Prince exhibition opens in London with Paisley Park treasures

Tyka Nelson, sister of US singer-songwriter Prince, poses during a press preview of the My Name Is Prince exhibition, at the O2 Arena in London.
Tyka Nelson, sister of US singer-songwriter Prince, poses during a press preview of the My Name Is Prince exhibition, at the O2 Arena in London. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - An exhibition showcasing the life of pop legend Prince opens in London on Saturday, unveiling previously unseen treasures from his legendary Paisley Park studio complex.

My Name Is Prince will see hundreds of items go on display at The O2 entertainment complex, the first official retrospective since the US artist's death aged 57 in April last year.

Memorabilia on display include a diamond-studded cane and a diamond vest, while the show also includes awards, instruments and handwritten song lyrics.

The exhibition features the guitar used in his 1980 US national television debut, and charts Prince's rise to stardom with clothing worn on his Purple Rain and LoveSexy tours in the same decade.

"This is the first time we've taken any items out of Paisley Park," said Tyka Nelson, Prince's only surviving full sibling.

The 5,000 square metre Paisley Park complex was opened by Prince in 1987 in a suburb of his hometown Minneapolis and it was there that he died nearly three decades later.

With state-of-the-art recording studios and vaults full of unreleased music, Paisley Park has now been opened to fans who were rarely allowed inside during Prince's lifetime.

Putting the exhibition together was a challenge, said Mitch Maguire, the tour operations manager at Paisley Park.

"It is a large task because seemingly one of the great things Prince did for us was keep everything," he said.

Angie Marchese, the Paisley Park archives director, added: "There are so many things in the collection that only about two percent of the collection is actually on display." .

With an audio guide, visitors can wander through the instruments, costumes and artefacts from Prince's lengthy career.

Right from his debut album For You, which came out in 1978 when he was 19, there was no hiding Prince's musical talents: he played all 27 instruments heard on the record's nine songs.

A large area is given over to the album Purple Rain, and the film of the same name, notably featuring the purple trench coat Prince wore throughout the movie.

"Together they really catapulted him into the realm of superstardom," said Maguire, recalling the Oscar it won him for best original song score.

"He was such an innovator, and good at pushing the envelope, and setting the trend. I think he was a pioneer in the 1980s, and really set the course for the way music was going to go.

"No-one ever worked harder than Prince himself, so that's largely what separated him from all of his colleagues." There are screens showing concert footage, several notebooks and manuscripts containing themes of love and sexuality.

A large, circular room shows off Prince's wardrobe, with stage costumes and accessories including sunglasses and make-up.

Nelson said London was one of her brother's favourite destinations and holding the exhibition at the O2 Arena - where Prince performed 21 sell-out shows in 2007 - made it the "perfect place".

"I'm so excited to be able to meet the fans and share their Prince stories and give them hugs, and have a cry with them if need be," she said.

Fans flocked to Paisley Park in April for a celebration of Prince's life, one year on from his death from an accidental overdose of painkillers.

Born Prince Rogers Nelson, the petite pop sensation has been credited with transforming the music landscape and challenging industry conventions, dazzling crowds with his mastery of the guitar.

My Name Is Prince runs until January 7, 2018. Tickets cost £25 (S$45).