the headlines: france has a new president. the pro—european centrist, emmanuel macron, who's just 39, was elected in a convincing victory. he promised to fight divisions in his country, and to combat the threat of terrorism. more than a third of voters chose marine le pen‘s hard—right vision for france — she vowed to turn her attention to the coming parliamentary elections, and said her national front party was now the main opposition. 82 nigerian schoolgirls, kidnapped by the extremist group boko haram three years ago, have met the country's president after being freed in a prisoner swap. they were among more than 200 girls taken from the town of chibok. north korea says it's detained a fourth american citizen on suspicion of acts against the state. now on bbc news, it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk.
i'm stephen sackur. to make it to the top in the world of ballet requires notjust extraordinary talent, but immense reserves of physical and mental determination. so imagine how much more it takes if your childhood is torn apart by civil war, hunger and homelessness. today's guest, michaela deprince, has made a remarkablejourney from horrific suffering in sierra leone to accolades in the world of international dance. how on earth did she make it happen? michaela deprince, welcome to hardtalk.
thank you, thank you. it's almost a cliche to talk about people who have made remarkable journeys, but you really have. and i want to know today, as you sit here with me as an internationally acclaimed ballerina, how connected do you feel to that little girl who was born and brought up in the first few years of her life in sierra leone? i don't feel as connected as i used to be to her. i do have those days where i still have those horrible nightmares about my past in sierra leone, but, really, i'm just michaela deprince now. i'm not mabinty bangura any more. what about your memories of mabinty? i mean of the girl you were born as, and raised by a family who were caught up in the most terrible way in sierra leone's civil war.
for me, it'sjust — it's mostlyjust little tiny images and the only parts i really remember now... i don't remember the faces of my biological mom and father. i can see theirfigures but i don't even remember what they looked like. and if i'm thinking or dreaming or having a nightmare, it's mostly about running from the rebels, all the things that people were yelling at me about, or it's mostly those things and just the emotions i was feeling, and that's what i wake up yelling and screaming about and having to recover from. and going to be able to recover from that and still being able to go to work that day. it's interesting you say you feel less connected than you used to and, of course, as you grow up, the memories become more distant, but it is interesting to me that you've chosen to write about it for a young audience around the world. this book, ballerina dreams, has recently come out in europe. and it's billed as a true story, and you do go into some detail of what it was like to be a girl at a time of war. so you don't want to
completely forget about it. no, i don't want to completely forget about it. it's made me who i am today. it doesn't have as many details as it could, but i think it is very important for people not to forget about the struggles they have been through because it creates who you are. and if i didn't go through those things, i wouldn't be as strong as i am today, because i go through horrible things every single day in my dance career and people say things to me that maybe i would cry about, but i don't — it doesn't necessarily faze me any more, because of the things i've been said to before. you talk about how strong you are today. let's give people, at an early point in this conversation, a real sense of what you do, and how you dance. let's look, i think, at a performance from last year, of you in the nutcracker in the dutch national ballet. yes. music: dance of the sugar plum fairy. it's gorgeous to look at and,
of course, so many people know the nutcracker, but, then, to think back to some of the very specific experiences that you went through as a young girl, it is almost unbelievable that you've come from there to here. so i do want you to just go into a little bit of detail about the degree to which sierra leone's war had a very direct and personal impact upon you. i mean just catalogue a few of the terrible things. well, because of the war, my father was shot by the rebels. and my biological parents were the only people who believed in me, because of my vitiligo. in sierra leone, they did not understand that vitiligo was just a skin condition. and let me just stop you there, because there will be people around the world
who do not know who vitiligo. it's a pigmentation issue in your skin. yes. a loss of pigment in your skin. but, unfortunately, in sierra leone at the time, theyjust didn't have books or equipment to look up what this was, and so they discriminated me, they ridiculed me, they harassed me. i mean, to look at you, you look absolutely fine. thanks. but you do have this pigmentation issue. yet, from all the way from here and all the way along, my torso. on my hands and my arms and my back. it gets more and more also when i'm older and also some of them fade away, but it was a lot brighter also, when i was younger. but they didn't understand it, so they called me the devil's child. and when my father was shot by the rebels, that meant that we didn't really have any source of income for food. so then my mum and i — my biological mum and i — had to move in with my uncle. but my uncle wanted nothing to do with me,
