How would Henry VIII and Elizabeth I look in the 21st century?

A team of artists have imagined how famous historical figures - including William Shakespeare and Marie Antoinette - would appear if they lived in the modern day

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When you think of King Henry VIII – ruthless ruler, serial womaniser, snazzy dresser – the image that comes to mind is certainly not a tanned, suave businessman sporting a sharp suit with a plunging neckline reminiscent of Simon Cowell. But according to the team behind Yesterday’s new series Secret Life Of… and historian Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, this is the image Henry would favour had he lived in modern times:

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As part of an art project to coincide with the historical television series – which starts tonight at 9pm – a team of digital artists have spent three months re-imagining how a string of famous historical figures would look and dress if they had lived in the 21st century. Those given the glamourous treatment include Queen Elizabeth I, Horatio Nelson, Marie Antoinette and William Shakespeare. 

And while poor Henry bears a close resemblance to Mick Hucknall, Queen Elizabeth sports a stylish hairdo and an immaculately made-up face. Gone are the ruffs and puffy dresses, replaced by a chic burnt orange suit to reflect the illustrious monarch’s known love of fashion, with her famously stern expression painting her as a formidible figure. 

Famed for her flirtacious behaviour and penchant for the latest trend, King Louis XVI’s doomed wife Marie Antoinette is painted as a young starlet with a designer gown, glossy hairstyle and breast implants to reflect the teasing she received as a teenager for her flat chest. Her “unusually high forehead” has also been combatted with a “trendy fringe”… 

And in a move that may horrify Shakespeare purists, the famous playwright has been fashioned as an edgy Shoreditch hipster with a modish plaid shirt and waistcoat combo to match his exuberant quiff – the result of a hair transplant to reverse his receding hairline. Sporting piercings in both ears “leaving questions about his sexuality unanswered”, Will’s new look would likely turn heads if he were to stroll down Brick Lane. 

And finally, Horatio Nelson – the fearsome naval officer now resting atop his Trafalgar Square column – is a paunchier version of himself in his new portrait. His extra inches – the result of a deskbound position in today’s Navy – are dressed in a modern naval uniform, with a prosthetic arm and a Victoria cross to add to his collection of prestigious medals.

The Secret Life Of… – a new 14-part series lifting the lid on the sex lives, wacky clothes and extravagant purchases of famous historical figures – begins tonight at 9:00pm on Yesterday


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BBC History Magazine’s History Weekend is on 25-27 October. Visit historyweekend.com for more details