Arlene Phillips recalls being shy, hating school and having to drink milk

Me and my school photo: Arlene Phillips recalls being shy, hating school and having to drink milk



21:30 GMT, 31 August 2012

Arlene Phillips aged four

Arlene Phillips aged four

Here I am, aged about four, at Broughton Prep school in Cheetham Hill, Manchester.

I lived in the area with my older brother Ian and younger sister Karen until I was eight, when we moved to Didsbury. Broughton was incredibly strict.

It was a private school paid for by an uncle. I hated it and lived in fear of the teachers. It was all about hard work and I dreaded going to class.

I was an odd, shy girl and there were a lot of very rich children there. You had to eat what you were given.

I didn't like milk, but I would have to stay until I'd finished it, so I spent most of the morning in the school hall. My sister, who didn’t like the school lunches, spent most of the afternoon trying to finish her lunch.

Children brought snacks for first break and it was always a competition. The better the sweets, the higher your position in the hierarchy. One girl always brought Quality Street and I always had fruit, which nobody wanted.

But when we moved to Didsbury, where my father opened a barber's shop, I went to Beaver Road Primary School, which was much more relaxed.

My parents loved taking us to the ballet and musical films. I went to dance classes in a church hall in Didsbury but then, aged nine, I found the real thing – the Muriel Tweedy School Of Dance. My class was on Saturday morning, but I stayed there all day watching the other classes. It was everything I wanted to do and be.

Choreographer Arlene Phillips

Choreographer Arlene Phillips

I passed the 11-plus and went to
Manchester Central High School For Girls, a very big school with a
strict grading system. I was put in the next to bottom class but at
least we were offered Latin and Greek – the bottom class was offered
typing! It was appalling.

Results would be read out in order, from the highest to the lowest. When you're waiting with your heart palpitating for the teacher to announce your poor results in a tone that makes you feel worthless – trust me, it's not good.

I excelled in English and drama though, thank goodness, but all I wanted to do was dance. I was a bit of a rebel.

My mother died – after a three-month illness – when I was 15. The whole family was devastated and I was completely lost. She was very gentle and she and I were very close. My father fell ill after that. He closed the shop and we moved to Prestwich.

I left school at 16 to study dance full-time at Muriel Tweedy's. Manchester City Council gave me a grant – the first to support a dancer not going to The Royal Ballet School. Afterwards I taught at Miss Tweedy's school.

When I was 22, Miss Tweedy paid for me to go to the Dance Centre in London to take some classes. On my first day, I went to watch Molly Molloy’s American jazz class and was hooked. I knew I was never going back to Manchester – I'd started a new life. When I told Muriel, she was furious, even though I vowed to pay her back!

I took every kind of awful job imaginable so I could pay for dance classes. Slowly, the girl from Manchester with holes in her shoes became Arlene Phillips.

Arlene is supporting Save The Children's UK appeal. Visit