Back to high school for Shakira Akabusi

Rising star Shakira Akabusi talks to Sarah Peters about growing-up in Hampshire, her favourite countryside walks and running through cow fields with her dad, Kriss Akabusi

A few months ago, Shakira Akabusi was one of a class-load of actresses about to graduate from drama school. Thanks to her steely determination, her obvious talent and a bit of luck, she is now touring the country in the musical phenomenon that is High School Musical 2. She is playing the part of Taylor, one of the female leads, and she couldn't be happier about the prospect of singing, dancing, acting and smiling her way through eight shows a week - every week - until next spring. Shakira was born in Southampton. Her parents are Monika and Kriss Akabusi, the Olympic athlete who won Olympic, European and World Championship medals for running. The family lived on the edge of the city in the 1980s and then moved to the village of Warash.

"It was the perfect place to grow up...I couldn't have wished for a better childhood"


Wonderful WarashWe meet at a coffee shop and Shakira perches on a leather chair, her legs crossed, lamenting her childhood spent in Hampshire. She looks gorgeous and genuinely happy to be chatting about her early memories. "I loved living in Warsash," she says with a huge, warm smile. "It was literally the perfect place to grow-up. It was the sort of village where everyone knew each other and we could jump on our bikes to ride to friends' houses nearby. It's different today; people are a lot more protective of their children. We were allowed to play outside all the time."Shakira and her sister, Ashanti, attended the local primary school, Locks Heath Infants and Junior School. She has very fond memories of her times there. "I loved school. I especially remember all the shows I used to do for my family and friends in our living room. My parents were so supportive even then as I danced around the place." She wanted to perform from an early age and her beloved parents were always encouraging. "I had everything I wanted as a child," she reminisces, "There were friends nearby, lots of places to play, a school I enjoyed and a loving family. "Best of all, we used to love Sunday lunch at The Jolly Farmer, in Warsash. All the local families would troop down and have a great time. The kids would play all day in the garden; the adults would eat and drink. We'd all have so much fun. I couldn't have asked for a better childhood."From the age of 12, Shakira was a pupil at Bedales, in Steep, Petersfield. The school is slightly different from most in that they encourage individuality rather than conformity. School uniform is not mandatory and the students address the teachers by their first name."It was an absolutely amazing school," Shakira enthuses. "The way that I am as a person is thanks to Bedales. It is difficult to explain why it is so special. We were taught lessons on an intellectual level (your traditional subjects) but equally we were encouraged to grow as individuals. That is very rare indeed."

From country girlShakira will be touring the country until spring 2010, but she is certain she'll be popping back to Hampshire frequently. "I know I will miss the fresh sea air, watching the waves and the familiar woods near where I used to live."My favourite walk is along the coast near Warsash, along the River Hamble looking towards the boats moored up on the other side of the river. Warsash Common or the gorgeous Holly Hill Woodland Park are two other places I love to walk our dogs. Even though we went a lot when we were children, we always had a good time. I am a country girl at heart. I miss that when I am away."My dad didn't want my sister and I to become 'girlie girls', so whenever we went out for one of our long walks he would teach us to be brave by making us walk across cow fields full of huge cows. Most of the time we'd be petrified and would run at top speed to the gate, but my dad was fearless. To us he wasn't scared of anything."


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"It's going to be fabulous to dance at the Mayflower. Dad performed there in panto years ago...I remember going back stage to see him afterwards. It will be fantastic for him to come see me this time!"


To town girlShakira certainly missed the familiarity of Hampshire while she was studying in London. "I always felt very safe living here. When I am in London it's very different. I am much more aware of potential danger lurking around the next corner. When I leave my front door, I am constantly scanning the road, the street, the pavement - like when you drive a car. I'm predicting dangers: dodgy-looking people, mad drivers etc. When I go back to Hampshire, I walk down the road and realise how relaxed I am. I don't have to be so alert, so nervous. I love coming home to Hampshire. It's so much more peaceful."

On home groundFor Shakira it's a dream come true to be leading the cast High School Musical 2 especially as is at The Mayflower. She can't wait to take to the stage in her home town. "It's going to be fabulous to dance at The Mayflower. To perform on home ground will be just amazing and all my old friends can come along to see it. My dad performed there in panto years ago. I remember going back stage to see him afterwards. It will be fantastic for him to come and see me this time!"This is Shakira's first job since graduating and she's aware how lucky she has been to land such a brilliant role. The show itself is everything it should be: lots of colourful sets, broad American accents, melodious songs, and good wins in the end. "It's one long party," she laughs. "But it's exhausting and hard work too. I love it! I've never done anything like this before and I still can't believe how lucky I have been."The cast are wonderful: a real mix of age and experience, which makes it so interesting. The costume changes are mad and furious, but that brings us all together back stage and it really feels like we're a team as we're tearing around. Audiences literally love every second of the show! It's as good as it gets!"

See Shakira on stageShakira Akabusi will be appearing as Taylor in High School Musical 2 at The Mayflower, Southampton, until November 7, 2009. For tickets, tel. 02380 711811.