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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 12:20 GMT
So you wanna be a pop star?
Aml, Nikita, Lyneah and Sarah: Impromtu show
TV's Popstars has inspired a nation of closet performers. But what is life like for the wannabes training for stardom? BBC News Online's Julie Cramer found out

Behind the council flats and traffic congestion of East Acton in London, Barbara Speake's Stage School offers a tentative door to fame.

They may not become the next Michael Jackson or Martine McCutcheon, but the 140 pupils are all aiming to "make it" in the competitive worlds of stage, TV, film or pop stardom.

We're a little spoonfed here, but it does gives us our first bite of the real showbiz world

Lyneah, 15

Entering the school's scuffed corridors you want it to be like Fame, with shiny faced youngsters bursting into well-choreographed routines - but of course, it isn't.

They are ordinary schoolchildren, from ordinary backgrounds, whose parents have paid £3000 a year in the hope that one day their young Ricky or Britney might become a star.

Hall of fame

Head of the school is Miss Speake herself, a sprightly 72-year-old with a penchant for leopard print and swathes of gold jewellery.

She founded the school more than 50 years ago, as a teenager just out of ballet school.

Barbara Speake Stage School
It costs up to £1,000 a term to attend
"Those who can, do and those who can't teach," says the lady who never had any desire to perform, but has dedicated her life to training others.

She ranks her establishment among London's finest stage schools, which include the Italia Conte, Ravenscourt and Sylvia Young academies.

Her pink office, off a corridor adorned with pictures of Shirley Temple (her idol), is full of reminders of her most successful pupils.

There's the actor Jack Wilde of Oliver fame, comedian Brian Conley, model Naomi Campbell ("quiet girl, but a pushy mother") and her most favourite protege of all, singer Phil Collins.

Miss Speake
Miss Speake in front of her personal "hall of fame"
"He doesn't really realise his own fame. And he's been very good to me" says Miss Speake, pointing to the generous present of a gold and diamond encrusted watch.

Phil's mother, Mrs Collins, another elegant lady dressed in a hint of gold lamé, sits in the office next door and runs the Barbara Speake talent agency. Past pupils are kept on the books, as are others looking for jobs "in the business".

The pupils who wander the corridors in smart school blazers attend lessons in the morning and spend two hours in the afternoon singing, dancing or acting.

It's not quite the gruelling schedule for future stardom I had imagined.

Never-ending auditions

What is tough, however, is the continuous rounds of auditions that most of the children go through to get their bit parts in the next big stage musical, an upcoming music awards show or the latest McDonald's ad.

The ITV hit Popstars, which tracked the story of the making of a manufactured pop group, had created as much of a stir at the school as it had among the nation's viewers.

Nikita Stamion
Nikita has been to hundreds of auditions
The group of children I spoke to, aged 13 to 15, loved the programme and identified with the often tortuous process of performing before grim-reaper judges.

Nikita Samion, 15, has been at the school for 11 years and attended hundreds of auditions.

"I still get nervous, because you never know what they're going to be like. But if you don't get it it's no use crying, you just have to pick yourself up and start again," she says.

Nikita has danced before royalty and wants to go on to do a diploma in performing arts.

Star quality

An impromptu classroom poll reveals that most of the pupils would really like to be popstars "and wear glamorous clothes and be famous", but they've already seen enough of the unglamorous side not to be too starry-eyed.

Fifteen-year-old Aml Ameen has been at the school for eight years.

Phil Collins
Famous Phil is a past pupil

He's a well spoken boy more impressed with the fancy footwork of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly than any strutting boy bands.

Aml has danced "right next to Michael Jackson" at the Brit Awards and appeared in the musical Oliver, but he also wants to study philosophy ("like Darius from Popstars") and business so he has something to fall back on.

One of Miss Speake's current favourites is Lyneah Johnson, 15, who she says is one of those rare youngsters with obvious star quality.

The polite and demure Lyneah, with big brown eyes and a powerful voice, has been a backing singer for Westlife and performed at the children's Brit Awards.

"I want to develop as an all-rounder, but singing is my first love," says Lyneah.

"We're a little spoonfed here, but it does gives us our first bite of the real showbiz world."

Aiming high

The school is crammed full of young hopefuls, taken from as young as four and nurtured up the age of 16, after which time they may go on to further study, land a dream contract, or end up stacking shelves in Sainsbury's.

Their youthful exuberance is infectious.

Beyond the dressing rooms stacked high with feather boas, tutus and spangly costumes, one group is only too happy to break into a delightful harmony of Going to the Chapel.
Enter the real Popstars who are aiming for fame

To my untrained ear, it sounds very professional - and as good as anything on Popstars.

"Only about 50 per cent of our pupils will continue to work in show business in some shape or form after they leave," says Miss Speake.

It seems a decent tally considering the competition.

But only a small sprinkling - if any - will achieve anywhere near the kind of fame or riches of a Spice girl.

You want them to make to it, you really really do.

But if these wannabes want to be "somebodies", you know they will have a long journey - and many hard knocks - ahead of them.

Is this the future of the music industry?
See also:

05 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Popstars win ratings game
04 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Celebrations for winning Popstars
26 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Bets on for Popstars hit
23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Popstars wannabe gets second chance
02 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Pop wannabes battle for fame
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