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I was a fat boy who got bullied at school.. then I found I could act; HOW SCREEN TEENAGE STAR ALAN LEECH MADE DRAMA OUT OF HIS CRISIS.

IRISH teenage acting sensation Alan Leech has been described as the latest James Dean of the silver screen.

But the handsome 19-year-old had to overcome schoolboy bullying in his quest for fame.

At school, the young Leech reveals how he was hugely overweight and as a result was regularly taunted by other pupils.

But once he discovered acting, both his weight and his life changed.

The moment he stepped on stage in The Wizard of Oz, Alan's confidence grew. He stopped gorging pastries and let the other boys' cruel remarks wash over him.

Now the dark-haired lad vows he'll never be fat again by working out for two hours a day.

And he is starring alongside Jane Seymour and Claire Bloom in the film Yesterday's Children, about an American who has the soul of an Irish woman trapped in her body.

He also has the lead in a black comedy based on a small Irish village, called The Dentist's Daughter, which will tour film festivals throughout the world.

Alan, who comes from a very strong Dublin family, has described how he fought back from years of agony at school when he realised he could become a successful actor.

He said: "I was a very, very fat kid. At 13, being only 5ft 2in, I weighed 12st, so I was wider than I was tall.

"It made me very introverted. I was never in the peer group, always one of the outsiders.

"I ate a huge amount of everything. We were never allowed soft drinks, but I made up for it with enormous amounts of pastries.

"In fact I ate out the whole bakery every day.

"I felt terrible and of course I was bullied at school in Dublin 4, and I really hated school life.

"The boys called me Beach Ball, the Fat Baker and a hundred horrible, cruel names.

"Until I was 15 I was cripplingly shy and refused to go out the front door. I became a big computer geek just playing on the Ninetendo all day."

Things were to change for the schoolboy when he discovered drama at his school.

"Drama saved me. At school a teacher gave me a part in the Wizard of Oz and the minute I did it I just loved acting and being on stage.

"From that day onwards, apart from my family, drama became the focal point of my teenage years.

"As I got more and more into it I didn't even notice the bullying going on. And when people began to see that I had a talent for it, that I was going in that direction, they stopped being cruel to me.

"At the same time I lost weight, began playing rugby, football and tennis and it gradually dropped off over two years.

"But drama got me through and I flourished ever since."

Alan still finds the success which he has achieved in his relatively young life as amazing.

"To think I play the young Romeo in my latest film, The Dentist's Daughter is unbelievable.

"On set they were all making fun of me, saying I looked like the Irish version of James Dean, because I had a bike and a leather jacket."

Off screen the Dublin lad exercises regularly to stay in shape.

"I work out a huge amount these days and am pretty muscular. I'm 5ft 10in but only weigh 10 stone.

"We have our own gym and boxing pads outside the house, so my brother Simon and I spend two hours every morning weightlifting and boxing

"While I had trouble at school my family life was always the best fun because we all just laugh. I still live at home with my parents in a five-bedroom house

"I think that's why there was no lasting damage to me from the bad times at school

"The family have always been so brilliant. They gave me such a good foundation, the confidence I needed and the love. If I didn't have such a strong family life I would have gone under with all that unhappiness."

As he blossomed Alan started going out more, and two years ago he fell head-over-heels in love with a commerce student named Thyrza - a Mila Jovavich lookalike - whom he describes as his best friend.

While they spend as much time together as possible, the young Irishman has made it clear that nothing comes before his fierce ambition to be a great actor.

He said : "We met at a nightclub and she used to be a model, so she's extremely attractive and is taller than me. But we get on brilliantly.

"The first time we went out for lunch we ended up sitting there for eight hours and didn't even realise the time going by.

"It's a serious romance but we"re very good friends as well. But I definitely don't want to get married for a long time. I'm too set in what I want to do career-wise to include anything else.

Alan has his sights firmly set on his acting career and one show in particular.

"I love the theatre and there's a one-man show called Catalpa, written by Donal O"Kelly, that I would like to take round the world before I'm 25.

"I've also written two screenplays and want to pursue every aspect of the acting world, especially drama.

The young actor has also taken steps to counter bullying in school.

"In my last years at my school I set up the All Students Council to help the students and teachers union get together against bullying and other things I saw happen as I grew up."

Of his homeland Alan says: "Ireland will always be home but I'd like to live in London for a few years and then New York because there are more opportunities for acting.

The teenager has just finished his first year at the Trinity School of Drama in Dublin and at the same time has worked on feature films and appeared on Irish television in an advert.

"I don"t spend much on drink or entertainment and I would never do drugs.

"People need to think carefully about drugs. I'm too ambitious to even go near something like that.

"You only have one chance and have to put your heart and soul into it and never do a half-hearted job."
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Author:Feinstein, Sharon
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 10, 2000
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