A 13-year-old Scottish dancer has won the title role in London’s hit musical Billy Elliot.
by Sarah Swain
Photograph by Lenny Warren
October 11, 2010
Scott McKenzie, from Dumbarton, has just joined the cast of the West End show about the boy who swaps boxing for ballet. He is the 24th boy to play Billy in the musical based on the Oscar-nominated film – and only the second Scot.
Scott said: “It’s amazing. I don’t get nervous – sometimes you forget you’re on stage and it’s just like you’re in a rehearsal room.”
Mum Jane, 44, said: “We have had mixed emotions – we’re delighted for him as it’s what he wants to do – but we really miss him when he’s there.”
Incredibly art threatened to mirror life for the Dumbarton Academy pupil. He joined UK Theatre School in Glasgow’s West Regent Street aged just five, and later went on to take dance classes at the Jan Sutherland School of Dance in Alexandria.
But when he wanted to audition for Scottish Ballet’s prestigious junior associates programme when he was 10 his dad Peter, 50, who works in engineering support for drinks firm Diageo, initially said no.
Just like Billy’s dad in the film, he though ballet was for girls – and was worried about how other kids would react. Peter said: “It was stupid macho pride – it mirrors the Billy story. But then all the dance teachers were telling me all dance stems from ballet so I had to give in – I’m glad I did now.”
But Scott – who got down to the final 300 for the role of Oliver in the West End on TV show I’d Do Anything – has no problems with getting a ribbing from his mates. He said: “All my friends are behind me and are even going to come and see it next year.”
Scott shares the part of Billy with three other boys – but the road to stardom has been a long one. He first went to an open audition in February 2009 in Newcastle along with 400 other hopefuls.
Jane, who works as a community manager for Scottish Water, said: “He saw it on the website and said ‘can we go’? We thought ‘okay, it’s a weekend in Newcastle. He was the only boy from the auditions asked back the next day – and they said they wanted him to start training.”
Though it wasn’t guaranteed he’d actually get to play Billy, teachers were lined up to hone Scott’s talent. He worked with acclaimed dancer David Hughes from Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre every Sunday, and also had classes three nights a week with two dancers from Scottish Ballet.
He went to a summer school in London last year and in December he auditioned for the eight-week ‘Billy school’ which all boys who play the part go through – and got in.
And the news Scott and his family had been waiting for finally arrived in March. Jane said: “They sent him home for a week and phoned us the following Friday and said: “Yes, he’s got the part. It was totally amazing. He’s had a couple of injuries so they weren’t sure if they were going to cast him or not.”
Scott said: “I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it.”
For Scott’s family it has been an emotional journey, and seeing him take to the stage for the first time a few weeks ago was a big moment. Jane said: “The first night I cried. There was a really poignant part where Billy’s reading out a letter from his mother who has died. “It says: ‘I missed you growing, I missed you crying, I missed you laughing’ – that’s something I can relate to over the last year.
“We always knew he’d be away from home – but I never thought it would be at 13. But it was amazing seeing our son on a West End stage.”
Scott – who had never even visited London before getting involved in the show – now lives in the ‘Billy’ house in the capital with the other young cast members. He has ‘house parents’ and classes with tutors and only returns home for a few days twice a month to go back to his own school.
But he says he doesn’t miss his mum and dad. Scott – whose ambition is to go to the Royal Ballet School just like Billy in the show – said: “You’ve got too much to think about to be homesick.”
As reported in the Evening Times, Uddingston Grammar pupil Sam Angell, from Cambuslang, was the first Scottish boy to win the part three years ago. He was a gifted singer and actor but had to learn to dance for the role. He now teaches kids dancing at G12 studios in the West End.
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