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Meet Ashley Banjo

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Ashley Banjo: “My education matters to me”

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Fame? I want to be a scientist! Diversity’s lead dancer insists his exams come first

By Claudia Connell

In the coming months Diversity have a UK tour to plan and rehearse for countless media interviews and, of course, that much-lauded performance in front of the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance in November.

As if all that wasn’t hectic enough, group choreographer Ashley Banjo, 20, also has to find the time to study for his masters degree in physics and biology – something he considers every bit as important as his new-found fame and dancing for royalty.

‘My education matters to me,’ he reveals. ‘I want to get my degree under my belt. It’s vital to have something to fall back on because nobody knows what the future holds.

Keeping his feet on the ground: Diversity's lead dancer Ashley Banjo (R) and 13-year-old Perry Kiely at a press conference following their win

Keeping his feet on the ground: Diversity’s lead dancer Ashley Banjo (R) and 13-year-old Perry Kiely at a press conference following their win

‘It seems to me the entertainment industry is cut-throat and if you don’t have a plan B up your sleeve then you’re likely to come a cropper.

‘As far back as I can remember, my parents drummed into me the importance of doing well at school. I’m not going to be spinning on my head when I’m 50, but as a qualified scientist I can always earn a living.

‘My brother Jordan, who is also in Diversity, plans to train as an accountant.’

Victory: Diversity celebrate their success aftre bing named the winners of Saturday night's Britain's Got Talent

Victory: Diversity celebrate their success after being named the winners of Saturday night’s Britain’s Got Talent

The parents who have instilled these values into Ashley, Jordan, 16, and their 15-year-old sister Dalisa are Danielle and Funso Banjo, who each run a successful business and were proudly cheering their sons on from the audience on Saturday night.

Ashley firmly believes that coming from his two-parent, loving home in Wickford, Essex, has shaped him into the confident, bright and articulate man he is today.

He says: ‘My parents have been married for over 20 years and have set us kids a great example. I was brought up to believe it’s cool to be clever – I’m proud of my A grades, not embarrassed by them.’

Mother Danielle is a former dancer with the Royal Ballet and is now Diversity’s manager while father Funso is a former heavyweight boxer who was once rated a hotter prospect than Frank Bruno.

Frank Bruno and Funso Banjo

Squaring up: Ashley’s boxer father Funso Banjo was once considered a hotter prospect than Frank Bruno

Twenty years ago the couple invested their savings in a dance school in Essex which, today, is a thriving business and where Ashley also teaches at evenings and weekends.

Not surprisingly, since Diversity’s first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent the school has been inundated with calls from kids who want to dance like the group – and the school has to place disappointed wannabes on a waiting list.

With Ashley’s model good looks, muscular body and dazzling smile, it isn’t a big shock to learn the majority of the inquiries are coming from smitten women.

Ashley reveals: ‘It’s gone crazy – there’s now a waiting list for the waiting list. We can’t take any more on because all the classes are full to capacity. The interest has been phenomenal.’

When I ask Ashley what percentage of this new interest would be from the opposite sex, he laughs and says: ‘About 99 per cent. It’s flattering but embarrassing, too. I’ve heard there’s some pretty racy stuff on the internet about me, but I haven’t Googled yet, I’m far too innocent!

‘My girlfriend Frankie is also a dancer and we’ve been together for three years. She finds it amusing, but she’s not the type to get jealous. She trusts me.’

Ashley, who has been dancing since he was three, has never gone off the rails, but he has seen at first hand how dancing can save young boys at risk of a life of crime.

He says: ‘I know this all sounds a bit Billy Elliot, but I’ve witnessed it time and time again. I can think of two specific cases where boys aged around 14 who were real tearaways came to the dance school and ended up becoming brilliant dancers. Not only that, they turned it around at school and have ended up with good, well-paid jobs.’

Being able to spend time with his family and share an interest has also been important to Ashley, who knows that many of the children who attend his classes have not been so fortunate.

‘I’ve always been able to communicate with my mum and dad,’ he says ‘We’re always together and always talking, always laughing. I’m lucky because so many kids seem to have no relationship or common ground with their parents and that’s sad.’

