Cherrelle Skeete is a Birmingham-born creative who is well on her way to stardom. Recently starring in BBC One’s ‘Call The Midwife’ during an episode which drew over 9 million views, Cherrelle is a very talented young woman who is passionate about being an artist of many forms.
A young Cherrelle discovered performing arts and knew instantly she would have a career in that area, but wasn’t quite sure whether it would be singing, dancing or creative writing. As a child, she would attend playschemes and local authority community initiatives for young people. Cherrelle found these groups, aimed at engaging young people, to be positive. She believes she would not be where she is now without them. “I am a product of community projects. I champion community arts and grass root projects.”
In her teens, Cherrelle and her friends started a dance group called CRC. “We wanted to be like the Power Puff Girls. We represented female empowerment.” CRC were invited to teach dance to young people during the summer holidays and then their dance group grew from 3 people to 20. Cherrelle became self-employed at sixteen and registered CRC as a company. Learning management skills along the way and CRC was in business for 6 years, with Cherrelle delivering workshops for after-school clubs and gaining a lot of respect from those around her.
A highlight from her time with CRC was entering for the Breakin’ Convention, a festival for break-dancers and international artists. After being granted funding, CRC took a group of young people to the two-day event so that they could experience the dance phenomenon. “A lot of them hadn’t been out of Birmingham before and this was the first time they had seen dance on a professional stage, the same way you would see ballet. It was really important for them.”
Auditioning for drama schools was a new experience entirely for Cherrelle. Looking through a list of ‘posh’ drama schools, she felt a little disillusioned. “Nobody like me goes to places like that. I didn’t know how to audition.” At her initial audition for Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, Cherrelle performed a cabaret song and got through to the second round. She didn’t get any further that time but she enjoyed participating in the second round workshop. The year after, she applied for Collaborative & Devised theatre at Royal Central and got herself a place on the course.
While she was thrilled to be on the course in such an iconic over 100-year-old building with it’s incredible reputation within the industry, Cherrelle learned the most in learning to deal with different people. Coming from diverse city Birmingham, she discovered she didn’t quite fit in with her new classmates and it was more than her bright asymmetrical hair, with shaved patterns on one side, that stood out. “I was the only black girl in my class. I was so out of place, but I was like ‘I’m here, this is what I asked for.’”
Feeling comfortable and confident in herself, she soon faced challenges. “I spent a lot of time at drama school hiding. I was in such a bubble. The first year is about pulling you apart but I understand why it had to be like that.”
In 2010, Cherrelle made the difficult decision to end her dance company as she felt it was time for her to focus on her own dreams. Having their last show in Nottingham Playhouse, CRC performed as part of Breakin’ Convention. It was important for Cherrelle to make the members aware that the end of CRC was not the end for them, that it was simply the beginning of their platform. “I was a young person myself, I had to learn fast.”
Before graduating, Cherrelle played the part of Young Jamie in ‘And I And Silence’ at Finborough Theatre. This play was written from the era of Jim Crow Laws and highlighted the segregation between black and white people. Working with associate producer, Clean Break Threatre, a theatre company who work with women offenders to bring their stories to a wider audience, Cherelle performed in this play and found that the women thoroughly enjoyed it. Marked on her involvement in the play, Cherrelle graduated from the Royal Central School in 2011 with a BA (Hons) in Acting, specialising in Collaborative and Devised Theatre. In 2012 she was in The Lion King at London’s West End, and in 2013 she was in Olivier Nominated play The Amen Corner at the National Theatre.
“I have got lifelong friends. I feel like I am part of this amazing legacy. People like Angela Wynter, Sharon D. Clarke, Cecilia Noble, Martina Laird, Tanya Moodie – these are black women in theatre that I look up to. All these actresses don’t get the recognition they deserve. There are my mentors and they may not even know it.”
Recently featuring on BBC One drama ‘Call The Midwife’ has put Cherrelle further into the limelight. She played the challenging role of Abigail, a first time mother who gives birth to a stillborn baby, only to be told she is actually having twins and has to give birth to another. “When I got the script, I cried. I connected. It is beautifully written, especially the relationship between the husband and wife.”
Cherrelle found that her part in the drama prompted discussions with family members and helped her to connect with her grandparent’s experience of coming to this country for the first time. Having a lot of nieces and nephews, she was able to envision what it must be like to become a mother. “After the episode was aired, it took my mom two weeks to talk to me about it. It brought back memories for her.” Behind the scenes, Cherrelle felt drained after filming the bedroom scene, a process which took two days. Having channelled the emotion from all the research she did, her hard work paid off and she put on a moving performance of a woman who had lost a child. “You just have to think of the circumstances.” During this particular episode, charity SANDS extended their helpline to 10.30pm. Cherrelle was overwhelmed by the discussions that followed this episode, particularly online, where people were able to relate to the storyline. Cherrelle played her role Abigail brilliantly; her emotive performance prompted people to begin to speak openly about their own experiences and opened up dialogue for the older generation.
When asked about her proudest moments, Cherrelle has many to share but remains humble in her selection. Getting into drama school was a big achievement for her and, although did not believe it at first, she embraced this opportunity and moved to London alone to make her dreams come true. Being in theatre, in The Lion King and Amen’s Corner, Cherrelle met other strong, black women within the industry and she smiles when she speaks about being in these plays. “I’ve had some great roles. I’ve been really blessed.” When she was in ‘Call The Midwife’, it wasn’t until she was ready to film, literally sat on set, before it sunk in.
“I want to bring truth and tell stories. I want to be known as an artist.”
It hasn’t all been an easy ride for this incredibly talented woman, who radiates good energy and warmth. Cherrelle feels that self-belief is essential to the life of an actor:
“You have a bank of positivity within you and sometimes it is full but you are so broke. You have to work at remaining positive when you don’t hear back after an audition Sometimes, you have to think about if you can afford a coffee or pay rent or get to an audition. This is the reality. You can be featured in a national newspaper and be all over the internet, but this doesn’t reflect your reality. That’s just how it is. Everyone is broke. That’s the reality. Art chose me. Here I am trying to make a living out of it.”
Cherrelle believes drama prepared her for prejudice but she doesn’t allow this to stop her. Cherrelle is adamant that the industry has changed and is still changing, acknowledging the great work that is done by Act For Change Campaign, who encourage diversity across live and recorded arts.
Having been in the presence of many established actresses, feeling supported by those who came before her, the advice she always remembers came from Marian Jean-Baptiste: “Make your own path.”
With such an inspiring journey so far, what can we expect next from Cherrelle Skeete? She will be back on our screens very soon, co-staring with Michelle Keegan in BBC drama Ordinary Lies. The first episode of this six-part series was on BBC One at 9pm, Tuesday 17th March 2014. Cherrelle plays Viv, a receptionist and friend of Tracey (Michelle Keegan). “The show is about how one small lie can snowball into something big. You’ll have to watch it to find out what happens.”
When Cherrelle says “I Am Enough” she means it. Stepping into the limelight and being on television has made her aware of how many people are watching her. As an artist, she embraces the good times and the bad times.
“There are many times when you feel as though you aren’t good enough, or you don’t want to shine your brightest because you don’t want to upset anyone. It is an ongoing conversation of me accepting myself, reminding myself how beautiful my spirit is. I have to remind myself that I am deserving of happiness and prosperity in my life. I owe it to my loved ones, my community and myself that I am the best human being I can be. I am a work in progress. I am enough.”