Elton? My mate with a big house

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Returning Billy Elliot star has failed to impress Sheffield schoolmates with celebrity tales. Adi Bloom reports.

On Saturday night, he was collecting flowers and plaudits, and taking calls from Elton John. On Monday morning, he was collecting new textbooks, and taking down homework assignments.

James Lomas, who for the past 18 months has been one of three teenagers performing the title role in Billy Elliot: The Musical, in London's West End, took his final bow on Saturday night.

The 15-year-old's voice has broken and he is no longer able to play Billy, a 12-year-old miner's son with a love of ballet. So, this week, he rejoined Year 11 at Ecclesfield comprehensive, in Sheffield, to work towards seven GCSEs, including music and drama, which he will sit next summer.

It is, he says, a significant change from the tuition he and other child actors received in London. "There were only six of us, so you couldn't get away with talking," he said. "Now, I feel like the boffin in class. They're used to talking, and I'm used to knuckling down and working."

He is also adjusting to his new status: "At first, I had all these girls asking for my autograph. I was, 'what? You actually want my autograph?' But I've no problem with girly fans. Though my mates will probably be jealous."

In fact, his sudden rise to stardom took most of his friends by surprise. He had shown only a mild interest in dance and drama, and had failed to be cast in a local amateur production of Oliver!

But 15-year-old Erika Wilkinson insists that her classmate is still the same. "He's not changed at all," she said. "He's been Billy Elliot. But he's James now."

He returns with a new set of friends. Jamie Bell, who played Billy in the original film, offered tips for surviving bullies. Stephen Daldry, the show's director, called to find out how his first day went.

And he has been for dinner at home with Sir Elton John, who composed the show's score. The singer also rang him from America to apologise for being unable to attend his last-night party. Erika is unimpressed: "At first it was weird, when he talked about celebrities. But I have friends outside school. It's just the same. Only his friends have bigger houses."

Sheena Cogle, Ecclesfield's deputy head, is impressed with James's readjustment to classroom life. "Basically, he's a down-to-earth child," she said. "Obviously, getting standing ovations is different to getting a good grade for your homework. But James doesn't do anything half-heartedly.

Now he's back, he'll get down to work."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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