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article imageThe Real Billy Elliot Is A Lad From The Gritty North Too

By Dieter Ebeling     Dec 19, 2000 in Lifestyle
LONDON (dpa) - Billy Elliot, the hugely successful British film about a young kid from a tough northern England mining town who becomes a ballet dancer, is based on a real person.
The movie, which looks set to become film of the year in Britain and is currently listed in the top ten box office moneyspinners in the United States, tells the story of a young lad from Barnsley in Yorkshire who, instead of joining the other kids to play football, decides to take up ballet dancing instead.
The heartwarming tale of his struggle against prejudice and obstacles is moving audiences to tears and reaping an overwhelmingly positive response from the critics.
When scriptwriter Lee Hall asked dancers at London's Royal Ballet at Covent Garden if there was anybody who came from a mining background, 33-year-old Philip Mosley came forward. "Yes, a large part of Billy Elliot's story is also my own story," says Mosley, massaging his right calf.
"Boys don't dance," his mother once said. She was a seamstress, sewing underpants and tights for one of Britain's most well-known High Street stores and his father was a plumber. Philip is one of seven children - he has four brothers and two sisters. His eldest brother was a miner.
According to Philip Mosley, "I'm sure that there was no other ballet dancer around for the next 100 kilometres."
In the film, which has been nominated for the European Film Prize, Billy Elliot dances, at first in secret, without the knowledge of his father, but in real life three-year-old Philip Mosley was allowed to accompany his sister to ballet lessons. "I didn't tell anyone at school. They would have made fun of me.
Billy's ballet teacher - in the film as in real life - is Rozalin, a notorious chain smoker. Just like Billy in the film, Philip could be seen dancing up and down the street. But at first Philip did not want to take up ballet but tap-dance.
"I wanted to be the second Gene Kelly, I wanted to do tap-dancing. I had never even seen a ballet in my life," says Philip.
When Philip was 11 years old and on the very day he was admitted to the ballet boarding school of the Royal Opera House, teachers announced that a trip to London to see Tschaikovsky's "Swan Lake" was being organized. Philip was puzzled: "What's Swan Lake?" he asked.
On hearing Philip's thick Yorkshire accent, pupils of the White Lodge Royal Ballet School - there were eight in his year - soon realized he was from the provinces and, unusually, from a working class background.
"I told nobody what my parents were doing. One of the girls was a real lord's daughter," according to Philip. His teachers were unconcerned about where he came from.
"I know they weren't interested in my background. At White Lodge, everybody with talent has a chance regardless of his background," says Philip.
Not that Philip has only happy memories of his time at school, where dancing was only one part of the curriculum.
"I loved the dancing, because that's what I wanted to do, but I suffered from being so far away from home. I was really homesick. Never ever had anyone from my family travelled so far." Even today, Philip is the only one in his family who does not live in Barnsley.
Since the release of Billy Elliot, more British boys than ever before have signed up to attend ballet classes. They are no longer afraid of being labelled as homosexuals or weaklings.
"The message is that you can achieve everything if you really want it," says Philip Mosley, now approaching the end of his dancing career. "The professional life of a dancer is short."
Has Philip any regrets? "Only that I never did tap-dancing," he says.
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