Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Revealing the stories behind famous stone faces

By James Frater, CNN
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
  • Statues across London and Manchester are being given a "voice" through smartphone technology
  • Passers-by can hear statues including one of Queen Victoria reveal their secrets
  • Actors and comedians voice the statues, which is the creation of Sing London

London (CNN) -- They have stood quietly among us for centuries, often unnoticed. But now, some of England's historic statues have been given a voice.

Passers-by are able to hear 35 statues across London and Manchester "speak" with a swipe of their smartphones over nearby tags. The tag triggers a call from the statue, with actors and comedians revealing the stories behind the famous faces.

Colette Hiller, creative director of the Talking Statues' creator Sing London, said the project aims to "stop people from looking in their phones," and to start "looking at the world around them."

Actress Prunella Scales is the voice of Queen Victoria, who sits on a plinth above a busy junction by Blackfriars Bridge. When prompted, the queen asks listeners to "leave her alone" and "Google her descendants."

At London's Paddington Station, by platform one, actor Patrick Stewart voices The Unknown Solider. The statue asks "the folk who go past with them new wheelie cases" to slow down and spend some time with him.

A little further down the platform, Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville is the man behind Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the British engineer who created the Great Western Railway connecting Paddington to the West of England and Wales.

Brunel urges the passers-by to "look about you" and enjoy the wonders of travel, before wishing them bon voyage.

But it's not just people who've been given a voice. The list of statues includes two cats and a goat.

British comedian Helen Lederer, the voice behind North London's Whittington's Cat statue, told CNN the animals were "celebrities of the time. The icons."

Usually, "we don't notice them," she said. "But they must all have done something quite important."

Organizers hope the project's simple technology will help people engage. Users either tap a NFC (Near Field Communication) point, type in a web address or scan a QR code to receive the statue's call.

If the project is successful, its creative and technology teams plan to extend it across the U.S. and Europe.

Part of complete coverage on
The Business View
Nina dos Santos is a news anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of CNN International's show The Business View.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Usually, airstrikes, rebels seizing control of oil fields and refineries, plus a severe refugee crisis are a recipe for market panic. So why are Iraq oil prices stable?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1236 GMT (2036 HKT)
Europe's deteriorating relationship with Russia has hit the region's growth, even before new food sanctions begin to bite.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Russia's beef with the west has escalated after the country banned foods from a host of Western nations including the U.S., Australia, Canada and those of the European Union.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1521 GMT (2321 HKT)
For months, the West has struggled to take a strong stand against Russia for its incursion into Ukraine. Now, its facing the reality that it will need to suffer too.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Are Scotland and England better together or apart? Nina dos Santos explores the long relationship ahead of Scotland's vote for independence.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made history as the country's first directly elected president but his ambitious economic plans could be scuttled by the region's volatile geopolitics.
August 7, 2014 -- Updated 1016 GMT (1816 HKT)
Turkey's economy, fattened with foreign investment during its boom-times, has stalled amid warnings its model is unsustainable.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
The West has slapped stringent sanctions on Russia in response to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. But is it still doing trade with Russia in weapons?
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
Forget the new black. This is the real black. You can't see it, or figure out its shape, it's the darkest material in the world.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
With cyberattacks on the rise and here to stay, it's a modern-day challenge for everyone to get smarter about preventing them.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 2044 GMT (0444 HKT)
Britain will launch the world's first spaceport outside the U.S., with first space tourists blasting off from the UK as early as 2018.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
Imagine a skyscraper that cleans the air. You won't have to wait long -- two will soon be built in China.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
Iraq produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. But the current crisis is putting all this in danger.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
Who will lead the fractured European Union for the next five years? The question has caused weeks of bickering in already fractured EU.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT)
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.