The Way I Was: From stage fright to stardom: Elaine Paige (formerly Bickerstaff), tells Nicholas Roe about her traumatic and unhappy first days at drama school

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Elaine Paige's 11th solo album, 'Romance and the Stage', will be released by RCA on 5 April.

I'D MADE a decision not to stay on at school and do A-levels, and when my father asked if I'd thought about drama school I jumped at the chance. The odd thing was, when I got there, it was nothing like I thought it would be.

This was the Sixties and I was 16 - the picture was taken at my first-ever photographic session just after I got there. I was wide-eyed and innocent, and knew nothing about any of this so I was feeling a mixture of things, but basically: 'Oh God, am I going to be able to handle this?'

It was quite a traumatic time of adjustment and, of course, this was the time when I changed my name to Paige. My real name is Bickerstaff. I can remember that first term very clearly. I hated it, in fact I thought about jacking it in and leaving after the first day because I just couldn't handle the style of the place and the way these people behaved.

It was everything I didn't know about or understand. I had come from an ordinary state education where I had lots of friends and I was the one who seemed to be outgoing and at the centre of things. I'd had a marvellous music teacher who realised I had a flair for the subject and put on rather ambitious productions: I would tell white lies to get out of regular classes to go the assembly hall and practise my songs.

But at drama school it all seemed to work in reverse for me. I felt very insecure and unconfident. It seemed false and unreal. The other students were always putting on acts, even when they weren't in class. They were all terribly self-centred and full of themselves and egotistical, and I found it very difficult to deal with.

A lot of it was like Fame, the film. It was so different from anything I could relate to. Oh yes, I'm sure I cried. I've always been good with the tears. I discussed it with my parents, I said, 'I hate it, I'm not going to like it at all.' And I think my father said, 'Well, give it a chance, you can't really make a judgement after the first day.'

I thought that was fairly good advice. I always found my parents, particularly my father, fairly wise in his judgement, and now, of course, I'm glad I listened. I fell madly in love with the place in the end and had a most wonderful time: I became completely engrossed in this new world I had discovered and it took over, and I loved it.

But I never became one of those gregarious people. Even today, when I have to go into a play-reading or walk into something brand new, I have reminiscences of those early feelings of insecurity. The odd thing is that performing itself is the thing that releases one. I think I feel more at home on stage playing a character and singing a song than I do in real life.

Many years later, after my success in Evita, I went back to my state school because I had read that it was going to be turned into a higher education college or something. It was most odd to walk through the corridors again and remember life then and how so much had changed. Some of the staff were still there and, amazingly, were delighted to see me.

In fact, they asked if I would go back and give a lecture, but I didn't. That's the silly thing: one has missed the enjoyment of a lot of things I probably could have had some fun from, something like that, for example, but my lack of confidence again got in the way. It's only really very recently that I'm beginning to feel more confident and happy with life.

(Photograph omitted)

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