesigns.
Tim recalls: “Blob was the very first suggestion Daniel [Nettleton, the show’s executive producer] had, and he stuck with it. As I drew more and more versions of Blob, he kept rejecting them, until eventually we got to the version of Blob that we know and love today.
“I had one with huge slinky legs and arms – they didn’t like that – there was a really spiky one that only had one eye in the centre of its head, which I really liked, it had rainbow spikes, but that one got rejected.
“There were just really simple ones that were just one single blob of goo, but they got rejected. There were various iterations – one had no eyes at all, and of course that got flatly rejected, you’ve got to give them eyes, they’ve got to have life.”
Dragon was originally supposed to be a character on last year’s series, but the team couldn’t quite get the design right
Tim says: “We toyed with ideas for a dragon last year, but I kept ending up going down a Game Of Thrones-esque, terrifying, absolutely awe-inspiring, vicious, scary dragon, and that was not going to work.
“And so, the production team came back and said, ‘you can do a dragon, you can do this, come on’, and so Dragon went through various iterations, until I got to the gorgeous little dragon that we have on stage now.”
According to Tim, there was one small detail that kept derailing the design process with Dragon.
“Each time I drew Dragon, it would look lovely until I put the fangs in,” he admits. “Then suddenly it would become scary again.
“So I just had to keep reworking the drawing. It can be tiny changes in the face that make the difference between something having one character, and having another.”
It may be cute, but Dragon ended up being one of the hardest costumes to wear
Describing Dragon as a “really full-on costume”, Tim says: “It’s not mad heavy, but it’s heavy enough if you’re out performing on stage.
“It’s got a lot of weight in the tail and there’s quite a serious rig, almost like a rucksack frame, inside the costume to hold all of the body together. Added to that, the performer has to walk with their legs apart, because if you put your feet together, you squash the tummy. So it’s really very physical.”
He continues: “Sausage and Dragon are the hardest to wear, because they require you to walk strangely. So on top of having this costume, both Dragon and Sausage have to walk with their legs apart, which partly gives them personality, and helps keep the person in character, but at the same time, it does put extra stress on the body. So I think both of those are pretty tricky.
“Swan was fairly physical as well,” Tim adds. “Initially we had a climbing helmet rig inside to hold the head on, but Swan was finding that wasn’t secure enough, so we ended up with a boxing helmet inside Swan’s head.
“So we had Martine McCutcheon with a boxing helmet on underneath the mask – and it was so snug. I went for a fitting at her house, and we spent a good couple of hours, and each time I fitted it, she’d go, ‘no, I need it tighter’. How she managed to sing, I have no idea, but it got to the point she felt absolutely secure in it because she couldn’t move.”
Not only is it one of the hardest costumes to wear, Dragon is also the hardest to even get on
Sharing the secret of Dragon’s costume, Tim says: “The whole coloured belly opens out like a door, and the performer has to go in backwards.
“You step in backwards, then slip your arms in at the top, then put the back on, and finally put the head on top, with someone closing the door to the belly in front of you. And then you’re sealed in.
“Most of these performers could not get out of their costumes without us,” he continues. “Once they’re in there, they have to trust that we’re there for them. And that if they were to get panicked, we’d be able to get their masks off.”
Some celebrities struggle with their costumes more than others
“I think the first couple of times they put the costume on, that’s when it’s the most daunting,” Tim says. “Then they get used to it and they know that it is going to end and that after they’ve performed, the costume is going to come off, they’re not going to be on stage forever, we’re not going to leave them alone.
“They need to be able to trust us, that we’re going to be there for them if they get uncomfortable. But it is quite a shock.”
Tim says the star contestant who found their costume the most cumbersome was a finalist from last year, Katherine Jenkins.
He explains: “The Octopus costume was very, very big. We’d envisaged it being for someone quite large and muscular... and then we had Katherine Jenkins, and though she’s fit and athletic, she’s no body builder.
