Actress Jennifer Ellison has taken on her toughest challenge yet - dealing with mums of kids with stars in their eyes. Interview by Gabrielle Fagan
Jennifer Ellison is used to beating the odds - she has after all had two ‘miracle’ babies and survived in the tough world of show business. But nothing prepared her for facing pushy mums of dance-mad daughters.
“I’m not a quitter, but at one stage, I was on the brink of walking out of the show,” says the actress, speaking frankly about her experience dealing with seven mothers of young girls taking their first steps towards stardom for new reality TV series, Dance Mums With Jennifer Ellison. It’s based on the format of successful American show, Dance Moms.
Ellison, 31, is sharing her feelings on the often bruising but ultimately rewarding challenge of appearing on the show as well revealing the “total happiness” she’s enjoying at home with her new-born son, Charlie, and her other two sons, Bobby, four and, Harry, 15 months. She’s been married to former boxer, Robbie Tickle for four years.
“During the series, I nearly threw in the towel many times because I just couldn’t handle the mums. I was disgusted that some of them were so rude and disrespectful. There were tears, tantrums, swearing, the lot from some of them. I even shed my own tears during some of the most stressful moments,” she says as talks frankly at her home in Liverpool.
“I lived for dance as a kid myself and my own mum supported me through my career, but although she was pushy, she always had total respect for my teachers. I was completely unprepared for what some of these mums were like with me.
“There were a few storming out of the studio during training sessions and their behaviour often upset their girls making it difficult for them. Truly it was like trying to handle a gang of clowns at times. They’re passionate about their kids succeeding but some just have no filters on their emotions and at times lose their manners.”
Heavily pregnant with her third child during filming, Ellison, who’s starred in West End musicals including taking the lead as Roxy in Chicago, is seen constantly struggling to get the girls, aged seven to 14, ready to compete for Europe’s ultimate dance title in Portugal.
“One of the problems was every mother thought her child was the best and while that’s understandable, it’s not the real world, but some of the mums didn’t like to hear that,” she explains ruefully.
“Overall, it was a hugely demanding experience, but amazing and so worth it in the end. I was proud of all the girls, who were lovely throughout, and it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to them. I’m hooked on the show and really looking forward to another series.”
While the mums haven’t escaped her ire, neither have some TV reality shows which, she believes, can mislead youngsters and promise them false dreams.
“Some of the shows make it look as though you’ve literally got to turn up and success in this business is handed to you on a plate. That couldn’t be more wrong,” declares Ellison, who studied dance from the age of three and was an international ballet champion.
“My most important lesson for the girls was teaching them about discipline and showing them there’s no substitute for the enormous hard work which goes into success. There will be tears, tantrums, going on until you think you can’t give any more and then - pushing yourself even further. And in the dog-eat-dog world of competitive dance, you also need to develop a thick skin, even as a youngster.”
Ellison, who left dance to pursue a career in acting, was only 15 when she won the role of Emily Shadwick in Brookside, which she played until 2003. Since then, she’s sung, modelled and appeared in TV dramas, including The Brief, Hotel Babylon, and The Commander, starred in 2004 film The Phantom Of The Opera, been a judge on reality TV competition Dirty Dancing: The Time of Your Life and, in 2012, competed in ITV’s Dancing On Ice.
She also runs a performing arts school - and all that has been juggled with motherhood. Her third baby, Charlie was born in September.
“It’s amazing having another little boy, his brothers adore him, and I really feel he completes our family - unless we have another little surprise a bit further down the line!” says Ellison with a smile.
“Robbie and I were shocked but delighted when I was told I was pregnant with him. He was our second miracle really because I was told I was incredibly lucky to get pregnant with my second baby, Harry, as I suffer from ovarian cysts. Doctors warned me that I probably wouldn’t get pregnant again after him but Charlie’s defied the odds and he’s gorgeous.”
Her husband’s support has proved key for the actress, who’s toured in productions including Calendar Girls and Legally Blonde The Musical since her sons have been born.
“Robbie and I have such a good relationship. I knew he was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with when I first saw him. We hardly ever argue and have rarely spent a night apart,” she says devotedly.
“I wouldn’t be able to do anything without him because having the boys is full-on. He’s a fantastic hands-on dad and that allows me to go and do things without worrying about what’s happening at home.
“Like every working mother, I have endless battles with guilt in my head because when you’re working, you feel you should be with the kids, and when you’re with them, you think you should be doing more work. There are sacrifices from time to time - I had to miss Bobby’s sports day because of filming Dance Mums.”