and so when she passed away, because she ended up starving to death, or had a disease, he didn't see any point in wasting his money or his food on a child who doesn't deserve it, in his mind, so he sent me to the orphanage and never came to see if i was ok, or anything. and then also, in the orphanage, thinking, ok, i'm surrounded by people who might care about me, they ranked us by favourites. number one was the favourite child, number 27 was the least—favourite child. and because of my vitiligo, i was number 27, the least—favourite child. and so that meant i got the smallest portion of food and the last choice of clothes. and you would have thought, you know, these kids have been through so much — they've lost their parents or their parents weren't able to take care of them — that maybe we will show them that they are loved and that people care about them. and unfortunately, that wasn't the case for me at all. but i did have somebody in the orphanage who did care about me. actually, two people. number 26, my best friend, and my sister. she was number 26 because she was left—handed, and she used to wet the bed,
and they didn't understand that, you know. well, they didn't understand a lot of things. and it's not theirfault that they didn't understand that, i understand as an older person now, but, before, ijust made it seem like it didn't faze me, i didn't care if they didn't like me. were you, in this orphanage, at least detected from the really brutal violence of the civil war? well, you'll see in a few minutes. so we had a teacher who came to the orphanage and she was pregnant at the time. and this story is in the children's book. she cared about me. she taught us english. i used to always walk her to the gate and she was the one who told me about the ballerina that ifound, like, the magazine. that she was a ballerina. and she was also telling me, maybe you'll become this ballerina one day. she was, it away, the one who planted the vision in your mind off this beautiful, beautiful sort of mythical figure of the ballerina who could be happy and who could dance.
yes. and so i walked her to the orphanage gate and these two rebels come, intoxicated with either drugs or alcohol in their system, with this little rebel, and they pull out their machete. and they cut her open to see if there was a baby girl or baby boy. and they were betting. so one of them was like, "no, it's going to be a boy, it's going to be a girl." and it ended up being a girl. and they didn't like that, because usually they turned the little baby boys into young soldier rebels. and so they are upset and so they end up cutting her arms and legs off in front of me. i tried to go save her and they did the same to me and cut my stomach open. and so, because of that... i'm sorry, how old are you? i was about three years old. and because of that... i am sorry to interrupt. you said to be earlier that you try to distance yourself. do you actually remember this? yes. but it easier for me to tell it so i don't did emotional, faster, than to be able to... it is easier for me now to say it with a wall, instead of thinking about it, because it's too painful to think
about and to feel those emotions. it's hard for me to be able to continue my day, or to continue what i want to do in my life, because then it'sjust going to hold me back. it's just... even as we talk about it, it is so shocking to hear it, i'm wondering whether, as an artist, and you are, an extraordinarily expressive artist, using your body to speak to audiences around the world. how you can find the way to be so expressive when there's so much that's locked up inside you. that's what has made my career a bit more difficult. i think i could have been more artistic sooner if i wasn't having to have that wall of emotions locked up for such a long time. and that's why i'm incredibly lucky to have the director i have now, because he understands that. but now, i've — i had to do this performance once and i lost a brother, when i got adopted. because i always assumed i am going to lose people i love, so i ended up having to also having
to tell myself not to love people, for quite a long time. and then i finally let somebody in again, to — you know, that i cared about, and he ended up passing away. i had to do a piece about death and i ended up crying on stage, because i have to think about the fact... i have to think about my brother, teddy. but you know, that's what makes us so beautiful, though, that you can use the things that you've been through to connect with the audience, and that is what art is and that's what makes us so passionate. and it means sometimes it's hard, but, at the same time, you have to have the right support system, the right people who can help you, bring you back into reality. do you think, in a sense, finding your path, through dance, sort of saved you? oh, it definitely saved me. definitely. i don't think i would be the person i am today. i don't think i would be... i don't think i would be happy at all, if i hadn't danced. i would be still that angry little girl that i was.