“You’d kind of want to put Arnold Schwarzenegger inside, or The Rock. And so she found Octopus quite daunting.
“She managed to wear it really well for a couple of performances, and then that got too heavy, and I ended up building a Dalek rig inside it, so that most of the weight was taken on the wheels. After that, suddenly, she was able to relax and perform more easily.”
“Ultimately, we’re trying to make them spectacular, but we don’t want the performers to be hampered by their costumes,” he adds. “We don’t want them to be uncomfortable and stressed.”
There are still changes being made to the outfits even at the eleventh hour
“It’s not until they get on stage that [the celebrities] realise how hot they’re going to get,” Tim told us, before referring to John Thomson, who recently compared wearing his costume to “hell on earth”.
“Bush Baby was getting very, very hot. It’s a furry costume, inside a onesie, with a furry head on top. At one stage I had to grab Bush Baby’s head and – with a scalpel – hack out huge holes inside the ears... in order to give it enough airflow in there.
“It ended up where, if you wanted to, you could shake hands with someone else through Bush Baby’s head. Because there’s such a big hole through the middle. And that was the case for several of them, actually trying to add more into the costume and make it more comfortable.”
In fact, one of last year’s was completely redesigned with just 48 hours notice
Remembering Kelis’ stint on last year’s series, Tim says: “Daisy was an odd one. We designed Daisy’s costume, and when we got to set, we thought, ‘actually this costume doesn’t work so well on stage, and it’s too fiddly’... and [Kelis] just said ‘no I want something different’.
“And so we had 48 hours to put together a completely different costume, and redesign something and give her much more razzamatazz and sparkle.
“That was quite a high-speed change to the costume, but that’s where the team are brilliant,” he adds. “They can take that, swallow the fact they spent weeks on a costume and then go down a different direction at the last minute. And everyone mucked in on set, and Daisy got a whole new wardrobe.”
The most ambitious of all the characters was one of last year’s
After shouting out the elaborate detailing on Swan as a particular challenge, Tim admitted that it was Chameleon that proved to be the most ambitious of all of his Masked Singer creations.
“Just the tech, oh my goodness,” the designer said.
“Chameleon came from one of those really casual, silly remarks that I made in the very first meeting with [production company] Bandicoot, and I said, ‘hey we could make ourselves a chameleon costume that could just disappear into the background if we program it right’, and they went, ‘yes, we want one of those’.
“Then,” he continued, “we had to sit down and actually figure it out. The tech on Chameleon is really complex and it needed to be light enough, and the batteries needed to last long enough. It was a tough costume.”
And Tim’s favourite character is actually one of last year’s too
The designer has a personal reason that Tree is still close to his heart, explaining: “Tree was so majestic, and had such a funny look in its eye – partly because we put the eyes in at the wrong angle, so they looked slightly up to the sky, by accident, and I hadn’t noticed until we got on set. By that time it was too late to change them, but actually, it gave Tree a really magical air, as if he was just above everything else and was just looking into the sky.
“And the other thing I loved about Tree was that my son made some little origami elements, snails and beetles and things, and they were nestled into the branches.”
Of all of his creations, though, Queen Bee is the one the designer is most proud of, for fairly obvious reasons
“At the moment, I’m most proud of Queen Bee, because she won,” Tim revealed. “A bit of me thinks that part of the reason she won was because her costume was particularly beautiful.
“Her face had a really, slightly spooky, slightly edgy feel to her. So while she was beautiful, she was also slightly unnerving, and I liked that balance.”
He continued: “But mainly what makes sure they win is their voice, let’s not pretend. Nicola Roberts really made Someone You Loved mean something different – she really reinterpreted it and made it her own.
“That’s testament to a first-rate singer and a first-rate performer, they can make you believe that they are hurting and feeling that in that very moment you’re hearing that song. She was staggering.”
The Masked Singer airs on Saturday nights at 7pm on ITV.