‘We want to give everyone a chance ...’

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HAVING a child who wants to step into the spotlight isn’t exactly unusual, and there are plenty of stage schools offering to nurture blossoming talent.

Here in Milton Keynes, there is a new name on the school of arts block – the Gates and Wilkes Academy.

Gareth Gates spoke exclusively to SAMMY JONES about his new venture...

“It is a performing arts academy focusing on the three disciplines – singing, dancing and acting,” Gareth says, explaining the basics of his new partnership with fellow stage star Jonathan Wilkes.

Between them, Gareth and Jonny have an enviable track record; following his appearance on the 2002 debut of Pop Idol, Gareth topped the pop charts and garnered a host of awards.

In more recent years, he has stormed the West End stage, starring in Les Miserables and Joseph, and will soon begin touring with a new production of Hair.

And of course, he has just spent the Christmas season in Aladdin at MK Theatre.

Jonny has shown his versatility by taking the lead in major productions as varied as Godspell and the Rocky Horror Show.

He also embarked on a world tour with a childhood friend of his, by the name of Robbie something or other...

Now Gareth and Jonny have joined forces to give something back to the next generation.

“Jonny’s wife Nikki and my wife Suzanne will both be very involved too, they are dancers themselves and have toured with big American artists on world tours, so they know lots about the industry.”

Artiststhey have worked with include Beyonce, Cher and Take That.

The Gates and Wilkes Academy will open its doors here in the new city in mid-February.

It’ll be a new centre for Milton Keynes, but actually the brand is working successfully elsewhere – with capacity attendences in Stoke, Swindon and Bradford.

While the once-weekly, three hour sessions will teach artistic disciplines, there is another equally important side for Gareth too. “Confidence,” he says, simply.

“When I was younger having something like this would have been great for me and my confidence, certainly speech wise.

“I have to really focus or have my coach on the phone with interviews. However, I am a lot better and it is the industry that has given me that.

“We are hoping we can give similar positivity to kids.

How do you teach confidence?

“It is just about giving these kids a chance and an opportunity,” he explains.

“We’ve got so many contacts in the industry between us, that we can give opportunities they would otherwise probably never have.

“At the last Soccer Aid football tournament, some of Jonny and Nikki’s kids from Swindon and Stoke were used for the half term entertainment,” he says, giving an example of those opportunities.

“They came on to the pitch in front of 90,000 people and sang and danced. It’s these sorts of things that I think sets us apart from other performing arts schools.

“We will get in famous actors, singers and dancers to teach and take masterclasses – these are things we pride ourselves on.”

And Gareth promises he won’t simply put his name to the school and take a back seat.

He will be as hands-on as his own hectic work schedule allows, and the dance classes will always be taken by either Nikki or Suzanne – keeping everything in check.

“It’s important to Jonny and I.

“Our wives want the school to run every bit as smoothly as we do, and I’ll be there as often as I can as well.”

Ultimately though, it is hoped the stars of this venture will be the youngsters who come through the doors, and those behind the centre want the academy to be a place everyone can have access to.

“It’s very affordable at just £15 per week, and that was always important to us – that we can accomodate anyone who wants to have a go.”

Equally, you won’t have to audition to get in.

“We just want everyone to know that you can have opportunities, even if you are shy or have those confidence issues.

“We can help you with that too,” Gareth promised.

“The Gates and Wilkes Academy is very much about giving everyone a chance...”

The Academy will operate every Monday from 4.30 to 7.30pm during term time, teaching three age groups, from three to 18 years.

Each group will receive an hour of dance tuition, an hour singing lesson and an hour of acting coaching per week.

The academy is now open for registration, and spaces are limited/

> For more information and class availability, email gateswilkesacademy@hotmail.com or visit www.gateswilkesacademy.com