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.

Photo - fyunkie

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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Polish-Belarusian Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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