Niamh Perry: A superstar is born
'I'd Do Anything' star was once crippled with shyness
She appears the most confident contestant on BBC TV's I'd Do Anything, but not long ago Niamh Perry was crippled with shyness because she suffered from teenage spots.
"The worst thing I've had to overcome in my life is acne" says the 17-year old from Bangor, County Down. "My skin was really bad. From age 13 to 15, I had severe acne all over my face. It really dragged my confidence down. I used to get very shy in front of people and wouldn't go out much. It had to be resolved through a very strong course of medication, and it's cleared up now.
"It's something most teenagers suffer from at some stage. In a way it shows that, although I'm now on a TV show, I suffer from the same things as everyone else.
"Also when I was younger, I was very skinny and looked lanky. But now that I'm starting to become more comfortable within myself, I realise that you can't really change who you are and you have to embrace what you've got.
"I'm quite tall and I've got really pale skin. So, instead of covering myself in fake tan, which makes me look fake and doesn't take to my skin anyway, I'm learning to embrace the pale skin and accept me for who I am. I'm just happy to be pale."
Niamh is now one of the hot favourites among the eight girls left in the contest to land the role of Nancy in a forthcoming production of the musical Oliver! in London's West End. Aside from the many compliments she has received from the I'd Do Anything judges about her singing, Barry Humphries memorably likened her to gothic-looking character Wednesday from The Addams Family, which might have knocked her confidence, but she took it well.
"Barry didn't apologise but he didn't need to. That comment of his actually made me laugh because, when I was younger because of my dark hair and pale skin, I used to dress up as Wednesday Addams for Hallowe'en! I usually do wear dark make-up and clothes, but I'm not a Goth. However, if Andrew Lloyd Webber ever decides to make a musical of The Addams Family, then I've a possibility of a part!"
It would appear that Niamh's scariest moment in the show so far was her first meeting with Lloyd Webber. "Andrew Lloyd Webber is like the King of musical theatre. When I got down to the final 30, he walked in to one of our classes. We all tried to remain cool, calm and collected, so it didn't look like we were star-struck, but I was pretty shocked to be standing so close to him.
"It seems crazy that I'm even in the same room as him, Barry Humphries, Denise Van Outen and John Barrowman, never mind performing in front of them. They're all well-known in the business that I'm craving to be in, and it's surreal that they actually know who I am. I'd never met anyone famous before doing this show; I've never been within a celebrity circuit."
Niamh's father Liam is a secondary school principal and her mother Zaron is a nursery school teaching principal. Niamh has a sister Ciara (21) who's studying French in Paris and aims to become a lawyer.
Niamh was born on June 10, 1990, so fortunately is too young to remember The Troubles with which Northern Ireland was once so associated.
But she does still recall the shock when the Real IRA car bomb in Omagh on August 15, 1998, killed 29 people and injured 220.
"That was the most I've ever known of sectarianism" says Niamh.
"Some family friends lived in Omagh, so were caught up in it. All Northern Ireland was affected by that. Fortunately though, the peace process began the year I was born."
Niamh was only six or seven when she developed a love of singing. " Every Sunday when mum was cleaning our house, she'd listen to the soundtrack of Les Miserables. By the time I was eight, I knew every word of every song in that show!
"My first performance in front of an audience was when I was nine — that was a concert at primary school, and I sang a Christmas carol. I wasn't very shy then and I really let rip. From then on in, I never wanted to do anything else."
Niamh recently left Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Knock, where she often performed in concerts and shows.
"I played the female lead in Sweet Charity, Guys & Dolls, Joseph, and West Side Story, but I was only the rose-seller in Oliver! That's partly what inspired me to join this show," she confesses.
Niamh's singing voice was classically-trained, and she sang a solo at the opening of Belfast's Grand Opera House. Last year, prior to auditioning for I'd Do Anything, she entered ITV1's The X Factor with two friends. "We got through the first couple of rounds to see the judges. They said they liked us as a group but, I think because of our classical background, we didn't really fit that show."
Although many youngsters enter such shows simply wanting to become famous, Niamh insists that's the last thing she desires. "Fame is not something I'm looking for at all. It has nothing to do with where I want to be in this competition. It's more about the achievement and my career goals.
"It's very strange to be recognised in public now.
"When people come up to me knowing my name, I look at them and try and figure out where I've seen them before, and then I realise they've seen me on TV! The first time was when I was looking at jewellery in Topshop with Samantha Barks," adds Niamh, referring to fellow I'd Do Anything contestant Samantha Barks. "A couple of girls came up and asked to take our photograph. We were a bit shell-shocked, but went along with it anyway!"
Niamh reveals that all the potential Nancys have received lots of fan-mail, though she claims not to know who gets the most. "I've had great letters from little children who've painted me pictures and things like that.
"I've also had letters from teenagers like myself, and adults who enjoy the music me and the other girls are performing. I don't think I've had any fan-mail from admiring boys" she says sadly.
The subject of boys is clearly a difficult one for Niamh: "I don't have a boyfriend, and I don't want to talk about boyfriends. I don't know why any relationships I've had in the past would be of interest to anyone who's reading this."
However, she doesn't mind discussing her personal hopes for the future. " From a young age, I've wanted to one day get married and have children — I love children."
Meantime, Niamh is focussing on trying to become Nancy in Oliver! " There are eight of us left and one of us is Nancy. All of us have become so close that I'll be happy whoever wins. If it's not me, I'll pick myself up and get on with life and hopefully still have a career in musical theatre. Anything to do with singing or acting would make my dream come true."
Niamh has developed a particularly close bond with fellow Northern Irish contestant Rachel Tucker, who's 26 and from Belfast. They're both hotly-tipped to win, along with 18-year-old Jessie Buckley from Killarney.
"I think it's great that myself, Rachel and Jessie are getting positive feedback, because it's not usually in competitions like this that Irish people have. It's usually centred around people from Scotland, Wales and England, so it's great that people from the North and South of Ireland are being recognised for talent in musical theatre.
"The three of us get on really well. Rachel and I used to live quite close to one another, although we never knew each other before. There's bits of slang and comments that only we would get because it's like the Northern Irish dialect. We have banter going on like that. It's the same with Jessie.
"When I say words like 'eight', I sometimes have to translate to others. And people get my first name wrong pretty much once a day. Because of the way it's spelt, many don't even attempt to say it because they don't know how to go about it. I've had Neeb and Nave ... all sorts!" laughs Niamh, who's nick-name among mates is Pez because of her surname Perry.
Sadly, Niamh's new-found success may well mean she won't return to live in Bangor for long. "To pursue this career and be open to auditions, I believe I'm going to have to be based in London rather than fly back and forth from Ireland. So I will probably move to London, but my heart will always be in Bangor."