Ipswich’s very own Billy Elliot tells how ballet gave him the confidence to beat the bullies as he brings gala performance to Regent Theatre

Gary Avis in front of Christchurch Mansion

Gary Avis in front of Christchurch Mansion - Credit: Archant

Ipswich-born Royal Ballet star Gary Avis is realising a life-long dream by bringing a full-scale gala performance to his home town this autumn.

Dancer Gary Avis. Photograph Simon Parker

Dancer Gary Avis. Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

Our very own Billy Elliot has put together a dazzling showcase featuring more than a dozen Royal Ballet stars performing a once in a lifetime programme of ballet classics.

Gary, who still lives in Suffolk, said he has managed to bring to Ipswich a first-class list of Royal Ballet stars which would never be seen on stage together during a normal performance at Covent Garden. “I’m proud to come from Ipswich and it’s time we started to celebrate the wonderful cultural opportunities we have in the town.”

The event is raising funds for the Suffolk Community Foundation’s Arts and Heritage Fund and will be hosted by Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton du Beke.

Gary said that he remains proud of the town even though his childhood was, for a long time, quite tough. “I come from a loving family. We didn’t have much money, but we had a happy home. We lived in quite a tough area of Ipswich, and I went to a school where you needed to be able to stand up for yourself.

“Being bullied wasn’t uncommon and it felt like I was at the top of the list. I didn’t hate school, I felt quite safe there, but as soon as the bell went real fear took over. I would try to run and get ahead of them to avoid getting a hiding, but they always seemed to catch me. Every day when I got home from school, my mum would dust me down and take off my coat and put it in the washing machine because it would always be covered in spit. I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, I felt scared, weak and worthless. Life was miserable.

“Then a friend suggested to my mum that maybe I’d get some confidence from getting involved in a local disco dancing class, I enjoyed it and one thing led to another and I realised I was quite good it. I won prizes and then festivals. My confidence grew so much stronger. I found a new groups of friends and I found a place where I could fit in.

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“I also unlocked a passion and discovered a talent that I would never have discovered if I hadn’t had access to those volunteer run community arts groups. I am massively grateful to them for what they gave and I think everyone should have the opportunity to discover their talents and feel the healing power of the arts.”

Money from Suffolk Community Foundation’s Arts and Heritage Fund will be used to support community arts initiatives across Suffolk.