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A giant wooden rocket in the middle of a road with the tarmac broken from the impact of landing
'The Sultan's Elephant' by Royal de Luxe, produced in London in 2006 by Artichoke. Photo copyright Matthew Andrews.

Artichoke’s first project invaded central London in 2006


Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant was a landmark piece of outdoor theatre

The biggest piece of free, outdoor theatre ever seen in London. Over four days, audiences were captivated by the adventures of an enormous mechanical elephant and a giant girl.

It began, and ended with a rocket

Arriving overnight, appearing to have crash-landed into the middle of the road, there were few clues to what was about to happen. A giant girl and a giant elephant had arrived unannounced for four days of adventures across London.

Artichoke had worked in secret for seven years, planning, convincing and cajoling the public authorities to make the project happen. For the first time, streets normally reserved for state occasions or sporting events were taken over by art. At Trafalgar Square, St James’s Park, Horse Guards Parade and Piccadilly, audiences followed the journey of a giant girl and her travelling companions, the Sultan and the Elephant. Along the way they discovered cars that had been ‘sewn’ into tarmac with a giant needle and waved the girl past as she enjoyed a tour atop a red London bus. They were sprayed with water from the Elephant’s trunk. Leaving in the rocket she arrived in after four magical days, the girl finally disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant changed the landscape for outdoor art forever and catapulted Artichoke into the public eye.

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11.2 metres

Height of elephant

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80 m2

Leather for Elephants ears

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42 tonnes

Weight of the elephant

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5.5 metres

Height of little girl


Royal de Luxe team posing with the elephant
Artist Profile

Royal de Luxe

Founded in 1979 by director Jean-Luc Courcoult, French company Royal de Luxe is world-renowned.

Celebrated for their vast interventions into the life of a city and working with large crews of performers, they often take everyone by surprise as, over a number of days, audiences multiply as they follow some epic saga played out on the city’s streets.

This production was the fifth in a series of giant pieces, the others being Le Géant tombé du ciel, Le géant tombé du ciel: dernier voyage, Retour d’Afrique and Les Chasseurs de girafes.

The Sultan’s Elephant, or La visite du sultan des Indes sur son éléphant à voyager dans le temps, was first performed in Nantes in 2005, on the centenary of Jules Verne’s death. This production was commissioned by the cities of Nantes and Amiens and received a special grant from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.

Website Link

Side view of giant elephant puppet facing giant girl puppet sitting in a black bowl. Part of the London Eye is visible from in the background
The Sultan's Elephant, Royal de Luxe, 2006. Produced by Artichoke in London. Photo by Matthew Andrews.

What The Sultan’s Elephant represents is nothing less than an artistic occupation of the city and a reclamation of the streets for the people.

~ Lyn Gardner, The Guardian 6 May 2006 ~



“I have the strangest feeling today, something in between grief and joy, sad that I will never see that beautiful Little Giant or that gargantuan Elephant and happy that I had the privilege to meet them. Thank you for reminding me how to be a child and for realising that cynicism is not a way of life!” 

~ Stuart Hogg, South Heath, Buckinghamshire

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Members of Royal de Luxe

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5 Miles

Streets closed on route


Reclaimed poplar used to construct the elephant

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just under £9m

Total estimated revenue

Project Timeline

The Sultan's Elephant – Project Timeline

  1. Royal de Luxe team posing with the elephant
    First email to Royal De Luxe
  2. A below view of a giant puppet elephant in front of advertising signage with a large crowd around it.
    Email to head of the Arts Council
  3. Feasibility report done
  4. A giant wooden rocket in the middle of a road with the tarmac broken from the impact of landing
    Funding Application
  5. Application Accepted
  6. London Bombings - event postponed
  7. Bought the London Bus for the event
  8. Policing bill
  9. A giant puppet Elephant tin a public street filled with people.
    Sultan's Elephant begins
  10. Bill retracted
  11. Artichoke is established

Ready to Drop