Bright young things
PUBLISHED: 11:35 17 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:35 17 February 2015
There are some truly talented young people in Hertfordshire, in fields ranging from acting to sport and music. Alice Cooke talks to new stars, those on the rise and ones about to go interstellar in 2015
Lily James will be gracing our cineman screens from March in what is set to be one of the biggest films of the year, in the title role of Disney’s Cinderella.
The Tring Park School for Performing Arts graduate first shot to fame alongside Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson in the 2012 film Wrath of the Titans, before becoming a feature of Sunday night television as the rebellious Lady Rose MacClare in Downton Abbey, a part Lily has played for three series.
The 25-year-old’s late father, James Thomson, was also an actor, and her grandmother Helen Horton, an actress, who had roles in blockbusters Alien and Superman 3. Following in their footsteps, Lily’s early roles included Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull and Ethel Brown in BBC1’s Just William.
Now she is set for international stardom (and to be every young girl’s fantasy) in the Kenneth Branagh directed Disney film, starring alongside Cate Blanchett and Hayley Atwell. Lily is also about to begin a leading role as Natasha Rostova in the BBC’s new costume drama mini-series War And Peace, and will be fighting zombies in the unlikely guise of Elizabeth Bennet, as part of a very different version of Pride And Prejudice.
Lily was a boarder at Tring Park until the age of 18 and says of her time there and beyond: ‘I am still amazed at the success I have had since leaving. It gave me the grounding and acting skills to succeed in the world of entertainment. They encouraged me to be confident in my abilities, while nurturing my dedication and drive for acting.’
Another former pupil at Tring Park School for Performing Arts is Daisy Ridley, also set to have a huge year, as she will appear as Rey in the much-aniticipated Star War Episode VII: The Force Awakens, set for release in December.
The 22-year-old actress left Tring Park in 2010, where she specialised in Musical Theatre after starting in the Prep Department in 2001 and moving on to study dance and performance foundation. She has since landed a handful of roles in televison programmes including Casualty, Silent Witness and the period drama Mr Selfridge. One of her former teachers at Tring Park, Miriam Juliver, described her as ‘a hard-working, bright young girl – she is very talented.’
The youngest of five siblings, Daisy is the first in her family to tread the boards – her mother Louise works at Barclays Bank, and her father Chris is a photographer.
The new Star Wars film directed by JJ Abrams is set around 30 years after Return of the Jedi and features original cast members including Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, The original trilogy, released in the late 1970s and early 80s, was filmed at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, while 1990s prequel The Phantom Menace was partly shot at Leavesden Studios in the county.
April Kelley is a 24-year-old actress and producer, known for independent films Soror (2014), Flotsam (2014) and Inhaler (2013), and is widely touted by those in the know to be on the way up.
She gives much credit to her upbringing in Hertfordshire: ‘The circle I grew up with during secondary school was the best. I sincerely couldn’t have asked for a more hilarious, loving and outrageous group of people to grow up with. Hertford always felt like a world of its own, I enjoyed feeling protected by it. Down West Street and along the river Lea my oldest, bestest friend Lauren and I found a sneaky hidey-hole protected by a tree which looked out over the river. We constructed our own swings, and would take picnics down there to spend hours just chatting about nonsense. Westmill Village by the Tea Room comes a very close second.’
For others wanting to follow in her footsteps, she says, ‘Spread your wings. Be prepared to work harder than you ever thought yourself capable of. Learn to nod at the right times in conversations. And above all, learn to enjoy hearing the word ‘No’ – let it fuel you to succeed.’
On her hopes for the future she says, ‘I have five dreams in life, some career-related some personal but in all honesty, if I can continue to go to bed each night excited for tomorrow and if I can look back knowing I made a positive difference then I’d be content.’
And what makes her happy now? ‘Coffee. The feeling that anything is possible. Tomorrow. Custard.’
George Ezra is one of the hottest singer-songwriters in the world right now. The 22-year-old’s debut single Budapest reached the top 10 in numerous countries last year, hitting number one in the UK, Austria, New Zealand and the Czech Republic. His first album Wanted on Voyage was released last June.
