United in Diversity

Sarah Carabott

On May 30, 2009, 20 million people in the UK were glued to their television screens to watch the final of Britain's Got Talent. That night the dance troupe Diversity took the UK by storm, and won the third series of the ITV reality talent show.

British music executive and television programme producer Simon Cowell described them as "sheer and utter perfection". Their motto “Dream, Believe, Achieve” illustrates their hard work and dedication.

The dance group is made up of three sets of brothers: Ashley and Jordan Banjo, Ian, Jamie and Matthew McNaughton, Sam and Mitchell Craske, complemented by four of their best friends: Terry Smith, Ike Ezekwugo, Warren Russell and Perri Luc Kiely.

So how is it that these eleven guys from east London and the Essex area ended up in a street-dance group and not a gang? Ashley, a natural sciences student, and the group’s choreographer said: “We have good influences around us. I have been dancing since I was really young, maybe five years old, and I have always been really focused with my dancing. I have good people around me, who help to keep me grounded.”

Ashley’s greatest inspiration is his mother who was also a professional dancer. As a group, they find support in their families and people around them. “In terms of other people, you can’t beat a bit of Michael Jackson!” Ashley continued.

Street dancing is influenced by all dancing styles, but according to Diversity, it is unique in that anyone can make it his own. When coordinating his mates, Ashley takes ideas from all walks of life. “My early ballet training really helps me a lot. Street dance is so flexible and versatile. I think that is why it is so popular at the moment,” he explained.

The group has always promoted freedom of expression and freedom of dance by employing routines and styles that are different from the norm. “We are a very diverse group of people, and I like to think we get our personalities across through our dancing. We are heavily involved in lots of campaigns to promote dance within youth communities across the UK. We have just been working with the government on their Dance 4 Life campaign, which is all about encouraging people to get fit and active by dancing. I hope we can make a difference,” Ashley said.

The group rose to fame within months. They have performed at Wembley Stadium, T4 on The Beach, T4 Stars of 2009, Children In Need, the Mobo Awards, and the Pride of Britain Awards. They are also the only act ever to perform on Downing Street for the then prime minister Gordon Brown.

They kicked off their 27-day debut tour around the UK in March this year, performing in venues such as Hammersmith Apollo, Cardiff International Arena, and the Bournemouth International Centre. “We have only just got going on this journey. We get on really well, and we are like a family. Hopefully we will be together for many years to come,” Ashley explained.

But does Ashley think they are good? “I think we could always be better,” he chuckled. “I am a real perfectionist, so I am always striving to get that little bit more out of my group.  But hey, we can’t be bad!”