Moment of triumph: The troupe perform their winning routine as they receive a standing ovation from the judges

Moment of triumph: The troupe perform their winning routine as they receive a standing ovation from the judges

It is Ashley who devises the group’s polished dance routines, taking months just to perfect one three-minute performance. ‘The ideas are all mine,’ he says.

‘People think we get help but I do the lot – I even edit the music. The Chariots Of Fire skit we did in the audition came about because I was watching athletics on TV, which reminded me of the movie. I’m an insomniac so I have plenty of time to invent routines.’

It was their breathtaking Transformers routine, which Simon Cowell described as ‘absolute perfection’, that won on Saturday, something Ashley still cannot take in. ‘All week I’d been saying we were competing for second place.

Waiting for the winner: First placed Diversity, second placed Susan Boyle, and third placed Julian Smith await the results of the public vote

Waiting for the winner: First placed Diversity, second placed Susan Boyle, and third placed Julian Smith await the results of the public vote

‘I felt the public had fallen in love with Susan Boyle’s story and I was sure she had it in the bag. She is super-talented and was very gracious in defeat. I have got lots of time for Susan.’

Last night, the group celebrated with friends and family, but Ashley didn’t get stuck into the champagne. Just when you think he couldn’t be any more perfect, he says: ‘I don’t drink or smoke. I had champagne at a wedding once, but I didn’t really like it. I never go to pubs or clubs because I’m always rehearsing.

‘The other guys in the group are always calling me Goody Two Shoes, but being in shape is important to me. I try to be a good role model to my pupils, Diversity’s motto is: Dream, Believe, Achieve – and I think we’ve lived up to it.’

1 IKE EZEKWUGO, from Leytonstone, East London. Nigerian-born Ike is due to graduate in human resources management next week. 
2 SAM CRASKE, 19, from Dagenham, Essex. Lives with mother Jennifer, father Paul, brother Mitchell and younger sister Ellie, ten. Sam is understood to have been made redundant from his job as a bathroom fitter a few weeks ago. 
3 JAMIE McNAUGHTON, 23, from Basildon, Essex. Telesales operator selling timeshare holiday homes. Like his brother, Jamie aimed for a ‘sensible’ job, not believing that he would ever achieve showbusiness success. 
4 IAN McNAUGHTON, 25, from Basildon. Works in IT solutions for a City law firm. The son of 
Stewart, 63, a former hospital manager, and Malaysian-born nurse Chandravathani, Ian began dancing at the age of eight. He and his two brothers have performed their urban street dance at shopping centres across Essex, London and Kent. 
5 ASHLEY BANJO, 20, from Wickford, Essex. Diversity’s choreographer. Achieved two As and two Bs at A-level biology, chemistry, physics and maths at Seevic College in Thundersley, Essex. Now studying Natural Sciences at Queen Mary College. Teaches at his mother’s dance studio, Danceworks, where the group formed. 
6 WARREN RUSSELL, 18, from Dagenham. Telecoms engineer living in a former council house with mother Sonia, older brother Scott, and younger brother Ashton, 15, who is playing a young Michael Jackson in a West End theatre production. 
7 TERRY SMITH, 24, from Rainham, Kent. Lives in a mid-terrace house with his 46-year-old father Paul, a plumber, mother Josie, 46, and sister Danielle, 21. Has a year left of a computer technology degree at a university in Kent. 
8 JORDAN BANJO, 16, from Wickford. Studying for his GCSEs and also teaches dance. Diversity was said to have formed after the death from cancer of Sylvie, the much-loved Danceworks studio’s administrator who was like a ‘grandmother’ to many of the troupe’s members. 
9 MATTHEW McNAUGHTON, 16, from Basildon. Studying Music Technology at college. The only McNaughton brother who specifically wanted a career in music. 
10 PERRI KIELY, 13, from South Ockenden, Essex. Lives with parents Russ, a builder, and Christine, who used to teach majorettes in a small terrace house. The pupil at Gable Hall School, Thurrock, is best known for his extravagant Afro hair. He has two sisters, Star, 10, and Elvie, 7, who are also talented dancers. 
11 MITCHELL CRASKE, 13, from Dagenham. Still at school. With Perry, the joint-youngest member of the group. Dressed as Superman for the finale of Britain’s Got Talent and was hurled through the air during the dance routines. The skilled breakdancer can spin on his head. In the semi-final routine, he sprung out of a holdall.

