A Benenden pupil whose orchestra made it through to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent has described the experience as “amazing and exhilarating”.
Tiffany Ayankogbe, 16, is a Music Scholar at Benenden and also a viola player in the Chineke! Junior Orchestra who reached Saturday’s semi-final of the hit ITV show.
She said: “It was amazing and exhilarating because I grew up watching Britain’s Got Talent and Simon Cowell and Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden. Meeting Ant and Dec was really weird and so surreal but so fun!”
In their original audition, aired in May, the orchestra – a youth orchestra of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse players aged 11 to 22 – performed a blend of classical music fused with modern songs such as Crazy in Love and Old Town Road. They earned the coveted four yeses from the judges – Cowell, Dixon, Holden and David Walliams – and the audition has been watched 190,000 times on YouTube.
The audition was filmed at the London Palladium, which Tiffany said was an unforgettable moment. “It was completely full and people were clapping along and they really got into it. When we finished playing the crowd were going wild and the judges were standing!”
In the next stage the judges shortlisted them for the semi-finals. Their semi-final performance on Saturday was a blend of live and virtual, with a handful of members performing on stage while the pre-recorded performances of the remaining 50 or so instrumentalists were screened on a giant video wall.
Tiffany, who is in her first year at Sixth Form at Benenden, said that recording her section remotely was a strange experience. She said: “It was really hard because normally, you are so focused on what you are playing you’re not smiling – we were all looking so dull – so we had to get people behind the camera to make us smile! That was one of the most difficult parts of recording because you get told ‘you are not smiling in this, can you re-record it?’
“I didn’t know how it was going to turn out or fit together. It sounded good on Saturday so I was happy!”
Tiffany, who joined Benenden in 2015 aged 11, is a keen musician and is one of the School’s Music Scholars. She plays violin and viola in numerous orchestras and ensembles as well as being part of the School’s highly regarded choirs.
She had kept her BGT appearance quiet until Saturday night, saying: “I’m not a very loud person so I wasn’t going to tell many people but then my mum said ‘you should probably tell someone – it’s BGT, they’re going to find out anyway!”
She watched the show with her friends in her boarding house, where staff had converted a music room into a comfy viewing area, complete with beanbags. Tiffany said of her friends: “They were saying ‘oh my God, you are famous now, which obviously I’m not! But obviously it’s really cool for them to know someone who’s been on BGT and they have been really supportive.”
Chineke! may not have made it through to the grand final but Tiffany was pleased with the orchestra’s journey.
“It’s just a great experience overall,” she said. “I’m so happy that I got the opportunity and that I can say I’ve been on BGT and it’s not like we were one of the worst acts!
“I’m really happy with how everything turned out. It certainly has showed me what I can do with my instruments. I’ve always wanted to play with an orchestra to perform scores for movies and I know I can really do it now. That would certainly be a nice experience.”