Performing arts graduate Madeleine Petty, 21, reveals what it’s like to be an underwater mermaid

A student who dreamed of becoming a Disneyland princess is now an underwater performing mermaid at the Aquarium of Western Australia.

Madeleine Petty, from Perth, studied performing arts with a background in ballet before auditioning three times for the role of a fairytale princess at a Disney theme park – but she didn’t succeed.

After a few months working as a tour guide at Perth aquarium (AQWA), the 21-year-old was offered the chance to become a ‘performing mermaid’ in October 2018.

‘I definitely won’t be leaving anytime soon. It’s a challenging but fulfilling job,’ Ms Petty told FEMAIL.

She said there is a strong correlation between practicing ballet and being a performing mermaid, with both jobs requiring gracefulness, long breaths and ‘making the difficult look effortless’.

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Madeleine Petty (pictured) aspired to become a princess at Disneyland's theme park, but she is now an underwater performing mermaid at The Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA)

Madeleine Petty (pictured) aspired to become a princess at Disneyland’s theme park, but she is now an underwater performing mermaid at The Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA)

The 21-year-old was offered the gig after unsuccessfully auditioning to become a Disney theme park princess three times

The 21-year-old was offered the gig after unsuccessfully auditioning to become a Disney theme park princess three times

Ms Petty said the life of an underwater preforming mermaid begins with an early start at 5:45am.

To create a ‘magical’ mermaid look, she wears a colourful wig and waterproof make-up which takes up to 90 minutes to fix and apply.

Since Ms Petty still works a second job as a tour guide at the aquarium, the wig keeps her true identity disguised to ensure children don’t recognise her after the performance.

‘I’m a big believer in keeping the magic alive and I also think the style completes the look, because my envision of a mermaid is one with beautiful, long flowing hair in the water,’ she said.

The wig itself takes between 30 and 40 minutes to apply, which is a tricky process involving glue and a multitude of bobby pins to ensure it doesn’t move.

Ms Petty does her underwater makeup herself, a process that takes 45 minutes to complete.

Ms Petty is a super-fit and healthy mermaid as she swims with 17kg attached to her throughout the performance; the tail alone weighs 13kg

Ms Petty is a super-fit and healthy mermaid as she swims with 17kg attached to her throughout the performance; the tail alone weighs 13kg 

Ms Petty said the life of an underwater preforming mermaid begins with an early morning start of 5:45am to prepare hair and makeup. After arriving at work, she prepares her stunning tail ready for the three-hour performance which runs from 10am to 1pm

Ms Petty said the life of an underwater preforming mermaid begins with an early morning start of 5:45am to prepare hair and makeup. After arriving at work, she prepares her stunning tail ready for the three-hour performance which runs from 10am to 1pm

After arriving at work, she prepares her stunning tail ready for the three-hour performance which runs from 10am to 1pm.

‘It takes a bit of time to get into the tail because they are very tight and heavy – I often need to use oil to get into them,’ she said, adding the process often takes 20 minutes.

During the three-hour performance in the aquarium tank, the mermaids are given a 15-minute break per hour.

Ms Petty is a super-fit and healthy mermaid, swimming with 17kg strapped to her throughout each performance.

The tail weighs 13kg, but she also wears 3kg ankle weights and a one kilo weight on her lower back to ensure she doesn’t float to the top of the salt-water tank. 

‘It can be quite dangerous so you need to make sure you always know what you’re doing, because inside the tail your ankles are tied together all while being underwater,’ she said. 

'It can be quite dangerous so you need to make sure you always know what you're doing, because inside the tail your ankles are tied together all while being underwater,' Ms Petty said

‘It can be quite dangerous so you need to make sure you always know what you’re doing, because inside the tail your ankles are tied together all while being underwater,’ Ms Petty said

During the performance, the mermaids swim to the tune of a playlist they have memorised because there is nothing but silence inside the water

During the performance, the mermaids swim to the tune of a playlist they have memorised because there is nothing but silence inside the water

During the performance, two mermaids swim at the same time surrounded by sea life such as fish, stingrays and friendly sharks.

While the job is unique and rewarding, Ms Petty says it is incredibly challenging as the salt water burns her eyes and the water matches the temperature of the Indian ocean, which averages between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius.

‘I choose to stay in the water throughout the entire performance, because if I get out and wrap myself in a towel, I won’t want to go back in since it’s so cold,’ she said.

‘It was difficult to get used to being uncomfortable all the time at the start – the long breath holds, the burning of my eyes and sinuses, and being in a tail for so long.’

While submerged in the water, mermaids cannot see or hear anything and must be careful to avoid bumping into any of the creatures in the tank.

During the performance, they swim to the tune of a memorised playlist because there is nothing but silence inside the water.

MADELEINE’S MERMAID SCHEDULE 

* Wake up at 5:45am 

* Put on the wig and underwater makeup – 90 minutes

* Go to work and prepare the tail for the performance 

* Get into the tail – 20 minutes

* Performance from 10am to 1pm – 3 hours 

* Greet children after the performance 

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CHALLENGES OF BEING A PERFORMING MERMAID 

* Holding your breath underwater 

* Coping with feeling uncomfortable – burning eyes from salt water, lungs burning from no air, heavy tail 

* Swimming for three hours wearing the heavy tail 

* Not being able to see or hear anything during the performance 

* Avoiding sea creatures  

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Ms Petty doesn't plan on leaving the aquarium anytime soon and aims to study marine biology to become a shark safety diver

Ms Petty doesn’t plan on leaving the aquarium anytime soon and aims to study marine biology to become a shark safety diver

But with great challenges comes great rewards. 

After the performance, the parents of the children often share videos of the kids’ joyous reactions to seeing a mermaid for the first time.

‘I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well because I love seeing how the children react,’ Ms Petty said.

While it was difficult to learn, she can now hold her breath for 57 seconds while performing, blowing bubbles and swimming upside down.

She can also remain stationary and control her underwater breath hold for up to three minutes.

Ms Petty has no plans to leave the aquarium anytime soon and aims to study marine biology to become a shark safety diver.

For more information on performances and events at the Aquarium of Western Australia, please click here.

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