How the finalists shaped up on the night…

Simon Cowell said all the acts in the final had a shot at winning. CLAUDIA CONNELL delivers a brutally honest verdict on who really had talent on the night …




26 tips for reading aloud

By Reta Pyke (

Doing reading exercises at home can greatly enhance school reading lessons, according to Timothy V. Rasinski, author of The Fluent Reader (Scholastic Books). Although his book is written for teachers, many of the strategies can be adapted for use at home. In summarizing Rasinski’s advice where it applies to parents, we’ve come up with 26 tips.

Why is reading aloud important?

1. Being read to can be fun, engaging and authentic. It shows kids that reading can be emotionally powerful, and it motivates them to read more. It also introduces genres outside their usual interests and lets them hear fluent, expressive reading above their current reading level.

2. It’s “real” reading and language, used in everyday life from speeches to acting.

3. It builds confidence; it helps struggling readers find their voice and experience success and progress.

4. It creates community. Silent reading is a solitary act; reading aloud creates a shared experience.

5. It connects spoken and written language. Reading something that your child has written out loud reveals the transformation between writing, reading and speaking.

6. It uses many senses at once, which makes memorizing and recognizing words faster, easier and longer-lasting.

7. It models reading that flows clearly with meaningful expression and phrasing.

8. It boosts comprehension.

Reading aloud to children is so key to their early success that Rasinski recommends children experience some form of reading aloud daily, from pre-school through middle school. His tips for reading aloud to your kids:

9. Choose a time and place conducive to reading.

10. Choose books you find enjoyable, from different genres and reading levels. (Teachers, librarians and the internet can help.)

11. Read your material ahead of time if possible.

12. Voice some thoughts about the material while you’re reading, so your audience understands that reading is not a passive exercise.

13. Encourage your listeners to think actively about the story.

14. Talk about the story afterwards, or encourage your kids to write or engage in creative activities related to it.

15. Make connections between the story, real life and your listener’s experiences.

Assisted reading bridges the gap between being read to and reading alone:

16. In shared reading, you read aloud while your child follows along, reading the text silently.

17. In paired reading, the two of you read the text aloud together as you gently “push” him along and support him when he struggles. Adjust your reading speed and voice to his abilities. If he’s having trouble with a passage, read it louder, but as soon as he’s doing well, read more quietly.

18. When she has problems with a word, fill in the gap with the correct word and get her to say it; then continue reading. The aim is to have her experience fluent reading with few disruptions, so make corrections quickly and simply.

19. Arrange a signal your child can give you when she wants to read on her own. Continue to read along silently, ready to jump in if she starts to struggle or just wants to take a break.

20. No time for a home reading program? Find an audio book at the library, a bookstore or online – or create your own. Here, your child reads along with the audio recording of the text. This approach is especially helpful for English as a second language students whose parents are not English speakers themselves.

Repeated reading gives struggling readers the chance to really practice a passage and get good at reading it aloud. This fosters a sense of accomplishment and reinforces good reading instead of good-enough reading.

21. Re-reading passages and stories several times can quickly become boring, so children benefit from having a reason to go over the text many times – like practicing for a performance, even if it is only in front of other family members or classmates. Poetry, theater scripts and songs are other great materials for repeated reading.

22. Repeating high-frequency words can also improve word recognition (try tools like flash cards or word banks), but for best results, include the words in very short, simple sentences like “I like him.” Your child’s teacher can provide you with practice words to work on at home, but you can also use the words your child stumbles over frequently when reading with you.

Some final tips for reading at home:

23. Do it regularly and with enthusiasm.

24. Work with your child’s teachers.

25. Seek out different and interesting reading material.

26. Incorporate silent and oral reading into everyday activities. Turn on the closed captioning when watching TV, get your child to read you the cooking instructions from the package and read the newspaper aloud instead of silently.

Happy reading-aloud time at home!

Reta Pyke is a first-year student in the Masters of Library and Information Studies program at the University of British Columbia. She has spent the last two years working with kids in elementary and high school as a substitute teacher and educational assistant. Reading is a lifelong passion for her and she loves to foster this passion in others. She is from Whitehorse, Yukon but once done with school, she will go anywhere someone is willing to give her a job where she gets to do kids’ storytime.

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