and yet, if we fast forward, you were adopted, in the end, by an american family, and you were taken to the united states into a comfortable, relatively prosperous home. wonderful home, yeah. and that's when you got the opportunity to go to ballet school, to learn how to dance. yeah. but — and here's what's interesting to me — even then, in that new, comfortable environment, you still had an enormous struggle, because, let's face it, you were trying to make it in a world which is extraordinarily white and where black dancers have an awful lot of, sort of, conventional wisdom which says black dancers simply can't do ballet. yeah. i thought it was going to be completely easy, but then the older i got, the more i noticed there aren't any dancers who look like me. why is that? but i had the opportunity... there was a dancer from the pennsylvania ballet, heidi cruz. she was the only one who looked like me. and she was also one of the people who was one of my role models, who told me to never give up
on my dream. there is another beautiful dancer, lauren anderson, who was also a role model for me. but, out of how many dancers, how many black dancers, i'm sure there have been, why were there only two? here's a quote from something you said a while ago: "when i was young, as a dancer," you said, "i overheard one of the directors working with us saying, ‘we don't put a lot of effort into the black girls, because they end up getting fat.”' yeah. that's a pretty horrible... and yet, you said to yourself, "never mind all this, this is still the world i want to be in." yeah. and maybe i'm a bit crazy, but, the thing is, for me, i love proving people wrong. it's my thing that i love to do, and that's what got me through the whole thing in sierra leone, and that's what is going to continue to get me through life. you can't just think that somebody‘s going to be a certain way, just because somebody else was like that.
it's not fair that you are going to give up on somebodyjust because you want to see them in a certain light. when you were 17, and we should remind people, you are only 22 now. but when you were 17, and wanted to join a professional company, you looked to europe and you found, or the dutch national ballet found you, and they offered you this position and you said it felt like your rosa parks moment. yes. and every single time this company continues to surprise me by promoting me and believing in me and i'm just incredibly grateful for this opportunity. and i'm incredibly grateful by the fact that in europe in general, what i've experienced, also in london, when i danced with english national ballet, is the fact that they're not looking at my skin colour. they're looking at the fact that i'm just an artist who wants to move people and he wants to change people's lives by having them come see me perform. in that spirit, let's look at our second clip of you recently in a performance of swan lake with the dutch national ballet.
now, michaela, you say, you know, your ambition is to be an artist who is neverjudged on the colour of her skin, but one cannot help noticing, as we look at you moving so beautifully there, that pretty much everybody else in the ensemble is white. i just wonder whether even today you feel there is an extra scrutiny on you because you still, it has to be said, unusual in the world you've chosen to live in. yeah. i think it's time for that not to be a discussion any more. that there is only one black arena
at the dutch national ballet. i even thought, in the nutcracker, in the beginning there is a small marie, a small clara, and it was an asian girl. and all of a sudden she turns black. for me, i think that's... why? why couldn't we have a little black clara or marie? so i think it's time for a change and i'm hoping it's happening. it's a slow process but it needs to happen faster, it really does. i suppose, in a way, ballet is one of those artforms that is so steeped in tradition, born out of performances that began in europe's while houses and among the elites of europe. there is perhaps a snobbishness in ballet that isn't there in some other artforms. yeah, i think some people are scared of change, or the fact how people will respond to change. now, you just saw in the video, i am wearing pink tights, and that was, i think,
that most of the people, most dancers wore white and they wore pink tights to complete the line. but i'm brown, so, for me to wear pink tights, it destroys my line completely. so now, in all my performances, i'm going to wear brown tights. but you never think to yourself, you know what, this world isjust beyond the pale for me? there are so many other creative forms of dance, all sorts of wonderful contemporary dance. and i know you do some of that, too. i love it, yeah, it's fun. you won't give up on the ballet? no, no. i love wearing tutus and i love the romantic stories. it's like as if i'm a little girl playing dress—up. i love the way it makes me feel. but i also love doing contemporary stuff, which is being myself and being feisty, but being romantic at the same time. it's an amazing opportunity. let me now bring you back to personal stuff and in particular your take on going back to sierra leone. because you've become an ambassador for war child, an organisation which is devoted to helping children caught up in wars around the world.
