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BEND IT LIKE BAKHSH-AM; SHABANA'S GOT GREAT CHANCE TO SHOWCASE HER SECRET FOOTBALL TALENT Sexy Scottish actress admits she's having a ball in high-profile new role as rookie teacher.

Byline: By Simon Houston

SHE is not the first talented Scot to learn the beautiful game on the streets of Govan.

In the shadow of Ibrox stadium - round the corner from where Sir Alex Ferguson first kicked a ball - sexy actress Shabana Bakhsh earned a reputation as a mean dribbler.

When her brothers were reading motor mags or fighting over the latest computer game, the 26-year-old former Bellahouston Academy girl would grab a ball - and her dad - and run outside for a kick around. Jackets for goalposts, next goal's the winner.

And growing up a Rangers fan in a household of Celtic supporters means she knows how to fight her corner when the going gets tough.

Despite playing for the school team, football was very much a second love behind drama for the ex-River City girl.

But now she can combine her two great passions after landing arguably her biggest role yet - in the popular prime-time BBC1 drama Waterloo Road.

Shabana, who rose to fame in Ken Loach's Glasgow-set romance Ae Fond Kiss, has been given her latest big break as a raw English teacher, fresh out of collegeand thrown into the lion's den.

Life is tough and she's at the mercy of unpitying pupils - until she pulls on the boots.

Former Doctors star Shabana laughs: "My football skills get a nationwide audience next Sunday night. Two girls from the school team do a runner at half-time.

"They've been up to no good and fear being caught so the team needs replacements pretty fast.

"Jasmine, my character, answers the call and, without giving too much away, it turns out she is a fantastic football player.

"Jasmine looks so young she passes off as a pupil.

"Football is never far from me. In Ae Fond Kiss I was a mad Rangers fan and used to play at school. I was goalkeeper for Bellahouston Primary but wasn't too bad outfield either.

"I grew up in the shadow of Ibrox and I'm a massive Rangers fan - we lived so close you could hear the crowd on matchdays. I kicked the ball around in the garden with my dad whenever there was a spare moment.

"I have two brothers but they're not very good - mind you they are both Celtic fans. Dad supports Rangers and his brothers are Celtic fans so the family is kind of split down the middle."

Despite her prowess with a ball, Waterloo Road producers took the safe option and hired a body double from the Manchester City ladies team for the tricky scenes.

Currently based in Manchester, Shabana initially hit screens in Scotland playing schoolgirl Zara Malik in River City - the first girlfriend of Shellsuit Bob.

And after her big movie break as another schoolgirl, Tahara, in Ae Fond Kiss, she secured a regular slot on daytime drama Doctors.

But she believes the latest role alongside stars Neil Morrissey and Denise Welch is her biggest yet.

She said: "I hadn't long returned from the USA where I was doing theatre work when I got a call to say Shed Productions wanted me to audition for the next series of Waterloo Road.

"I knew them from trying for a part in Bad Girls two or three years ago. They told my agent I was so different this time, much more grown-up, and could hardly believe it was the same person.

"The audition went well and as soon as I left they were on the phone to my agent saying they wanted me to start straight away.

"Initially they were looking for someone to play a northern English Asian or black character but couldn't find the right person.

"When they heard my accent they changed their minds and decided to go with a Scot. I'm delighted they did because this is definitely my most high-profile role yet and one I want to grab with both hands.

"This is the third series and a fourth is planned for next year so my aim is to be included in that."

We've all been in a classroom, but relatively few have stood in front of the blackboard with chalk in hand and been told to teach.

NOT surprisingly, Shabana found the experience terrifying but luckily she had someone to fall back on for inspiration.

She says: "I thought about my old English teacher, Mrs Cummings at Bellahouston Academy, who was fantastic and so cool. She taught me in fifth year when we did Romeo & Juliet and took the class to see the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

"When you have a good teacher it helps you stay interested.

"She never spoke to us like kids and I actually thought about her during rehearsals for Waterloo Road, because of the way she casually sat on the edge of the desk rather than behind it, so the children were less intimidated.

"But when I was preparing for my first scene I stood with my back to the class getting mentally prepared while all the runners were getting the kids in their seats.

"Then I turned round and there was an entire class full of children staring at me. It was the most bizarre experience and very scary.

"For a few seconds I really felt like a teacher and it was horrible - I might as well have been auditioning all over again.

"There was a selection of the young actors who have proper parts and lines, planted among a crowd of extras, who were kids from local schools. I was so intimidated but actually they are all fantastic to work with.

"But that probably helped as Jasmine is a new English teacher and sometimes feels overwhelmed with the pupils.

"She likes to have fun, doesn't enjoy disciplining pupils, and sometimes feels she has little control over the class."

Former Men Behaving Badly star Morrissey and Coronation Street stalwart Welch have both helped Shabana settle in.

Even though she admits to being a little starstruck at first, she revealed how she got Morrissey to phone her little nephew back in Glasgow and sing Bob the Builder down the phone to him. It was so funny hearing Neil trying to convince him that he was the man who sang Bob on telly," Shabana says.

"He and Denise are great to work with. I have some wonderful episodes coming up with them.

"Jasmine does get freaked out and upset quite easily and lands in trouble later in the series which will be worth watching. She likes to have fun and can get down to the students' level - even when it comes to getting the boots on."

Waterloo Road, BBC1, Sunday at 8pm.

'Football is never far from me. I grew up in shadow of Ibrox and loved a kick-about in the garden with dad'

CAPTION(S):

PIC: HOWARD BARLOW; FIELD DAY: Shabana shows nifty footie skills in Waterloo Road, left, in which she plays a teacher, right. She rose to fame in Ae Fond Kiss, middle; CITY GIRL: Shabana, left, as Zara in River City
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 15, 2007
Words:1164
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