How to Actually Make Tracy Island (and Finish It Too)




About: I like telly...I work in telly, I watch a lot of telly and most of the crafty things I make are normally telly related just so you know. I also like retro things.

This isn't an Instructable on how to make the infamous Tracy Island out of papier mache a la Anthea Turner, Perfect Housewife Extrodinare, this is just an added guide on the practicalities of making your own. It is good fun and very rewarding once you've finished but it takes FOREVER...seriously it took me four months to complete it. This was due to collecting all the various bits and bobs, waiting for it to dry, adding bits on after it had dried, having a short break inbetween because I couldn't bear to look at it for a while  and for me to be completely happy with the final product. This isn't a project to take lightly or one that you can do in a week, it takes a lot of patience and determination but it's completely worth it at the end.

If you want to make Tracy Island you should go here: and then here for part two: for the step-by-step "here's one I made earlier" guide demonstrated by Anthea Turner herself.
Or you can find a VHS copy on Ebay like I did (although it is exactly the same as the Youtube videos)
Or print off this PDF of the original fact sheet  

After you have watched the videos in their entirety several times over and you've psyched yourself up to devote your time, blood sweat and tears into making this monumental piece of history from your childhood, dig out your Thunderbirds models from the attic then come back here and I shall share my hints and tips on how to actually make this without dissolving into hysterical fits of tears due to frustration.

NB. on the whole Anthea Turner explains how to make Tracy Island very well, my guide is meant to accompany the original footage and to give you hope and a sense that there is actually light at the end of the tunnel when you're feel tempted to throw your big mess of soggy scrunched up newspaper out of the window!

Step 1: Getting Started - the Matterials

After you've watched the original Blue Peter footage and you're going on your scavenging hunt bear in mind the following details:

My Tracy Island ended up being roughly 53cm from left to right  x 50cm from the base of the mountains to the end of the runway so make sure you have a large enough box to use as a base. Originally I made my base far too small and had to keep extending bits as I went along. If I did it again I would draw the initial shape of the island onto the cardboard but not cut it out until all the papier mache is complete. This way if you do need to extend it out a bit further it's not the end of the world. This will also help prevent the endeds from curling up when they get sodden with flour glue! 

DON'T USE A TISSUE BOX FOR THE HANGER FOR THUNDERBIRD 2!!! I cannot stress this enough. I wanted my Tracy Island to be as authentic and close to the Blue Peter version as possible so I followed the instructions as closely as possible but I don't buy tissues in boxes like that any more (I just use bog roll usually). At the time of making this I was working at a hearing aid shop and we used to get stock deliveries in lots of different sized cardboard boxes and there was one that was the same shape and size of a tissue box so I brought it home with me and I'm very grateful that I did. If I had used a normal tissue box, it would have caved in and disintegrated due to the shear weight and sogginess of the papier mache and I would have cried lots! 

I started off by using a large cream pot for Thunderbird 1's launch pad but ended up down grading to a smaller one half way through. This was mainly because I felt that it was more aesthetically pleasing in the end and a nicer fit for Thunderbird 1.

When you've got these main ingredients you can start getting messy with the mache (but please please put down LOTS of newspaper before hand and possibly cover the whole room in it because the flour glue will get everywhere!)

Step 2: Things to Remember Whilst Macheing

As Anthea says: this is the fun part...and it was, and it was messy, and it was awesome! 

After trying to stick on about three sheets of newspaper I gave up using a paintbrush to assist me with the layering of the papier mache and just scrunched the newspaper into aa ball, dipped the whole thing into the bowl of flour glue,
 loosely wrung it out and slapped it straight onto the base. It's so much easier that way and a lot more messy and fun! 

Other things you must make note of: When Anthea Turner says it took two days in the airing cupboard for her Tracy Island to dry out SHE WAS LYING! There is no way that the volume of newspaper vs the thickness of the thing vs the flour and water paste (that will additionally be all over your table/carpet/blinds/dog) will be able to dry in two weeks let alone two days! I went to stay with my Dad for a week and a half over Christmas, popped this into the airing cupboard before I left and it was still a bit squidgy in the middle when I got back. 