Far from growing up with the cool, bluesy sound he now graces our radios with, the former Bengeo Primary and Simon Balle School pupil says the first concert he ever to was an S-Club 7 gig. ‘But luckily for me I grew up in a house with some brilliant records knocking about, and no doubt they were influential. But more importantly in terms of getting me started I think the thing is that I was inspired.’
He says of his new-found fame that he still finds it really odd to hear his name on the radio. ‘You hear, “That was Vampire Weekend and next up, George Ezra…” and it feels like somebody has put together a private playlist and I happen to stumble upon it.’
With his career is on the up and up, George says he’s seen and done some brilliant things. ‘My current adventure is amazing! I’ve met so many lovely people, seen some properly unforgettable things and of course have been writing down everything I’ve seen. Hopefully plenty of songs will come from it.’
Among the many incredible things George has already achieved, include performing on the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2013, inclusion in MTV’s Brand New for 2014, Vevo’s DSCVR Ones to Watch 2014 and iTunes’ new artists 2014, and he’s only just getting started.
Louisa Briguglio is a St Albans flautist who last year won a Creative Hertfordshire Flame Award, which recognise the contribution to the arts by young people in the county.
The award was presented by director of UHArts, Chris McIntyre, who said of her, ‘Louisa has made an outstanding contribution to music since starting at Beaumont School. There is not an ensemble in the school that she hasn’t been a part of. She ran, arranged music for, and directed her own choir for four years, and did the same for a flute ensemble for two years. Louisa has accompanied two of the school’s choirs for both rehearsals and concerts.’
Outside school, the 18-year-old is a member of St Albans Philomusica, and has worked with the prestigious Flute School in London. She also regularly accompanies young musicians taking their Suzuki grade exams and performs in local restaurants. ‘She is an excellent role model to younger students and an outstanding musician,’ says McIntyre.
Louisa received four offers for places at conservatoires last year, something almost unheard of, and has begun her studies at the world-renowned Royal College of Music.
Pianist Adam Protz of St Albans released his delicate and beautiful four-track EP Movements in November. He has also written scores for films, animated shorts, DVDs and documentaries.
Adam remembers composing even as a young child. ‘I don’t mean like Mozart prodigiously writing his first pieces at a tender age,’ he laughs, ‘I just mean when I was playing with my toys I’d come up with little theme tunes for the good guys and the bad guys.’
If he wasn’t composing the 26-year-old says he might well be teaching instead, ‘Although,’ he adds, ‘my dad writes about beer - I’d very happily do that!’
He insists anyone can compose, and adds, ‘In a nutshell, you should promise yourself that you will pursue your dream, whatever that may be, no matter what. Keep plugging away at your music or whatever it is in your spare time. You never know when that break may come. I think too many people give up after the first few challenges. It should never stop making you happy if it truly is what you love.’
Harry Toffolo could soon be following in the dazzling footsteps of Herts Premier League and England footballers Ashley Young and Jack Wilshere, after being signed by League One Swindon Town, meaning the 19-year-old is one big step closer to achieving his boyhood dream of being a top flight footballer and playing for his country at senior level. Harry, who has played for the England U18 team, was born in Welwyn GC, grew up in Watton-at-Stone and attended Heath Mount School, before going to Richard Hale School in Hertford.
He says Hertfordshire was a great place to start out in the sport: ‘I played in Sunday leagues with my mates, but also for Stevenage Football Club Centre of Excellence, which was great fun but also such a strong start for me.’
Of the move to Swindon he says he’s ‘extremely excited’, but that he’ll back to see his parents often. ‘At least every other weekend, otherwise I’ll miss it too much!’
Apart from footballing greatness, Harry says he hopes to be able to help other people achieve their dreams. ‘I’m on the way to achieving mine, I hope, and I only managed that with the help of others – I want to be able to do the same for other people in the same position.’
George Scott is a name to look out for in cricket whites, having just been given a professional contract with Middlesex County Cricket Club.
The former Potters Bar Cricket Club and Hertfordshire youth and senior first XI player is an all-rounder – able to bat, bowl and field – who joined Middlesex CCC’s youth set up at 14. He completed his time at the club’s academy at the end of last summer and is now studying at Leeds University. The 19-year-old’s three year deal with Middlesex will see him combining his studies with first-class cricket.
In the words of his new club, ‘He already displays the ability to bat for long periods of time in the longer format, and shows great skills with the ball as an away swing bowler.’