Tomb it may concern

Twenty years after Tomb Raider came out, Mark Wheeler speaks to Natalie Cook, the model for the original Lara Croft

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Manchester’s Play Expo provides the general comic convention vibe but, while it lacks the fun party atmosphere, it makes up for it in hands-on experiences and dedicates itself to gamers.

Not much can be said for Event City, the soulless warehouse-type venue splat bang next to the Trafford Centre. The complex’s Saturday traffic is bad enough on its own, but combine it with gamers wanting to test the latest games and hordes of new and soon to be parents checking out the baby and toddler event next door and it’s not pretty.

Traffic problems aside we easily wasted away several hours admiring fans’ cosplay, playing retro arcades and scores of pinball tables (all set to free-play), being awed by the new Playstation VR and speaking to original Tomb Raider model Natalie Cook, as the game is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“It’s 20 years ago, I know. I can’t believe I’m saying that now,” the mother of four admits, dressed in the same outfit she used to launch the game. “The top’s original, the guns and the holsters are original and the gloves are.

“The guns have always been a bit of a talking point for my kids. They used to try and get them out to show their friends, but I had to hide them in case anyone thought they were real.”

She didn’t realise Tomb Raider would be such a big thing initially. “My agency at the time just told me to go along to a casting and it was for a computer game character.

“It was for the launch of Tomb Raider and no one had heard of Lara Croft then. I don’t think anyone realised just how big she was going to be.

“It was an amazing experience, running round pretending to shoot people, opening up stores – which I don’t think you’d be able to do today. I loved every minute of it.”

And the other versions of Lara? “I thought Angelina [Jolie] did an amazing job in the films. Of course I would have loved to have portrayed her, but I do think they made the right choice. Lara Croft made her career, I feel. Alicia Vikander is the next up-and-coming actress and I think it’s going to do the same and catapult her career.”

Lara is a popular cosplay choice and one family – father, mother and two daughters – all dressed as her for a photo with Cook.

“They were amazing,” she says. “Lara is a role model for women. She was the first computer game to be made as a woman that had the same sort of abilities as men. She’s a powerful woman, she’s beautiful, intelligent, she doesn’t take crap from anyone.

And yesterday I had a girl come and have her picture taken and tell me: ‘I am who I am today because of Lara Croft.’ It’s amazing what she’s done for a lot of women out there.”

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