Skip to main content

Olwen and I weren't close, but we cared about each other. We had a love-hate relationship

My dance teacher, Olwen Grounds, was the most influential teacher in my life. I spent eight years at her dancing school, going after school once or twice a week and all day on Saturdays. I liked her because she was very, very strict. People tell me now that I'm disciplined, and that's certainly one of my strengths. I'm sure Olwen had a lot to do with that.

She must have been in her fifties. She wasn't the archetypal skinny ballet mistress with her hair in a bun. She had short hair and was very fit. She brought her little black spaniel to lessons and he was always running around getting under our feet.

I was eight when I first went to her school. I wanted to go dancing so much that I badgered my mum for ages. Eventually, she found Olwen's school for me, and she paid for it with the family allowance.

Olwen's classes were all about hard work. She was a real taskmaster and in some ways almost a bully, but I think that was how she got the best out of her students. We were split into age groups and there were only four in my class, so we'd get one-to-one training. She picked on me a lot, but it made me work hard. She used to say that you don't get anything without trying and you should never allow yourself to think you've made it, because improvements can always be made. I can't say we were close, but we really cared about each other; we had a funny love-hate relationship.

We used to give a performance every year and sometimes did pantomimes at the local town hall. We often went to Liverpool for dancing competitions, scholarships and championships. We were very proud to be members of Olwen's school;Jthere was a lot of respect for her because we felt we were so well trained. I wanted to be a ballerina but I didn't have the physical attributes, although I did get high grades in my Royal Academy of Dance exams.

I enjoyed school, too - Fairfield county in Widnes. I kept my head down and got on with the work, but it was after-school lessons that I really enjoyed. I captained the gymnastics team, played centre in the netball team and right-wing in the hockey team. In athletics, I ran the 200 metres, and hurdles, and I was champion high-jumper. I sang in the choir and enjoyed drama. Miss Edwards, our drama teacher, was fantastic. We did great productions, like Annie and The Wiz. It was great fun.

I passed nine GCSEs, but things like maths, chemistry and physics got in the way, so when I left school it was great to go and do what I loved full-time, five days a week. I got a place at the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts in Sidcup. They only took 30 girls a year and had a high standard, so I was lucky to get in. Olwen trained me well and stood me in good stead.

I wasn't worried about leaving home. I packed up and left to stay in digs with a family. I couldn't have wished for a better college life, but a lot of my friends went to sixth form and I missed out a bit on the social life.

Now, because I didn't do A-levels, I sometimes wish I was better read or had a wider vocabulary, but those things you can improve on, can't you?

Olwen died of cancer about a year into my time at college. When I was at Doreen Bird's we had pas de deux lessons. That's when I felt grandest, being lifted up in the air. I used to think, "I hope she can see me now".

My mum was supportive, too; she wanted me to do anything that would make me happy. She is a singer, but she never reached her potential. My dad wasn't so keen about me going into showbusiness because of the way the music industry had treated my mum, and she had been quite hurt by it all.

Olwen's school was also special to me because I met my two best friends for life there. They're still very important to me. They've both become teachers. One teaches PE, and the other is a dance teacher.

Singer Melanie C was talking to Judy Parkinson

The story so far

1974 Born Merseyside

1979 Southgates infants school, Runcorn

1981 Brookvale junior school, Runcorn

1982 Fairfield junior school, Widnes

1985 Fairfield high school, Widnes

1990 Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts, Sidcup, Kent

1994 Auditions for girl band which goes on to become the Spice Girls

1996 Wannabe, first Spice Girls single, released. Number one hit in 32 countries

1997 Plays herself in the film Spice World

1999 First solo album, Northern Star

2003 Releases second solo album, Reason

2003 Takes part in the Channel 4 series The Games, in a team trained by Olympic champions

September 2003 Releases single Yeh Yeh Yeh

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you