Also when you are leaving your Tracy Island to dry (Or even when you're lashing on the papier mache) it is a very good idea to reinforce the parts that might be a bit structurally weak. I'm talking mainly about the hanger for Thunderbird 2 and the cave at the back. Use items that will fit snuggly into the holes. For instance I used a bottle of bubble mix to slot into the hanger and the B&M equivalent to the Ped Egg that I used once before I realised that I was actually just grating the manky stuff from the soles of my feet (now there's a lovely mental image for you!) to keep the shape of the cave rigid whilst it dried out.

Step 3: Other Things to Think About

The most infuriating thing (but it's equally the most reassuring one) is that if you're not entirely happy with the way your papier mache turned out you can just add bits or hack of bits with a stanley knife after it's dry. I ended up cutting bits off the hill on top of Thunderbird 2's hanger and I wasn't happy about the shape of my mountains so I spent ages fixing them up and making them look lovely. It's much better to take your time and make it look wonderful than to do a rushed job and regret it later. 

Once you have finished the papier macheing bit treat yourself to something nice, you've done the hardest part and you deserve rewarding! 

After having a little break from it and you've decided to plough on and finish it off you will then realise that no one in their right mind would have brown and green matt emulsion lying around their homes.  My tip to you would be to go into any DIY store and pick up some tester pots of paint. I am a huge fan of these, especially the ones from Wilkos because thy're so cheap (£1 a pot) and they have the added advantage that you wont be left with loads of weird coloured paint that you're never going to use again.

I also painted the inside of launchpads because it looks pretty.

Step 4: The Finishing Touches

Don't worry, you're very nearly there...

When making the palm trees, I found that it was better to double up the thickness of the pipe cleaners by bending them in half. They were a better length that way and much more sturdy too.

I decided to make the runway better than Anthea Turner's half hearted attempt and decided to actually make mine raise up and down.  I attached a bit of hinged card to the end of the runway that was nearest the entrance to the hanger and stuck it down onto the base. I then got a thin strip of cardboard which I stuck down to the underside of the runway about quarter of the way down from the other end. To finish it off I made another hinged piece of card and stuck that so the hinge was pointing away from the rest of the island and the flap catches on the strip of cardboard (pictured above).

I honestly think that my home made Tracy Island looks 100 times better than those horrible plastic things that you could buy in the shops at the time. Saying that however, the one thing my friends who had an official one when they were younger told me about was the buttons with sounds that was located in the cave round the back. I was always secretly in awe of this feature (but would never admit it to them) however last year I came across a little gizmo in Forbidden Planet that would change everything forever...a Thunderbirds In Your Pocket toy with buttons for different sounds! (pictured above). Honestly, I ran to the till and then headed straight back home to play with it, completely forgetting to buy the things that I went into town for in the first place! I'm guessing if I had this to start with I would have taken the keyring off, made the cave at the back big enough to accommodate it and then stuck it down or just position it in there. That way you have the best features of the electronic Tracy Island modified into your prettier and more exciting home made one! Result!

Step 5: And You're Done!

Congratulations, you now have your very own Tracy Island! 



    • Comfort Food Challenge

      Comfort Food Challenge
    • Epilog X Contest

      Epilog X Contest
    • Toys Contest

      Toys Contest

    6 Discussions


    1 year ago

    I have made my own Tracey Island following the Blue Peter instructions but now I'm struggling to find models to fit in it! Which ones do you have?


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Why thank you. It was great fun to make as well and I'm particularly proud of the adjustable runway.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Watching old Blue Peter clips is a dirty habit of mine that takes up a large majority of my time!

    And I never got around to making it as a kid so thought I would make up for my lost childhood. Hee hee.