Known for educating Adele, Amy Winehouse and Jessie J, the Brit School has taught many students who would go on to superstardom.
Its former pupils are among the world’s top artists, both on stage and working behind the scenes – but none of them might have made it there if it wasn’t for an “amazing idea” more than 30 years ago.
Crowds massed at Knebworth House on 30 June 1990, for the Silver Clef Award Winners Concert. An estimated 120,000 fans flocked to the Hertfordshire park on a blustery Saturday to hear “awe-inspiring” performances from stars including Pink Floyd, Phil Collins and Tears for Fears.
The event helped raise initial funds to construct the school – the UK’s first free performing and creative arts school for people aged 14 to 19 – which marked 30 years in education with a tribute to the Knebworth concert.
“I can remember reading about it, going: a performing arts school for free? I’m not sure that’s going to happen,” the school’s current principal Stuart Worden said.
“All these artists played to make a school and that is amazing. Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin gave up their time for a school – that’s extraordinary.”
A year later in 1991, the Brit School opened in Croydon, south London.
Mr Worden said: “When I got offered my job here, people said don’t take it because that school isn’t known yet and it’s a fame school. But this school has never been a fame school.”
It’s a comprehensive with a full academic programme alongside the arts. That means students don’t pay any fees, but are selected after an audition or interview.
Three decades after opening, it’s become a thriving space for nurturing young talent and teaching creative skills.
From recognised alumni including Ella Eyre, Black Midi and Rizzle Kicks to those working behind the scenes in events production, digital design and broadcasting – the impact on the UK’s creative industries has been “a big deal”.
“I learnt more than I could even fathom learning at that school, just in terms of how it would subconsciously and consciously prepare me for my time in the industry,” said singer-songwriter RAYE.
The 24-year-old former Brit School music pupil was nominated for the British single Brit Award just months ago.
She said: “It’s so special because music isn’t about privilege. It’s a free school. Coming from south London where it’s not exactly sparkling lights – it’s not about the glitz and glamour, it’s about the hard work.
“There are two or three people that I’m still super close with, one of them is in my band. I remember getting the train – Loyle Carner would always go the same direction and have a little chat. Tom Holland would get the train the other way. It was really cool.”
To celebrate 30 years since opening and more than 10,000 pupils taught, the music department recently hosted a gig reflecting performances from the Knebworth concert and songs by alumni.
Two of those performing were Year 13 music students Megan and Skye.
“I’m doing Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears,” singer Megan said.
“We wouldn’t be here right now if that gig never happened, it raised so much money.”
Drummer Skye added: “I find it so cool because we get to perform what they performed. I’m happy that we get to embody them.
Down the corridor, 18-year-old theatre student Daniella told me: “The Brit School is a place where I can be myself and be pushed to be a better version of myself.”
She said: “They don’t sell you dreams. A lot of people think, ‘I come to Brit – straight easy path, get with an agent and become a successful actor’. But realistically that’s not what the school is for. The Brit School is where it starts.
“You’re equipped with tools and placed in an environment with a lot of supportive teachers that help you reach where you want to go.”
However, the school is facing challenges. While the UK continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic and arts education funding is limited, a campaign has been launched to raise £10m by September 2025, which the principal says is needed to provide high-quality education in the future.
Daniella said: “Lockdown was a huge challenge, there was a lot of stuff we had to do online. Normally we get to perform live but instead we had to film. I would be acting in my bedroom. Surprisingly I really enjoyed that – so now I’m going to get into film.”
So what’s the key to another 30 years of success?
“There’s nothing special about Brit School students. They just know what hard work looks like,” Mr Worden said.
The principal added: “What’s great about the young people here now, they might not know the history of the school but they’re living in a kind of an ideal. We’ve got an ideal here, an idea that’s brilliant.
“Long may it continue that young people have access to the arts, because it matters.”
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