Beckii Cruel: Schoolgirl Superstar in Japan and teenager on the Isle of Man


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The first time I ever heard about Beckii Cruel, was when my executive producer phoned me on my day off and said the following: "I've just found out about an eccentric programme for BBC Three. It's about a girl from the Isle of Man who danced on the internet to Japanese pop music and became famous in Japan. I thought of you, are you interested?"

I definitely was interested.

Beckii, I quickly discovered, was just a very normal 14-year-old school girl who had experienced a very unusual rise to fame.

After developing an interest in everything Japanese a few years earlier, she soon discovered Japanese pop music and began copying and recording the dances and posting them on YouTube.

One day last summer, she recorded a dance to a rather crazy song called Danjo - and it turned out to be the song that changed her life. Not long after uploading it, she found herself being watched by half a million people 6,000 miles away. She had become famous in Japan practically overnight.

The first time I met Beckii was in a hotel room in London. She was sporting a very small, very blonde wig and looked totally different to the Beckii I'd researched on the internet.

Her managers were trying an image change for a new music video she was making and she was almost unrecognizable.

When I finally convinced myself that I was with the right girl, we introduced ourselves and I instantly began to film Beckii getting ready.

Time was of the essence. We were off to Tokyo in a week and I'd never filmed her before. I wanted to make her comfortable with the camera as soon as possible.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. She showed almost no self-consciousness about being filmed. For a 14-year-old that is amazing, I thought.

The fact that Beckii was so used to being filmed became both a positive and negative in terms of making the documentary. Because she was so used to going on live TV and being interviewed by news crews from around the world, she wasn't fazed by me following her around with a camera.

But I soon realized that Beckii's experience had taught her a particular way of speaking and reacting to the camera, which wasn't quite what I was after as a documentary maker.

Having gained access to film Beckii's story for the first time, I wanted to get a real sense of what it must feel like to be 14 and to have become famous in such an interesting way.

Getting to that story required Beckii to see me in a different way, to not just see me as a news interviewer after a quick story. What she was very good at was delivering good, short sound bites about her discovery how it had come about, how amazing it was.

I could tell (quite understandably), that she had tired somewhat of telling the same story over and over again. What teenager wouldn't find that a little boring?

Beckii and I had a very good chat very early on in the filming process, as I needed her to understand why this was something different to what she had done before.

I explained that I wasn't part of a news crew and what I really needed her to do was open up to me, and most importantly to think about the questions I was asking her rather than just firing off answers.

Beckii never failed to amaze me the way she would take on board comments like this and try hard to change. From that point on, she made a real effort to not give me the stock answers she had given so many others.

I was always conscious that although Beckii was used to media attention, she was also just a 14-year-old girl.

Asking any 14-year-old to open up their life for an hour-long documentary is a huge deal. There were definitely times when I'm sure Beckii would have preferred to be out with her friends, or practicing a new dance.

But I also knew that she was desperate for people to understand her and see past the news headlines. For this reason, she was always determined to put effort into the filming and to talk about subjects that were sometimes sensitive or difficult.

Although Beckii has a huge fan base of people who think she's amazing and inspiring, she also gets a tough time from negative commenters on the internet and some hassle from kids on the Isle of Man.

She really wants those people to see the real her, to understand that she isn't an arrogant, conceited superstar, but a normal teenage girl who is taking the opportunities that have come her way.

She is always the first to admit that she isn't the best dancer on the internet, or the best singer in the world, that what happened to her is a once in a lifetime lucky thing, but she doesnt think that should stop her grabbing hold of opportunities if they come her way.

One of the biggest problems with making a film about 14-year-old Beckii, was that it was so easy to forget she was 14. Quite often when she spoke about the business, her direction, her image or her fan base, you could easily mistake her for a 17 or 18-year-old.

This is the consequence of being a child in an adult's world. In order to be taken seriously and understand what's going on around you, you are often required to behave older than you are. This can result in a speeding up of the natural growing up process.

I sometimes worry that Beckii puts pressure on herself to be old when she is still very young, but I know this problem isn't exclusive to her as a child star.

I think Beckii copes with fame quite remarkably. I still can't work out how she has such a wise brain inside such a young head, or how she holds on to a real inner strength when she puts up with so much.

I was always surprised by how easily she could go from being adored and mobbed in Tokyo, to being a normal school girl on the Isle of Man.

She wouldn't expect attention at home and she wouldn't really miss it. In fact she was often happy to leave it behind.

Her group of very lovely close friends at home always serve to make her feel normal, and rather than resent that she thoroughly embraces it, perhaps subconsciously knowing that in the tough world of showbiz, she needs to hold on to something real and honest to keep her grounded.

Ellena Wood is the director of Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar At 14.

Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar At 14 is on at 9pm on Thursday, 12 August on BBC Three, and is part of the channel's Adult Season.

You can read more on Beckii's story, in her own words, on BBC Slink

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