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Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (Pic: 20th Century Fox)
Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (Pic: 20th Century Fox)
Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (Pic: 20th Century Fox)

Today is the International Day of the Girl Child, a United Nations initiative to highlight some of the challenges that face young girls in particular, all over the world. These include gender inequality, access to education, legal rights and so on. And it’s timely that this should roll around now, given that it’s less than a month since Emma Watson—whose teen years took place in the public eye—launched the #HeForShe campaign, also backed by the U.N.

So, in tribute to Emma, and all the ‘girl children’ who are putting themselves together right now, here are five British stars who started young and talented, and got better and better.

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start:

Julie Andrews

This clip is remarkable for two reasons. It’s not only a sonically astonishing thing for a 12-year-old to be able to do, “Je suie Titania” from Mignon is the very first song young Julie sang professionally. She had been in the audience of a revue called Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome, and had rushed up to the stage when Wally Boag—comedian and MC—offered balloon animals to the children. Having got one, she told him that she could sing, and when invited to demonstrate, launched into this song. Even at 12, she had already amassed a couple of years’ experience singing with her mother and step father, both entertainers, and this stood her in good stead. She blew the roof off, securing a year-long appearance in the show, and a Royal Command Variety Performance the following year.

Hayley Mills

Never mind Lindsay Lohan, Hayley was first to play two versions of herself in the original version of The Parent Trap, made in 1961. She came from British movie royalty, her father was Sir John Mills, and her mother the actress and writer Mary Hayley Bell. She remains the last child star to receive a special juvenile Academy Award, for her part in Pollyanna, and even had a No.8 single with “Let’s Get Together,” a spin-off from the The Parent Trap franchise. She also starred in Whistle Down The Wind, which was adapted from the book written by her mother, and alongside her father in The Truth About Spring. Oh and her son is Crispian Mills, lead singer with the Britpop-era band Kula Shaker.

Jenny Agutter

This is Jenny’s first appearance on film, in 1964’s East of Sudan, after being discovered at Elmhurst Ballet School by producers looking for an English-speaking girl to audition for a different movie. She began taking TV parts while still at school, and took her first big part as Roberta in The Railway Children, which she repeated when Lionel Jeffries made the movie version in 1970. Before long she was appearing in more grown-up fare, and even accidentally pointed the way for a young Daniel Radcliffe’s career by starring in the movie version of Equus, which he later took as his first major stage role outside of the world of Harry Potter.

Kate Winslet

Did you know there’s a Doctor Who connection to Titanic that doesn’t involve a space-liner crashing into the TARDIS? One of Kate Winslet’s earliest roles (after her TV debut in a commercial for Sugar Puffs) was in a 1991 children’s TV series called Dark Season, in which she plays one of a gang of teenagers trying to save their school from a worrying figure called Mr. Eldritch. It was her first major role, and also the first major TV commission for the show’s writer, a certain Russell T Davies.

Anna Popplewell

Bringing us right up to date is young Anna, star of the Chronicles of Narnia series (she played elder sister Susan) and currently starring as Lady Lola of The CW’s series Reign, about the early days of Mary, Queen of Scots. Anna has two siblings that are also actors, who also got started at a young age: her sister Lulu was Daisy in Love, Actually, and her brother Freddie played Michael Darling in the 2003 live action version of Peter Pan. Anna started professionally in 1998—aged 10—in a TV adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel Frenchman’s Creek, and made her movie debut a year later in the 1999 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

See more:
‘The Railway Children’ Receives Its First Ever Complaint
10 Britpop-Era Bands Still Around in 2014
Kate Winslet Will Receive Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
Snapshot: 50 Years of Dame Julie Andrews

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By Fraser McAlpine