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The Brit School: UK Talent Factory Churns Out Singing Sensations

As British singer Adele breaks chart records on both sides of the Atlantic, the music school that launched her, Amy Winehouse and other top stars celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse
Andrea Malaguti

LONDON - British singer Adele was on tour in New York when she got the news she had broken pop music records. Two representatives of the Official Charts Company approached her and said "Girl, you've made history." Her second album 21, featuring the single Rolling in the deep, had topped the U.K. album charts for 10 weeks running, breaking a record held by Madonna's The Immaculate Collection since 1990.

It is impossible to imagine two women less alike. A sensual, predatory, vocal yankee beaten by a romantic Londoner with the physique of a renaissance matron.

"You've sold almost two million records. You're number one in America," the representatives said. She was officially a star. Adele, with the crystal clear voice of a European Aretha Franklin, whispered, "Thanks to the Brit School. A wonderful place that I still miss a lot."

The Brit School, or London School for Performing Arts & Technology as it is also called, was founded exactly 20 years ago. Amy Winehouse and Katie Melua are just a few of the ex-alumni of the Academy, situated in the sprawling suburban town of Croydon, to the southwest of central London.

The rain may be drizzling and icy winds blowing outside, but inside the talent factory, a postmodern wooden and steel building with enormous glass walls, it is up to the some 800 students to decide on their own seasons. Generally, they choose summer. "In this school, when the bell rings they have to give you a kick in the behind to send you away," says one student.

In the square in front of the entrance a group of students in sweatshirts and trainers practice a scene from Mamma mia, while the notes of a piano ring in the air. You feel part of a special and shared universe. A sensation that Dan Gillespie, frontman of the band The Feeling, explained like this: "At the Brit everyone has the same way of feeling things. It's like a playground for musicians, if you know what I mean."

Idea from Virgin boss

The school was the brainchild of billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Records, at the end of the 1980s when government called on entrepreneurs for projects to relaunch the economy. Branson said: "Let's create a place for 14 to 19-year-olds that values singing, acting, directing, communication and showmanship." Mrs. Thatcher replied with disdain: "Why should I help a scheme that creates unemployment?" He convinced her she was wrong, and a concert helped generate the first non-state funds. Tony Blair attended the event and contributed five unforgettable pounds.

The British Record Industry Trust wrote a decidedly larger check and contributions arrived from the biggest British record labels, led by Sir George Martin, producer of the Beatles. The scheme not only creates stars, but also provides professionals for an industry worth £12 billion ($19 billion), 1.8% of the GDP of the country.

A temple of energy

The Brit is a temple of energy. Recording studios, television sets, a 300-seat theatre, classrooms for web design, courses on journalism, directing, dancing and singing. Two floors, with steel stairs, grey carpet and halls with just one purpose: to foster creativity.

"I am a daughter of the Brit," explained Leona Lewis, winner of the 2006 X Factor talent show series. "At the Brit they think that you are a person and because of this you are creative. You learn that you can do whatever you want. You just have to dedicate yourself to doing it."

Amy Winehouse also studied at the Brit school. Adrian Packer, her music teacher, describes her overwhelming personality: "She was very popular with the other students, because she had a natural repulsion towards the obvious."

Adele, on the other hand, was just 14-years-old when she arrived, a slightly plump child who loved the Spice Girls. "I remember when Shingai Shoniwa was rehearsing I used to press my ear to the wall and listen to her, entranced," she recalls, referring to the lead singer of the Noisettes. "I loved showing off in the theatre. Without the confidence acquired then I wouldn't be here today."

The Brit School. A place that another former student singer and poet Natalie Stewart refers to as: "The house where your dreams come true."

Read the original article in Italian.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

What's Driving Chechen Fighters To The Frontlines Of Ukraine

Thousands of foreign soldiers are fighting alongside Ukraine. German daily Die Welt met a Chechen battalion to find out why they are fighting.

Photo of the Chechen Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion in Ukraine

Chechen Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion in Ukraine.

Alfred Hackensberger

KRAMATORSK — The house is full of soldiers. On the floor, there are wooden boxes filled with mountains of cartridges and ammunition belts for heavy machine guns. Dozens of hand grenades are lying around. Hanging on the wall are two anti-tank weapons.

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"These are from Spain," says the commanding officer, introducing himself as Maga. "Short for Make America Great Again," he adds with a laugh.

Only 29 years old, Maga is in charge of the Dudayev Chechen battalion, which has taken up quarters somewhere on the outskirts of the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine.

The commander appears calm and confident in the midst of the hustle and bustle of final preparations for the new mission in Bakhmut, only about 30 kilometers away. The Ukrainian army command has ordered the Chechen special forces unit to reinforce the town in the Donbas, which has been embattled for months.

Bakhmut, which used to have 70,000 inhabitants, is to be kept at all costs. It is already surrounded on three sides by Russian troops and can only be reached via a paved road and several tracks through the terrain. Day after day, artillery shells rain down on Ukrainian positions and the Russian infantry keeps launching new attacks.

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