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My best teacher

I was always mad about dancing and I nagged my mum to let me leave my primary in west London to go to a specialist school. She didn't think I would get in. But I got a scholarship and went to the Arts Educational school in Chiswick when I was 10.

It's a ballet-oriented school, and at that stage I did not think I could sing at all. I stayed five years and did my GCSEs. I did not get on with a lot of the teachers but the ballet teacher, Miss Delanion, was special. She was very strict, and she pinched your bum, and shouted. But we loved her for it because she knew how to get the best out of us. She was in her fifties, I would think, but she looked incredibly good for her age, and she could still kick her legs up to her ears .

She was incredibly keen for us to do well, and after she'd shouted at us she could always relax the whole room with a joke. She sometimes threw me out of her classes. I didn't realise it at the time, but I think she thought that I had talent and got frustrated with me because I didn't push myself hard enough.

Miss Delanion really cared, and there were two or three of us she took under her wing. She used to say "you're my best girls" and she made you believe it. She had faith in me even when I didn't have faith in myself.

When I left at 15, I wasn't sure I wanted to carry on. I was on a very strict regime which kept me at school until 6.30 every night when all my friends from outside the school were having so much fun. I thought dancing was too much like hard work and was going to give it up, but fortunately Miss Delanion persuaded me I would be doing the wrong thing. She convinced me I had talent, and gave me self-belief. She died of cancer last year and so, sadly, she was never able to come and see me on the West End stage. But I shall always be grateful to her. She was the most special teacher I ever had.

Then I went to the London Studio Centre, where I felt like an outcast at first. At my old school, I'd been one of the best dancers. Now hre I was, just one of many really talented people, and I didn't even make it into the top classes. I still did not think I could sing and, because I'm mixed race, I felt a lot of the repertoire wasn't suitable for me. But then I sang a small part in Sweet Charity in the second year show, and one of the singing teachers, Philip Foster, said he wanted me in his class.

He found me stuff to sing that I was more comfortable with and persuaded me I had a voice. He had a lot of faith in me, and so did Ian Dewar, my drama teacher, who is totally eccentric. He kept talking me up and telling me I was going to be a star and I didn't believe him.

In my last year there we put on a showcase and Pippa Allion, the casting director of The Lion King, came along. Afterwards she invited me for an audition. I thought I was going for a minor dancing and singing role in the ensemble. I figured it takes you 10 years to work up to the main part.

Then she asked me to learn a song which Nala, the leading lady, sings in the production. I went back for about seven more auditions and then I got the part. I'm still pinching myself. Philip and Ian have been to see the show and they have both been very supportive.

But I still wish Miss Delanion had lived to see me.

Singer and dancer Javine Hylton was talking to Nigel Williamson


1982 Born in west London

1987 Attends St Clements and James CE primary school, Kensington

1992 Transfers to the Arts Educational school, Chiswick

1997 Attends the London Studio Centre where she plans a career in dancing

1998 Appears in Dance Overture at the Hackney Empire, and at the Peacock Theatre the following year

1999 Tours with the band James as a backing dancer and singer; appears in pop videos with Tom Jones and the Honeyz

2000 Graduates from London Studio Centre with a diploma in theatre dance; makes West End debut in Walt Disney's The Lion King, playing Nala, one of the show's principal roles

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