It's not every day you get to jam with a British rock star. But I've just spent 40 minutes being instructed in the finer points of the acoustic guitar by diminutive Scottish pop singer KT Tunstall.

Okay, so the flesh-and-blood Tunstall wasn't actually in the room with me, but my clumsy efforts at learning the guitar were guided by her dulcet tones via a taped editorial.

I'm at the British Music Experience (BME), the newest, whiz-bang interactive exhibition at one of the world's most over-the-top music venues, London's O2.

Occupying more than 22,000 square feet on the top floor of the O2 "bubble", the permanent exhibition features popular music from 1945 through to the present, and combines cutting-edge audiovisual technology with some of the planet's most coveted music memorabilia.

More than four years in the making and opened just a few days before we visited by the equally flamboyant London Mayor Boris Johnson, the BME is a treasure trove for music lovers of every stripe.

From the era-defining sounds of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols, through to stadium-filling giants like Queen and more recent crowd-pleasers such as the Spice Girls, Coldplay and Amy Winehouse, this interactive post-war British music history exhibit had my jaw on the floor.

Certainly, I was amazed at how much musical talent this small island has spawned over the past 60 years. But mostly I was blown away by the fact that this British riff on the American Music Hall of Fame is not so much a stuffy museum as a big, fat, shiny playground.

It's the brainchild of music impresario Harvey Goldsmith, who produced Live Aid and has worked with everyone from Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen.

Goldsmith has obviously called in some favours, because around $15 million worth of memorabilia has been donated by the artists' representatives, ranging from Jimi Hendrix's fringed suede jacket and Keith Richards' customised 1968 guitar to Freddy Mercury's white jumpsuit.

I swoon over Ginger Spice's Union Jack dress (how could anyone have such a tiny waist?), while Boy George's wonderfully androgynous Karma Chameleon outfit elicits shrieks of laughter.

The BME is divided into seven exhibition zones which radiate out like the spokes of a wheel, starting with rock 'n' roll and skiffle, a genre which, being the musical Philistine that I am, barely registers on my radar.

Each decade has its own dedicated "room", and we spend hours making our way through the British Invasion, prog rock, the New Romantics, reggae, "Madchester", punk and BritPop.

Interviews with the biggest stars of the day are available at the touch of a button, while the "anatomy of a pop star" exhibit reveals how many behind-the-scenes people it takes to make a successful rock star.

Throughout the ages, politics have shaped musical influences, so it's appropriate that with the tunes and the memorabilia, we get a hefty dose of Thatcherism, unionism, class gaps and the 70s Rock Against Racism movement.

One of the highlights of the experience is the "dance the decades" booth, where a virtual lesson encourages you to bust a move. My only complaint is that the space is exposed to nosy passersby, who get to see just how unco-ordinated we are.

Suitably embarrassed, we escape to the Gibson Interactive Studio, where I channel my inner rock chick with the aforementioned acoustic guitar lesson. I also spend way too much time in the recording studio, signing my heart out to Dusty and the Bee Gees.

Fortunately every instrument comes with earphones, so you can play Stairway to Heaven all day without annoying your neighbour.

Having exhausted our meagre musical talents, we're ushered into the grand finale, a five-minute virtual concert which splices together snippets of some of the UK's biggest acts, including the Beatles, Oasis and the Sex Pistols, and projects them around the room. We leave feeling as though we've just had front-row seats at the world's best-ever gig.

It doesn't matter if it's Cliff Richard, David Bowie or Leona Lewis who rocks your world; the BME's eclectic collection of music and memorabilia is so well-designed and such a laugh that it makes the schlep out to the wasteland of North Greenwich worth it.

The best souvenir, though, is the smart entry ticket, which allows us to download information from each exhibition when we get home, as well as holographic images of our feeble performance efforts. On second thoughts, perhaps some things are best left on holiday...

Sharon Stephenson travelled with the assistance of Air New Zealand and Visit Britain