janique-charles

Exclusive: Janique Charles on how she landed her dream West End role

Janique Charles is the first in HELLO!'s new series of inspirational interviews

Janique Charles has come a long way from being a little girl with big dreams, singing and dancing at school in Trinidad. She currently has a lead role in hit West End musical The Lion King, and her story of perseverance and following her passion is one we could all do with reading.

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In the first of HELLO!'s new series of inspirational interviews, looking at how people with some of the coolest jobs got to where they are, we sat down with Janique to find out about her story, and how a little girl living in the Caribbean ended up landing her dream role as Nala. And it looks like this is just the start!

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Janique Charles plays Nala in West End musical The Lion King

Did you know want you wanted to be from an early age?

I have to admit, from around the age of four or five I knew I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be a triple threat. I wanted to have Platinum albums, a Hollywood star, you name it. I was really passionate about the arts, and I would sing to myself in the mirror and so on. I had an interest in geography and physics and biology and stuff like that, but that was the passion.

Was the path to success clear to you?

At that stage, I had no idea how I would make it happen. Absolutely none. In Trinidad, we were full of culture and different influences and carnival and calypso music. It's a huge part of my culture and I absolutely love it. And I thought, that's definitely something that I could do. But I was more interested in pop and R&B and Disney stories like Cinderella and The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. We weren't particularly doing that there.

When you were growing up, did you spend a lot of time learning your skills?

Yes, my mum was very supportive. We didn't have a whole lot, but she put me through singing lessons. She was just singing church, and I would do that now and again, but she thought, OK, until the opportunities come, she needs to be prepared. I had a group of friends and we were all interested in that as well so we would put on dance shows, and when we had talent shows at school we would always do a routine that we created ourselves.

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Janique Charles had a passion for performing from a young age

Did it become clear that you had talent at a young age?

I'm not sure if there was a point of realisation, but I felt in my heart it was my passion, and the more I did it, the better I got. There was one talent show at school where I got up the courage to sing At Last by Etta James, and by the end of it, it was like opera for all of my classmates, and I'd never felt so appreciated. I think some of the hardest people to impress are your peers.

What was the big step for you?

I was doing really well academically through primary and secondary school, but I had a major life event where my dad passed away and my mom was working. She's a firefighter and she was working two extra jobs to support us and that's when I felt something inside of me was saying, 'A lot of things are happening right now, but the one thing that makes you feel grounded and special and free is being able to perform'.

A-levels were coming around, I wasn't particularly excited about it because as much as I could do well in bio and physics and stuff like that, it's not what was making me happy. Everyone was applying to go to medical school and I just wanted to sing. One day a friend of mine saw an excerpt from the newspaper that Disney were doing auditions for their cruise lines. I went to the audition. I wasn't sure they were going to pick me, but they did. And two years later, they contacted me just before my 19th birthday and said, 'we want to offer you a spot in our cast'. I was applying for medical school at the time, but I said 'no, this is it, this is what I've been working towards'. So, I took it and I never looked back.

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How did your mum feel?

My mum wants the best for me, she always has. We have such an incredible bond because it's always just been the two of us. And, you know, like most mothers do, they want to give their kids what they never had, or at least the opportunity to be something that they can be proud of.

She always wanted me to become a doctor, but we had a conversation about it and I think she understood my passion and she completely respected that. She's been with me ever since supporting my dream.

I guess at some point you stopped touring and ended up in the West End?

Yeah, I felt like the touring opportunity was amazing and it was everything I'd ever dreamed of and more, but I wanted to progress. You ask anyone about me, I will work hard and try to enjoy what I'm doing currently, but I know that I can't stay in one place.

I had to work at it a lot because I did audition for the role of Nala a few times. It didn't happen the first time, it didn't happen the second time, but the third time was my first year in the West End. I got the part and it was such a surreal experience.

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Janique Charles auditioned for the part of Nala three times

What were the hardest parts of your journey and how did you not give up?

I think it comes down to the individual. Once you know what you really want and you believe that you can do it, you will try to do it as much as you can. I would say, 'Keep knocking on that door and it will open'. Keep trying to figure it out. It's essentially like a puzzle and there are different pieces you've got to put together. I think one of the things that I decided to do was to fill my life was with other interests and not solely focus on this one thing.

What advice would you give to your younger self with the perspective that you have now?

I would say to live with purpose, try everything. Try lots of things and be unapologetic about it, especially as a young Black woman. Someone used to tell me that young girls should be seen and not heard. Don't listen to that. Young girls should be SEEN, they should be heard and respected regardless of where they come from.

And finally, what about your future?

I'm really excited. I've been spending a lot of time in the studio working on music that I will be releasing next year. I have also had the opportunity to join one of the youth divisions that the World Economic Forum called 'global shapers'. We work on a lot of projects to improve society in whatever areas we see needs it. I think acting is also important to me, film and television, and lastly my interest in business, which I'm completing next year, is really opening my entrepreneurial spirit.

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