"Would you be happy in the back row of the chorus, and not much else to do for the rest of your life, as a living?"
"Absolutely!" was my reply to a very short but definite conversation with my mum at the age of fifteen. There was never any question about me wanting to take to the stage for a living; it felt as though it was the only option in front of me, and a very natural thing for me to do as a career.
From the age of nine I started singing with my dad around the local cabaret circuit, which is now pretty much non-existent in Belfast. It was a very young age to get such an adrenalin rush from a crowd but I was hooked, and the more I did it the more I longed to do it for the rest of my life!
My weekends were mainly spent singing with my dad accompanied by big live bands, with me choosing and preparing 6-10 songs for that night's performance. After that, it wasn't long before I was acting out scenes from Singing In The Rain with my brother (who wasn't as keen as I would have liked!) so I decided to take my first drama lesson at The Golden Thread Theatre, where I played my first role... and my first male role at that!
Bugsy Malone was to be the part and show that gave me the 'acting bug'; I was in my element and there was nothing I didn't want to be involved with. I then went on to do what felt like the longest amateur touring production of Grease (which I think lasted about nine months!), alongside some other great shows like Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Annie, The Sound of Music, Our Day Out, Rockin Mikado, Fiddler On The Roof and West Side Story. All these wonderful, professional-based productions gave me not only that great buzz that I longed for but also a brilliant grounding that would help so much in my future career. It was during this time that I was approached by a local agent who was able to springboard me into the professional side of acting, where I gained even more experience from advertisements and short films.
"What about school?" I hear you ask; well I did in fact adore school, and it was Little Flower Girls School that gave me the encouragement and support to go further, guiding me along the more academic root of course, to a Performing Arts course. Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education was where I eventually studied singing, acting and dance for two years; not exactly the scenes from Fame, but it was close enough and I loved it! My first real opportunity to perform in a paid show came with Rent, which was coming to Ireland to cast a mainly Irish company. My best friend and I went along to the audition thinking it would just be great experience, when to our complete surprise we both landed the lead roles... so I was 19 and about to play one of the best female roles in the most exciting musicals of the decade!
...I have to admit, I landed on my feet; to have played Maureen in Rent as my first professional show was such an amazing start and opened many doors for my career. Despite this, it was always an ambition of mine to train at a drama school; I felt not doing so would mean I wasn't fully prepared or ready to audition for the big West End musicals. When I heard a friend had been to the Royal Academy of Music and loved it, I decided to audition too, and was fortunate enough to get a place the following year!
It was a one-year postgraduate course in Musical Theatre and was everything a drama course should be... and more! The biggest lesson I learned was not to be afraid to stand-up and hold my own on stage; up until then I had not felt totally comfortable in my skin, but during that time I developed how to just 'be'. And although I knew that I had a big voice, it wasn't until my studies that I discovered how to use it technically, soaking up the advice from such masters as Philip Quast, Joanna Riding and Julia McKenzie. It was to be the most exciting, intense year of my life and as a result of our final showcase I was noticed by an agent and was soon out auditioning for the shows I'd always dreamed of!
Before long I was on my first UK tour in a 10 month contract with The Full Monty, followed by 6 months on the road with Tommy and another 6 months with Tonight's the Night. Touring was such great fun and taught me so much, giving me a good grounding and understanding of how productions actually work (including all their ups and downs).
Following such a long period on the road, I didn't want to tour again for a while and decided to hold out for the right show to come along in the West End. During this time I was always traveling back and forth to Ireland to perform original plays and shows at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. My absolute favourite was playing the role of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz... it was a role that had always been on my wish list, and even featured the lovely Liam Nesson playing the Voice of Oz - I was in heaven!
It was while I was playing Dorothy that I saw an advertisement asking girls to audition for the role of Nancy in a new West End production of Oliver! I knew that doing well in a show like I'd Do Anything would give me the exposure to help land those auditions that I was really struggling to be seen for. I had no idea that I would remain in the competition until the semi-finals and had the absolute time of my life! It was such a joy to sing, act and dance my way through twelve huge weeks with the British public, to eventually have Andrew Lloyd Webber decide my fate!
Since I'd Do Anything it has been non-stop! I was soon offered the part of Meat in Queen's We Will Rock You, which was to be my first West End show! In the very same year I had the chance to co-present with Eamonn Holmes in a one-off entertainment programme called The Friday Show, sing to hundreds of people with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Hampton Court, judge on a Northern Irish comedy programme called Find Me The Funny, and finally go through rounds of auditioning for my dream role - Elphaba! It really was the best and craziest year of my life to date!
I count my blessing everyday and I know how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing for a living!
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