A DRAMA academy in Leigh, which has produced a host of celebrities, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Vanda Morgan has been running the Morgan Academy of Performing Arts since November 1974, and has helped thousands of students pursue their dream career in dance, drama and singing.
The performing arts academy teaches ballet, tap, modern, jazz, singing and drama, and achieves a 100 per cent success rate from exams entered throughout the year.
Famous graduates include Busted’s James Bourne, Kierston Wareing, who played Kirsty Branning in Eastenders, Kara Tointon, who played Dawn Swann in EastEnders and her sister, Hannah Tointon, of Hollyoaks and Inbetweeners fame.
The school has many past and present students working professionally in shows such as Les Miserables, Saturday Night Fever, My Fair Lady, Cats, Whistle Down the Wind and Swan Lake.
Vanda, 63, said: “I find it extremely rewarding teaching all the different types of students who have potential and inspire you. We’ve had some very good students who have gone on to do great things.
“Many go on to pursue careers in musical theatre and drama. We have a rich area for talent and Essex has had a lot of success.
“I remember all of them taking part in shows – theywere all lovely children with sensible parents. They knew at a young age they wanted to pursue this career and their parents kept them grounded, which is very important. I’m extremely proud of what they have achieved.
“James Bourne has done very well with his writing and the shows he’s been doing, and now he’s going on to do a Busted and McFly reunion. I’ve invited him to become a patron of the academy.
“Kara Tointon is already a patron, and I’ve seen her perform in plays in London. I still keep in touch with them all.”
Pupils are encouraged to audition for both professional and amateur shows, and are given advice and guidance if they choose to pursue performing arts as a career.
Vanda said: “If that’s the way they want to go, sometimes they are guided towards an agent, otherwise we prepare them for college, which is where they develop. If it wasn’t for schools like mine locally, the colleges wouldn’t have such students apply – they’ve got the pick of the cream.
“There are always some who you think could make it. It’s difficult to say.
"Sometimes when they reach the age of 15 or 16 they change their minds and decide not to pursue a career in the arts, and others, who didn’t previously want to, may reach that age and decide they would rather go down the arts route than formal education.”
After 40 years, Vanda is as passionate as ever, and hopes to expand the academy in Fillebrook Avenue, and welcome more students by moving to a larger building this year.
She said: “I’ve no intention of retiring, and I enjoy it every single day. The day I don’t enjoy doing it will be the day to give up, but I am still very motivated and have lots of enthusiasm.
“We’re hoping to get more studios, but it’s all in the pipeline at the moment.
We’ve just about outgrown where we are at the moment and need more space to expand.
“I’ve always had a passion – I knew at the age of nine years old that I wanted to be a dancing teacher.
I’ve not starred in anything myself – I’ve always been in the back - ground, and that’s where I prefer to be!”