Preparing for her most important role

Shakira Akabusi
Shakira Akabusi
Craig Jenkins and his son Graham at HMS Sultan  Picture: PO Phot Nicola Harper

Families enjoy quality time at HMS Sultan fun day

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For the last 15 months, Shakira Akabusi hasn’t stopped.

As a singer and dancer performing in the hit show Hairspray, she’s been playing to packed-out theatre audiences across the country.

When a West End show comes to town the expectations are high and the performers must give their high-energy, note-perfect best, every night.

Now that the production has come to an end, Shakira should be re-charging her batteries and taking a well-earned break.

But she’s about to go head-long into a show-stopper of a different kind – her wedding.

‘I’m getting married on July 9,’ she says, with sheer delight in her voice.

‘It was all fine when I was on tour but now, suddenly, I’m getting ready to get married and there’s all the preparation.

‘It’s a really weird feeling because I’ve been working and working. You get used to being on tour, your body clock changes.’

Shakira – the daughter of Olympic hero Kriss Akabusi – will return to her roots when she marries fiance Tom Martin.

Her job might make living in London a necessity but she’s Warsash through-and-through and will marry in Hampshire.

The 23-year-old grew up in the picturesque village and still returns regularly to visit her best friend, Rhian.

She adds: ‘I don’t think of myself as a London girl, I’m a Hampshire girl. The best thing I could think of was staying at my best friend’s house the night before my wedding, just down the road from our old house.

‘I love it there, it’s always been my home. I hope to move there when I’m older. My parents have moved out to the other side of London now but it’s just not the same.

‘We lived in a place called Crofton Way and all the families knew each other. I would go out on my bike to my friends’ houses. We’d go to the shore and watch the boats, we just felt so safe in that area.

‘The people are just so lovely. I live in London now and there’s such a big difference.’

Shakira’s been singing and dancing since she was very young. She says her dad and mum, Monika, have always been 100 per cent supportive of her career, which has included high-profile stage roles as Taylor in High School Musical 2 and Pearl, in Hairspray.

As a former pupil at the famous Syliva Young Theatre School and the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, years have been spent perfecting her craft.

But she says it was Bedales, the prestigious private school near Petersfield, that really helped lay the foundations needed for a career in the notoriously competitive entertainment industry.

High-profile past pupils have included pop star Lily Allen and her actor brother Alfie Allen, as well as model, Sophie Dahl, and actress Minnie Driver.

‘I really do think that going to Bedales had a massive affect on me,’ explains Shakira.

‘It just seems to inspire something in people that go there and it gives you really great confidence. In this industry you’re going to get criticism and it’s important to know who you are. Bedales really gave me that.’

She adds: ‘Rejection is something you can’t take personally. That’s something my mum and dad prepared me for really well and I think Bedales had a big impact on that too.

‘There was one audition that I went for that started in November and didn’t finish until February. You are waiting and waiting and you get all the way to the final and they say “No, you’re a bit small”.

‘You can’t let that affect you, it’s not going to make a difference, you’ve got to move on.’

Between jobs she’s worked in Selfridges selling perfume, fitting in auditions along the way. But she says she doesn’t mind not knowing when the next performing job might come in.

‘Some people get depressed by that, some people get scared and that’s why some people leave this business. I find that exciting, that’s part of what I love about this job – the not knowing. You really have to have faith that the next thing will come along.’

She’s clearly doing something right because as soon as the High School Musical 2 tour had finished she was heading back out on the road to perform in Hairspray.

The tour brought her back home to Hampshire and when the show was on at Southampton’s Mayflower theatre she was able to catch up with old friends and re-visit childhood haunts.

The 15-month tour featured star performances from top name entertainers such as Michael Ball, Brian Conley and Les Dennis, and received rave reviews.

‘It’s nice to be in a show like Hairspray,’ she adds. ‘Especially when you’re away from home all the time because if you do ever feel home sick you can’t do that show being sad. It cheers you up, the music is great and we had such a great cast.

‘The fact that the cast changed kept it exciting. Fifteen months is such a long time that having different people in it kept it fresh. They were all really different as well.’

Her dad’s renowned for being a larger-than-life character, with his distinctive laugh and gregarious personality. It’s clear Shakira’s inherited some of that chirpiness but she says long theatre tours do take their toll.

‘It is hard because, like any other job, you have your bad days.’ she explains. ‘It really is a struggle to get through it if you’re not feeling too well, or you’ve got some bad news.

‘There are days when it’s tough but you have these close friends who support each other and that really makes a big difference.

‘The benefits are that you love your job and the industry and you meet some fantastic people.

‘But it’s not glamorous, staying in five star hotels, or never having to worry about anything again. It’s really hard work.’

So, what’s next for Shakira? Once her dad’s days as an athlete were over, he forged out a successful career as a TV presenter working on hit shows such as The Big Breakfast and Record Breakers.

Now his daughter is hoping to find her own way onto our TV screens.

‘At the moment I’m taking a few steps into the television industry. That’s something I’ve not explored before.

‘There’s a few projects in the pipeline, a few opportunities, and that’s something I’m really excited about.

‘For so long I’ve performed as a character and you try and become that character but with presenting I’d get to be me.

‘My dad has done presenting before and as a kid I used to see him do it. My dad is a brilliant person because he’s been through this entertainment industry in his own way.

‘He has really great advice. Sometimes he’s good for bringing me back and making me see the bigger picture, he’s really good for keeping my feet on the ground, so he helps me along the way.’

She adds: ‘In terms of my career itself, I really have had to do that myself. I really have had to work hard myself.

‘Sometimes my name’s not a great thing. Sometimes it’s OK. It might make people think “I recognise that name”, or they might remember it.

‘But it’s not something I’ve ever got a job off the back of because I’m Kriss Akabusi’s daughter.

‘TV has always been something that I’ve had my eye on but I’m glad that I’ve had the musical theatre experience that I’ve had – and I’m not quite ready for it to stop yet.’

ATHLETICS STAR

Kriss Akabusi won many sporting medals including a silver at the Olympic Games.

His performance in the 1984 men’s 400 metre relay – alongside Gosport’s Roger Black – catapulted him into the nation’s hearts.

With a sporting pedigree like that it’s no wonder Shakira was encouraged to give athletics a try.

It turns out she had a natural talent for it too – but in the end, performing took over.

‘When I was younger, when we lived in Warasash, I ran all the time,’ explains Shakira. ‘I ran for Hampshire when I was at Bedales.

‘There were a lot of reasons why I stopped but one of the reasons was that I didn’t really feel I was able to be me. Everywhere I went it was “There’s Kris Akabusi’s daughter”.

‘I wasn’t enjoying it and I don’t think it’s right to do something you don’t enjoy.’

She adds: ‘I was OK, I was quite good. I also had to make a decision because when you run it tightens your muscles and when you dance you need loose muscles.

‘There are still days when I think running might have been an easier option. The thing about this industry is that you’re completely dependent on others. I’ve been in an audition and you sing a song about love and I’m thinking about Tom and they say “Sorry, we didn’t feel it”.

‘With running you’re either quick or slow and that’s it.’