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West End Extra - The XTRA DIARY
Published: 16 October 2009
Dancers show off their best moves in Regent’s Week
Dancers show off their best moves in Regent’s Week
Positive steps for mental health

FOR some of the more socially awkward out there, the prospect of dancing in a shadowy nightclub let alone under the glare of afternoon sunlight is enough to induce a few uncomfortable thoughts at the very least.
Do I look like I feel? Are you supposed to feel like the unfortunate Jelly Baby who has had its head ripped off in a sweet shop industrial accident?
But in Regent’s Park this week, people were being asked to moonwalk their way to better mental health in a huge public dance show organised by Camden Council.
Professional choreographers were on hand to help the audience learn different dance styles including Bollywood and Ceroc as part of a drive to extol some of the lesser-known benefits of hip shaking.
Belly dancing star, Sophie Mei, put in a show-stopping set, before taking a mini masterclass.
She said: “I want to stress the positives of physical activity for mental as well as physical activity for mental as well as physical health.
“I used to suffer from low self-esteem, and belly dancing has helped boost this for me. I’ve also seen it help women become sensual, proud and confident.
“Some of my friends have had mental health issues; they affect so many, and are not fully understood.
“By challenging the stigma associated with them, we are one step closer to a solution.”

Actor unlocked his real potential

"YOU'LL come to nothing, Egan. You’ll only end up behind bars!” These were the final ominous words a 15-year-old Peter Egan recalls being left to ponder by his headmaster as he said goodbye to St George’s School in Maida Vale.
Almost half a century later the actor, who confesses to being an “uneducable street kid from Kilburn” – now a small screen legend for his role as the unctuous Paul Ryman in 1980s sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles – returned to his alma mater for an old boys and girls reunion.
Egan told Diary some of his classmates were surprised to see him without a prison tag.
“I think some of them were shocked how I turned out. I could pass as an Etonian these days,” he said.
But it turns out the jailbird prophecy wasn’t that far off the mark.
“When I was younger I played a villain in Big Breadwinner Hog,” said Egan. “He had a few scrapes with the law, but that was the closest I came. It was funny seeing some of my old teachers. I got caned by all of them.”
Thankfully for Egan, now 63 and living in Hampstead, corporal punishment is no longer en vogue and there was no birch at hand last Saturday night.
The 100 or so old pupils from the classes of 1955-1962 helped raise more than £1,000 for the school which is preparing to open a new wing as part of the government’s Building Schools for the Future scheme.

Hanan becomes high-flyer

STROLLING through Soho I wandered into St Barnabas House, a delightful period townhouse that’s home to a homeless women’s charity and swanky literary salons.
Internationally acclaimed Lebanese authoress Hanan Al-Shaykh was telling a rapt audience about her latest book The Locust and The Bird, a warts-and-all biography of her mother’s life in Lebanon during the Middle East’s most tumultuous years.
An illiterate peasant, she was also a quick-witted spitfire who stuck two-fingers up at the rigid social mores of pre-war Lebanon, raised her children despite crippling poverty and had an intriguing extra-marital affair.
Her wily schemes to outfox the bailiffs had the audience in stitches.
It took Hanan, who lives in Mayfair, until middle-age to screw up the courage to confront her mother’s past – but it nearly never became a book, she admitted.
Only the intervention of old friend, Hampstead resident Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, tipped the scales.
Full marks to publishers Bloomsbury who organised the event, part of their Qatar Literary Salon which hosts writers in Soho and the Middle East.

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