MENTION Bing to any family with pre-school kids and you’re guaranteed to get a knowing smile in response. Not just because of its popularity with tots - Bing is the top-rated pre-school show on BBC iPlayer - but because, as one parent at the playground puts it, ‘watching Bing is like tuning in to a reality show of my life as a mum - albeit a calmer, quieter version’.

The show’s protagonists may be animals (for the uninitiated, there are bunnies Bing, Coco and Charlie, elephant Sula, panda Pando plus their carers, Flop, Amma and Padget) but they’re really just like little people: excited, tripping-over tots lapping up the messy, happy moments that make up preschool life.

It’s no coincidence that watching Bing and Sula squabble over sharing a balloon or dropping a just-baked cake sees the average parent wondering if the show’s producers have been eavesdropping on their parenting lives. For as well as 23 writers, there are two Montessori teachers, four education experts and child linguists working on each Bing script. Their aim is to create a programme that’s just as likely to teach parents a patient way to help a toddler through their tantrum as it is to give that child some quiet time in their day.

So when producers mooted the idea of Bing Live! - which is at The Lowry, Salford Quays this weekend, they called in the brightest creative stars in their field.

With Bing Live! brought to life by magical puppetry, producers turned to Tahra Zafar - the animatronics and costume maestro whose career has included working with the Queen on her first ever acting role (at the 2012 Olympics’ Opening Ceremony) as well as blockbuster shows from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Star Wars VII.

So how did Star Wars and the London 2012 Olympic ceremonies lead to Tahra designing the stage characters for Bing Live!?

“There might not sound like a lot of crossover but I’ve needed skills picked up over decades in film and theatre to work on Bing - it’s been a pretty big challenge,” the 53-year-old explains.

“We had to find a way to turn much-loved, animated animals into stage-sized beings that are large enough to tell a story in a hippodrome but also small and relatable enough for really young kids who are used to a telly-sized Bing, and perhaps one that they tuck up into bed every night.”

Tahra admits to feeling “a huge sense of responsibility” whilst working on Bing Live! because its toddler ticket-holders are “very likely to be on one of their first ever forays to a theatre.”

She said: “I grew up in the entertainment industry- my dad was a choreographer, and mum a dancer - but I still remember one of the first proper performances I saw: Pickwick with Harry Secombe in the West End. I was really tiny and obviously didn’t take it all in, but the excitement and dazzle got me interested in theatre for life.

“I’d love for Bing Live! to get kids feeling that creative ‘wow’ too. That’s why I’m really passionate about working on pre-school theatre.”

In the fast-faced, world of social media and Instagram parenting perfection, “Bing is the antithesis of all that,” believes Tahra, whose own daughter is now 14. “It celebrates the details of life, when it’s alright for things not to go well, because that throws up another opportunity. It’s the opposite of the perfect life that we’re all meant to have.”

Tahra’s career has certainly been fast-paced. Her first job was buying costumes for the English Shakespeare Company; her next was working on Phantom of the Opera, “buying one-off vintage fabrics like silk kimonos from around the world.”

Then she moved into film, working with Muppet creator Jim Henson.

Then came the call from Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle that led to “the most incredible opportunity”. As head of costume, hair and make-up for the London Olympic and Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, Tahra oversaw the completion of 23,000 costumes, dressing everyone from waving children to David Beckham and the Queen.

“I worked on the Olympic shows for 18 months,” Tahra remembers.

Then there was a certain matter of the Queen, who famously joined Daniel Craig’s James Bond to ‘fly’ into the Olympic stadium.

“I had an amazing time working with Buckingham Palace,” Tahra recalls. “I visited the Palace a number of times for meetings - I couldn’t believe little old me was going in this big entrance to see the Queen, with hundreds of tourists outside with their cameras saying, ‘who’s she?!’

“The Queen was just lovely - and one of the things I noticed most was her really beautiful skin!” Tahra giggles. “She was so interested in all of our plans - we had to make multiple copies of her outfit made, and of her exact jewellery - because of course it wasn’t actually going to be her parachuting out of a helicopter.”

Buckingham Palace might seem a long world away from CBeebies favourite Bing but the show’s puppets have also been honed to perfection. Flop alone took Tahra and her team four months to create.

“On stage, you see one finished object but many different people with different skills have been involved in creating it,” she said.

“I love that puppets, like the characters themselves, are expressive, forcing us to suspend our imagination, and all be like children.

“We’re all going faster and faster in modern life, and it’s important to have those moments to quieten down - I hope that’s what Bing Live! lets families do.”

n Bing Live, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Saturday, January 12 and Sunday, January 13. Details from 0843 208 6005 or