yet it strikes me that you've never been back to what is your native land, your home. i would love to go back. i became the ambassador with war child holland just last year and i would love to go back to sierra leone, but it has to do with the fact that if i'm ready mentally. i went to south africa four years ago, for the first time, and i was terrified. because i was so scared that i would get the memories, or exactly the full memories of people'sfaces, the emotions rushing back, and what happens if i would freeze completely? i didn't have any family member with me. how would i be able to function and perform and do what i came to do in south africa? it suggests to me there is still an awful lot of trauma in your mind. exactly. and it's not like i wasjust... a lot of the kids in the orphanage did not go through the amount of things that i went through.
my sister went through a lot, also. my other sister. it'sjust the thing is i need to be able to have the amount of support when i go there. i'm going to go back. i want to start a school there. i want to start an art school there. it's going to happen. it strikes me, we talk about inspirational figures, but what you could offer the kids, the young people of sierra leone, is something extraordinary. a story like no other. no, i would definitely love to go back, but i don't know if you know my schedule. i work from ten to six every day. i barely even get a week off during the summer. but it's going to happen. i'm actually hoping maybe i can go this summer with another ambassador, an ambassador here, actually, in war child uk. i know this is a very intrusive question and maybe raises lots of painful issues, but do you know, for example, what has happened to your uncle? the man who, in many ways, gave your way to the orphanage, who refused to acknowledge or as part of his family. well, i've gotten a facebook message from him asking for money.
also from the person who ran the orphanage, because of my story and stuff. you know, the thing is, first i was really angry, but i forgiven him and iforgiven the person who ran the orphanage. thing is, they don't deserve high forgiveness, but i'm a bigger person and i think there is no reason for me to hold a grudge any more because it's not going to help me move on with my life and i deserve a lot more than to focus on what they did to me before. and they don't deserve me even to talk about them. there's another aspect of this that raises important moral and ethical issues and batteries you are by no means the only child who was plucked out of difficult, sometimes awful circumstances in africa, and adopted by families desperate to get a child for their family in the rich west — in the united states, but it happens in other
western countries, too. are you a great believer in the idea that that is the right and proper thing to do? to adopt? to adopt, to allow international adoption so the kids are plucked far away from their home countries and cultures. i think it's... for me, i believe it was the best thing. one, it saved my life. i would not be alive today. you really believe that? no, i was very sick. i had 106 fever fahrenheit. i don't know what it is in celsius. yeah, well that's dangerous, yeah. yet. and i would not be alive today. i also had a hernia, where my organs were coming out, so no. but i also think the thing is it's very important to also educate your children about the culture they came from, so they understand what they've been
through so they don't forget. because some kids, they do forget where they've come from and then they feel like they're missing something. i think adoption is an amazing thing and i am just so grateful. my other... well, 11 kids in my family, but the other nine who are adopted are so grateful for their life. the flip side of it, and i know this doesn't apply to you, but the flip side of it — and it came out in a major report in 2012 from the african child policy forum, and i'm just quoting a tiny bit of it, aying "the majority of so—called orphans adopted from africa have, actually, at least one living parent and many of these children have been trafficked or sold by their parents. yeah. and if you allow international adoption, then the message from a variety of different sources, including that major report, is that it leads to these terrible situation is, abuse of the system. that's the thing. i saw this documentary a few years ago about that and that's what really upsets me, because people believe and then they see these negative things about adoption and they don't see how many positive outcomes can actually happen through adoption, and that makes me really, really sad, because these children
