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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 11:39 GMT
Jamie's dance to fame
Billy Elliot
Jamie Bell has won widespread acclaim for Billy Elliot
Success has come swiftly for 14-year-old Jamie Bell, the star of hit British movie Billy Elliot.

A year ago, the boy from Billingham, Teeside, was an unknown school pupil from the north of England.

Now, thanks to his acclaimed performance as the aspiring ballet dancer in Billy Elliot, the teenager is billed as a talent for the future.

Bell has won trophies at the Evening Standard Film Awards and British Independent Film Awards.

It wasn't because there wasn't talent out there but the particular combination of characteristics we needed was pretty specific

Director Stephen Daldry

He won the best actor Bafta and is nominated for the same prize at the Screen Actors Guild awards.

Bell is the discovery of Billy Elliot's director Stephen Daldry. The story of his rise to fame is similar to that of his character.

In the movie, Billy tries to keep his wish to become a dancer from his family and friends because it would be considered "sissy" in his tough mining community.

Bell too kept his passion for dancing, which began at the age of six, from his friends - until the release of the film.

Bell was discovered after what began to seem like a fruitless nationwide search of over 2,000 children by Daldry.

"It occurred to us a few times that the film might be impossible to make because we couldn't cast it," said Daldry in a recent interview.

"It wasn't because there wasn't talent out there but the particular combination of characteristics we needed was pretty specific.''


Daldry wanted a boy aged between 11 and 13 who could act as well as dance, who hadn't been to stage school - and had a northern England accent.

Jamie Bell fitted the bill. Daldry described him as having a "soul, both charming and troubled".

Billy Elliot
Bell and his character tried to keep dancing a secret

He also proved himself tough, surviving the gruelling audition process and then keeping his cool in the two-month delay before learning that he had won the part.

He was at home in Billingham, near Ellington where Billy Elliot is set, with his mother when he finally got the call.

Bell lives with his mother and his sister. His father left before he was born.

He was first introduced to dancing when he watched his older sister at her own classes.

It was enough to inspire the little boy into thinking that he could do just as well as the girls - and probably better.

His mother bought him some dance shoes and enrolled him in classes but he tried to keep it secret from his friends for fear of being teased.

Billy Elliot
Billy joins in with the girls - just as Bell did

Unfortunately, his sister let the cat out of the bag and, as predicted, his life was made hell by some members of his school.

Still, those days and thoughts of hiding his talent are now long gone for Bell - as are the taunts.

Since making Billy Elliot, Bell has earned the respect of his peers and gone on to star in the ITV drama Close and True with Robson Green.

However, in a recent TV interview, Bell said his immediate plan was to concentrate on studying for his GCSE exams.

When they are over, he will then consider his next move.

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See also:

04 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Award for Billy Elliot star
31 Jan 01 | Entertainment
The Bafta nominations
30 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Billy Elliot star up for Hollywood award
04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
London critics back Billy
31 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Tiger fights Gladiator in Bafta race
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