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Rachel Dean's Big Ask: Ballet dancer Melissa Hamilton on her childhood in Co Down and her love for red wine and chocolate


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Star performer: Melissa Hamilton has been with the
Royal Ballet company since 2007

Star performer: Melissa Hamilton has been with the Royal Ballet company since 2007

Melissa Hamilton

Melissa Hamilton

Loved up: Melissa with fiance Michael

Loved up: Melissa with fiance Michael

Star performer: Melissa Hamilton has been with the Royal Ballet company since 2007

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to ballet dancer Melissa Hamilton (31), who is from Dromore, Co Down. A first soloist with the Royal Ballet, she lives in London with her fiance Michael Christou and their dog Apollo.

Q What can you tell us about your childhood?

A I grew up in Dromore, Co Down, with my parents, my elder sister Victoria and my younger brother David. Our dad Keith is a builder and our mum Linda is a pre-school teacher. We were quite a close-knit group growing up.

I went to Dromore Primary School and then I went to Banbridge Academy for my GCSEs, but I left there at 16 to join a full-time ballet school in Birmingham.

I had been attending ballet lessons once a week from the age of four. I went to the Jennifer Bullick School of Ballet in Lisburn. What first drew me to ballet was that there's not only the physical side to it, but also a creative and artistic side. When I was younger, it was just one of those after-school activities that my mum sent me to. I had no idea that down the line it would become my career, and I don't think that was my parents' intentions either - it was purely a hobby. I think I developed more of a love for it as time went on and then it transpired that it ended up being my career.

Q What are you most proud of?

A Coming from a country like Northern Ireland, which has so little education or outlet for classical ballet, and ending up at the Royal Ballet, one of the top ballet companies in the whole entire world, dancing on stages internationally with top-level names. It's incomparable. I think that's why it's so important to me to get involved in bringing a world-class education system like the Royal Ballet School to Northern Ireland, to give more to the ballet students in the country who aren't getting the same chances that others do elsewhere in the world. That's why I'll be coming home with the Royal Ballet School - the associated school to the Royal Ballet company which I've been in since 2007. They host an insight weekend for students and teachers in Northern Ireland. I'll be personally teaching a solo ballet class for students aged 15 to 18 on Sunday, February 23.

Melissa Hamilton

Q The one regret you wish you could amend?

A Not getting together with my now fiance, Michael, a property developer and interior designer, sooner in my life. To go through life with someone who you're so on the same page with, who inspires you daily and who you can share experiences with, is just wonderful. It's about building memories. If you can build memories with your special someone, then I think the earlier you can do just that, the better.

Q Do you have any phobias?

A I'm afraid of heights, and this is a fear I have to face quite a lot in ballet. There was this one ballet I did and the entry of it consisted of me being held above a six-foot guy as he walked on stage backwards. It was in front of a few thousand people as well, so that was pretty terrifying.

Q The temptation you cannot resist?

A Chocolate or red wine.

Q Your number one prized possession?

A My engagement ring. Michael and I got engaged in May last year and, even though we had already talked about marriage, it was still such a surprise.

Q The book that's most impacted your life?

A I read The Hunger Games cover to cover within one day. I'd never really experienced that before, and it was kind of like having a movie pan out in my own mind, so I think that was quite incredible. I'd never had a book grab me so much.

Q If you had the power or authority, what would you do?

AI would give everyone the ability to reach their ultimate sense of wellbeing, instead of trying to chase what they feel society is encouraging them to achieve. So, they could live what their authentic life should be, instead of aiming towards something that they feel pressured into. I would also put more money into educating and raising awareness of the importance of mental and physical health.

Q What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A Tube trouble in London at rush hour. It's always so busy. That's probably the one thing I would change about London - the hecticness of it - but then it wouldn't really be London, would it?

Q Who has most influenced you in life?

A My parents very much allowed me to make my own choices. They would never lead me towards their wants and they've always supported me wholeheartedly. They never pushed me in any direction.

I come to my own conclusions by standing back, seeing and appreciating other people and what choices they're making, then I learn from it. I like to find the reason behind why people have made the different steps that they've made. I think I kind of take inspiration from everyone and everything. We're all individuals. I think the people who really follow the path towards their own individuality and their own strengths are the ones who have a really fulfilling and purposeful career. They learn so much about themselves through the roles that they choose to do, the people they dance with, the stage they dance on and the repertoire they do. It's a great way to find your own traits and explore your personality.

Q Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A Well, I would say my fiance for sure because I'd want to share that time with him.

The late Robin Williams because I would love to see the real person behind the character that everyone got fooled into believing he was because he was such an incredible actor. I'd like to see who he really was as a person. I think that's another thing with my career: you get used to seeing people on stage and you forget that they are actually a human that goes home at the end of the night and is real. Because it's such a fantastical world, you lose sight of the person and see them as the being they become whenever they are, as Robin Williams was, in front of the camera, or as a dancer whenever they're in the spotlight on stage.

And Lady Gaga, simply because she fascinates me.

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Loved up: Melissa with fiance Michael

Loved up: Melissa with fiance Michael

Loved up: Melissa with fiance Michael

Q The best piece of advice you ever received?

A It's a little quote my dad told me one time: "Love many, trust few and always paddle your own canoe."

Q The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

AI love experiencing new restaurants and bars in London, which I'm sure is far removed from what people think a ballerina would like to do in their spare time. I don't think I'll run out of places to go any time soon - there's a new restaurant or bar popping up every week.

I appreciate good food because, as a dancer, I'm so aware of how I fuel my own body. It's like putting petrol into a car. You need the fuel to run. It's also so creative now and so many restaurants are making an art out of their food. It can actually just be visually really beautiful.

Q The poem that touches your heart?

A I don't know that there is one. For it to have touched my heart, it would have to really mean something, and there isn't one that does that. I find the lyrics of Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling in Love quite touching. It's probably one of my favourite songs.

And the song Danny Boy because it resonates so much with my childhood because it was a song my grandfather used to sing.

Q The happiest moment of your life?

A When Michael proposed to me. He surprised me with a weekend away to Majorca in Spain, and I thought it was just that - a weekend away - because we both had really heavy schedules at that time.

That in itself was a lovely surprise. Then when we got to the room, there was a balcony on the cliff face and it overlooked the sea, and it was just us and the sea. Then he got down on one knee.

Q And the saddest moment of your life?

A The passing of my grandparents. I think whenever you experience a huge trauma like that, that is genuine sadness.

Q The one event that made a difference in your life?

A Ultimately, the day I got my contract to become a member of the Royal Ballet company back in 2007. That was a life-changing moment for me. I was just a regular high school student until aged 16.

I was at a school in Birmingham - it's the associate school to Birmingham Royal Ballet - and I'd just recently danced with them at the Grand Opera House in Belfast. Then I trained privately in Athens for one year. It was after that, in the spring of 2007, that I won a competition in New York for ballet students. Then I applied for a place at the Royal Ballet. I went and took an audition class and was offered a contract following that class.

Q What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A That there's always more...

Q What's the philosophy you live by?

A Always find happiness in any given situation.

Q How do you want to be remembered?

A To be remembered, full stop, is special in itself.

Join Melissa and the Royal Ballet School at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast on February 22 and 23 for their Insight Weekend. Visit www.royalballetschool.org.uk/participate/insight-days/belfast-insight-weekend

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