Dance group Diversity get Ipswich on its feet

LIFE could’ve been so different for dance group Diversity, reveals “leader” Ashley Banjo.

The Britain’s Got Talent winners actually entered the hit ITV1 show late after the audition deadline.

“Someone saw us dancing and told us we should enter the show. We’d never really thought about it before; we just liked doing what we were doing, dancing for us. Afterwards we thought why not,” he remembers.

“We entered a little bit after the deadline actually, it wasn’t even on time. They made an exception, they said ‘it’s a bit late but you’re based in London so why not’. I don’t know who it was who let us in that day, but they changed the course of it [the show].”

Ashley says the group, made up of 11 members aged 13-26 from East London and Essex, couldn’t wait to get to Ipswich’s Christchurch Park for Big Friday – which also stars X Factor live finalists Stacey Solomon, Jedward, Danyl Johnson and Jamie Archer.

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“It’ll be good to perform with people who have come from the same kind of background, the same kind of show. There are really talented people there so we’re looking forward to it.”

The dance group have certainly lived up to their motto of dream, believe, achieve.

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“All of us were students or had careers; we had a dream, trained, kept at it, sacrificed things, it was all about just believing it would happen for us one day and it has,” says Ashley

“Obviously you dream, you hope, you imagine what it would be like [to win] but deep down… put it this way, every single person that enters, most of the people anyway, wouldn’t enter if they didn’t think they had something and could win,” he admits.

“But once the competition started to open up, after the first week of auditions we saw on TV we didn’t think there was any chance, what with the emergence of Susan Boyle, Flawless, so many amazing acts, it was a bit like ‘wow, this is a tough year’.”

The dance group sensationally beat Boyle in the live final of the hit ITV1 show.

“She made the show that year massive. I think she had the most watched video on YouTube ever and she cracked America the same time, if not before, she cracked the UK – that’s a first as well.

“She’s a one-off. To beat her on British TV on the highest rated show for a while was a really good feeling, but I think you could tell from our faces that we were shocked.”

What was that moment like?

“All you’re thinking about is what name; then once it’s been called it doesn’t sink in what it means until a little bit after. It sounds so clich�d but you think ‘no, is that real’. Then it hits you, you’re not thinking about what’s happened,” he says.

They’ve come a long way since starting off as a group of friends and relatives training at Ashley’s mum and dad’s dance school before deciding to pool their talents in one outfit.

With so many amazing moments to choose from – from performing at the Royal Variety Show to having the number one movie Streetdance 3D – what stands out in his memory?

“We’ve done so much but the sell-out UK tour was amazing. Venues completely sold-out, people were on their feet at the end. We’re really proud of that,” he says without hesitation.

If you were one of the many people who failed to get a ticket, you’re in luck.

“Obviously that show [which centres around toys coming to life] is long, so we’ll show people snippets of the tour material based around the Diversitoys theme,” says Ashley.

They may be leading glamorous lives, flying in helicopters and mixing with stars, but it’s clear the most important thing is still the thrill of performing – but it comes at a price.

“It’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes. The days we’re not performing we’re rehearsing, preparing, cutting music, working on new moves, we have to every day.

“Because we’re a group of 11, we’re all best friends. It sounds idyllic, but it’s true. That makes that process fun, too. We’re just enjoying the whole thing; it’s definitely a good thing to be part of.”

Ashley and the crew’s mission when entering Britain’s Got Talent was to prove that dance can be just as entertaining and enjoyable to watch as somebody singing. That’s what he believes Diversity bring to the stage.

“There’re tonnes of fantastic dancers and we were in the competition with, in my opinion, one of the best dance groups I know – Flawless. I suppose we think about our act as entertainment as well as dance; we want people to leave - even if it’s a two-minute performance or our tour which is two-hours – feeling happy, entertained, like they want to watch again.”

It’s clear from subsequent TV talent shows that Diversity have inspired a whole new generation of dancers, but what inspires them?

“Someone says ‘we’d like a routine based around this’ or I have an idea or get inspired by a film hence our transformers set. In the Britain’s Got Talent semi-final, when I was thinking to myself ‘what can I make this routine about’ it felt winning was like Mission Impossible.

“There was no way we can do this, but let’s give it a go - hence the Mission Impossible spy thing came about and our mission was to win. It just comes, once you get a concept or idea you just build on it,” says Ashley.

He’s looking forward to hitting the road again with Sky’s Got To Dance alongside fellow judges Adam Garcia and Kimberly Wyatt.

“Sky was looking to do a dance show, Diversity won, they met me and things just fell into place so it was a case of right place, right time,” he adds.

“Akai [Osei, the then ten-year-old who won] has got a part in big West End show Into the Hoods and doing really well. It’s going to be the same show, just bigger and better – we’re looking to take it up a notch.”

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