deserve an amazing life. let's end by talking about identity. 0k. you've gone into a world which is, in some ways, so alien to you and your background, and yet you are determined to thrive in it and become a major star in it and it seems to be working. also, you switched countries from sierra leone and now you are fully american in the way you've been brought up. characterise your identity for me as you see it today. i think my identity is very european, not very american. really? yeah, very. ithink... yes, very. very, especially with... yeah. i think you're saying especially with the way america is today. i think it is just the way things are going and i'm just a bit sad with how things are going in america right now. but, at the same time, i am looking forward to going back to africa one day and starting up my school and learning more
about my culture and bringing all so people i've worked with to help me start this school up and having them learn about my culture. giving kids an opportunity to just have the chance, to have that taste of opportunity that i have been growing up with. i think everybody deserves a chance — "maybe i don't like to dance, maybe i do like dancing, maybe i love to move this way." just to express themselves in a way where they don't have to talk. and when you go back, because you say you will, will you go back as an african? um, in what way? just in the way that you present yourself. for example, the kids that you will talk about this amazing story of yours to in sierra leone. will it be an african story? i'm not quite sure, i haven't thought about it. i'm going to pretty much explains to them how i got... where i came from, how i got to where i am today and see if they accepted for what it is i guess that's it. well, it is an amazing, extraordinary story.
thank you. michaela deprince, thank you for being on hardtalk. thank you so much. thank you. thank you very much indeed. hello there, good morning. there is going to be some more sunshine around for the next few days. we may well have seen the peak of the temperature over the weekend. it was pretty much wall—to—wall sunshine in northern ireland. here we had the warmest day of the year so far. same temperatures in glasgow and we had the warm air all the way from wales towards the south coast.
these areas that had the warmth by day are getting the chill right now with the clear skies. in rural parts, we may find temperatures not far away from freezing. in the towns and cities, this is what the temperatures look like. further east across england and scotland, more cloud off the north sea. essentially, an east—west split to the weather on monday. another sunny day for northern ireland. best of the sunshine in scotland in the south—west. sunshine for wales and western england. a cloudier day than yesterday across the midlands and south—east england. some sunshine developing at times across scotland. some cloud filtering into northern and eastern areas and the north—east of england. sunshine coming and going across the north—west of england. a lovely day in northern ireland. not quite as warm as yesterday. pleasant in the sunshine across wales and the south—west. a cooler, cloudier look to the weather across the midlands, towards south—east england. a fair bit of clout across lincolnshire and east anglia. the cloud is coming in off the north sea around this area
of high pressure which dominates weather across the week and stretches back to parts of greenland. the position of the high will be crucial. they may well be a bit more cloud a round come monday. still, not as much, not as much sunshine in western parts of england and wales. temperatures into the mid teens. we're not seeing 20 or 21 that it will feel warmer eastern scotland and as we lose the wind of the north sea. if we lose the cloud overnight, the dawn on wednesday could be quite cold almost anywhere in the countryside. it will warm up quickly across england and wales, southern scotland, northern ireland. we may see afternoon highs of 19. a spot or two of rain on the weak weather front. our high pressure is being squeezed well way into europe and the pressure is great to be falling from wednesday onwards. that means the weather is going to start to change.
for much of the week, it will remain dry. sunshine around. if we get clear skies, chilly at night. later in the week, the chance of some rain moving in northwards. i'm sharanjit leyl in singapore. the headlines: a decisive win for emmanual macron. the 39—year—old centrist sweeps to victory in the french presidential election, promising to fight division and protect the people. translation: a la task ahead is arduous but every time i'll tell you the truth. your further, arduous but every time i'll tell you the truth. yourfurther, your energy commuter route will always carry forward. a night of defeat for marine le pen. but, with nearly a third of the vote, she insists the national front remains a realforce. south korea also goes to the polls to choose a new president. we look at the frontrunner,