From gargling with warm salt water to steadying the nerves with a nip of whisky, the new Maria tells of the tough but encouraging music teacher who inspired her to aim for a career in the West End

Marilyn lewis and I first met during a power cut. I was sitting on a sack on stage reciting an extract from Good Night, Mr Tom in a young farmers'

competition, when halfway through my piece the lights failed. I carried on in the dark and won the competition. Marilyn was in the audience and came up afterwards to congratulate me on my "show must go on" attitude, and said if ever I wanted to have singing lessons she'd be happy to teach me. She said she could tell I had a melodic voice from the way I spoke.

A few weeks later, I started having lessons with Marilyn after school. She was a colourful character, warm and welcoming, with rosy cheeks and bright, floaty outfits. She lived on a farm in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire and was well known locally for her children's choir.

I trudged through the farmyard, leaving my muddy boots by the door. I had confidence through reciting in public, but was totally in awe of her at first. I came away from the first few lessons crying my eyes out because I thought I was good but she said I needed to work, work, work. She was tough but encouraging, and said I had a pure, sweet voice that would be good for folk singing, and if I did well I could join the choir, which I soon did.

She helped me to learn Welsh and we won lots of competitions at eisteddfodau (festivals).

Marilyn was brilliant. I owe everything to her. She had a way of teaching children to sing in beautiful unison. She was never pushy, just very strong and a fount of knowledge. She made each choir member feel special but also a team player, which has been useful to me in The Sound of Music.

I was 11 or 12 then, so I didn't know anything about technique. Marilyn taught me to breathe low and how to avoid tension. She would never let us go on stage unless we were at our peak.

She became like a second mother and took us to the eisteddfodau in her caravan. She was full of useful tips, such as gargling with warm salt water and drinking honey and lemon to kill off phlegm. Occasionally she'd add a nip of whisky to steady our nerves.

By the time I was 15 or 16, Marilyn suggested that the way ahead for me was musical theatre, but she felt that wasn't her area of expertise, so I auditioned for the National Youth Music Theatre and she helped me prepare.

She was so proud when I got in. It was the springboard to my career.

Marilyn has followed my career every step of the way, saying: "I know you're going to make it. I'll see you in the West End one day." Her attitude to rejection was "move on to the next".

Even though she was in New Zealand when I was appearing in the TV show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? she kept calling me, giving me tips. The night I won, she was so thrilled she sobbed down my voicemail. She hasn't seen the show yet. She's coming soon with three coachloads from Wales. Boy, will I be nervous that night Connie Fisher won the TV reality show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and has received critical acclaim for her performance in The Sound of Music at the London Palladium. She was talking to Pamela Coleman

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