How rock bottom became the foundation for building my career

So, here we are at the end of the year. My daughter’s birth month so a time I always get incredibly nostalgic. I’ve read a lot of people’s autobiographies over the year and taken so much inspiration and motivation from them. So, I’ve decided to pluck up the courage and share a little of my own. To remind those that need to hear it, that often in the darkest clouds we find our rainbows.

I became a lone parent in my mid twenties. It wasn’t planned – the pregnancy or the impending divorce, (I mean those are never planned). Within two years, I had gone from a young independent child free actress/singer with a world of opportunity at my feet to a divorced exhausted single parent trying to raise a baby, juggle my teaching company, pay a London mortgage and cling onto my dreams of working steadily as an actress.

During my pregnancy, I was in line for a career changing dream role. I was 6 months pregnant and I felt in my very core that the part was going my way. They decided (after making me do the countless rounds of auditions) that despite believing I was the right actress for the job, they didn’t want to take the risk on me – being pregnant and all. Years later, (earlier this year in fact), someone from the panel told me it was due to one specific man that I didn’t get that role. An older man who believed I should stay at home with my baby. As a lone self employed parent, I had no option but to go straight back out to work after my daughter was born. As much as I would have lopped off my right arm for the time off, I simply didn’t have the opportunity to be able to enjoy a maternity period.

I cried a lot at the job rejection. I was pregnant! Imagine pregnancy hormones mixed with the rejection on a career changing role, merged with a volatile marriage. I cried a LOT – in private. I’m not a natural crier. I know that might sound like an odd thing to say. I have friends who literally cry over spilt milk and they possess the effortless skill of being able to cry on demand at a drop of a hat. I hate crying. If I’m not acting, the thought of crying in public makes me feel physically sick.

I’ll never forget the night my daughter, a toddler at the time, snuck into my bed in the middle of the night. She caught me in one of my private crying moments and she touched my face in complete bewilderment and said, “mummy why are your eyes wet? Why is there water coming out of your eyes?” She was so confused and I remember thinking just how sweet it was that her little mind couldn’t compute that mummy’s cry too.

I won’t go into the details of my ex marriage as I have a wonderful daughter to think of. All I will say is that Doctor Foster (season 1) could have been a tamed down version of a chapter in my auto biography. I came out of that relationship with barely any self-esteem in tact. I became the first person in the history of my family (as far as I know) to get a divorce. It was a big deal!

So there I was, only in my mid twenties feeling like I’d truly failed at life.

And so I had a choice moving forward.

1) Rock on my bedroom floor with a pair of knickers on my head - (my favourite option but simply not practical).

2) Become consumed with bitterness and self pity, give up and take a safe steady full time job. (I did the self pity act for a while but it simply wasn’t for me).

3) Cry, dust myself off, work like crazy and show my daughter that in every cloud there is always a rainbow of possibilities - (I’m aware how cheesy that sounds).

I ended up choosing the latter!

I decided that I would do everything within my power to ensure that I would NEVER end up back in that awful position, both financially and emotionally. My daughter was not going to be brought up in a volatile environment. I was NOT going to be a product of my circumstances.

I was going to be the RESULT of MY DECISIONS!

And so, within a year, I went from having four to sixty students in my weekend performing arts school at The Brit School.

I enrolled on a Masters Degree course and was awarded my PGC in Early Years Education.

I founded a children’s talent agency and watched my incredible child actors in award winning shows and blockbuster films.

I started creating and producing my own ideas.

I will never forget going to the cinema to watch our lovely child actor William Henderson in Now You See Me 2. I shed silent tears as he stole the scene opposite Morgan Freeman. It was the first time I had ever sat back and appreciated seeing my hard work in fruition. I now make it a point to stand back from my work regularly and stand in complete acknowledgement and gratitude.

My acting career took another path.

I could no longer do long tours and since I didn’t land that lead role prior to my daughters birth, I wasn’t in the pool of actors considered for the lead roles that would afford me the luxury of being able to hire a nanny whilst I worked, so I concentrated on screen work and short contracts. Any British actor who has made the transition from theatre, specifically musical theatre to TV and Film, will know that it is a TOUGH move. Unless you are fortunate enough to be a RADA or LAMDA graduate, you constantly have to break down preconceptions that you are going to “over act” or that you simply can’t act at all. Since I don’t have legs up to my ear lobes or razor sharp cheek bones, I couldn’t rely on my model good looks to bag me that lead role either.

And so, I started at the bottom. Taking the one liners that established actors would turn their noses up at, I can categorically say that I have mastered the art of the one liner. My friend’s nick named me “one line Ballard”. Which still makes me laugh out loud.

I remember filming a scene on BBC’s Sherlock – a whole day at every camera angle imaginable. It was like an assault course to serve the scene to the lead actors. I was jumping over wires, manoeuvring around, under and over cameras whilst delivering my lines and of course attempting to remember to act. Martin Freeman kept saying, “I couldn’t do what you’re doing Sharon!” - (He is still the nicest actor I’ve ever worked with.) The best part was that when it aired, the shot focuses solely on my bottom. Fortunately, I’ve always said that my bottom is my redeeming feature so I’m quite proud it has had its shinning moment on the BBC hahaha.

A few weeks back, I was coming out of the BBC’s in house casting offices and a young fellow black actor stopped me. He said he recognised me as an actress from something … perhaps he recognised my bottom from Sherlock haha. He was understandably nervous and asked me for some advise. My advise was simply – “ be yourself”. It sounds basic I know. And when I say be yourself, I mean be yourself within a professional environment not yourself out with your friends on a Saturday night. I have been in the casting room and not been booked for a part but they called me back in for another role that I did book – because they liked me as an actress and as a person. Had I gone in being someone I’m not - that would never have happened.

It took me a long time to work out that being myself is my greatest gift.

(My daughter Marley visiting me at work at The New Wimbledon Theatre - Peter Pan)

Reflecting on my career and life right now, would I have chosen a different path? Honestly? No!

Obviously, in the thick of it, I would have responded differently. I can now appreciate that this was meant to be my journey. It has, in fact, been an incredible blessing. I went on to meet my now fiancé (London firefighter - Ben) on tinder… Yes, I’m a real life Tinderella. I became a step mum to his wonderful son and I thoroughly LOVE my beautiful modern unconventional blended family.

(Video - Ben and I talking to Anne Robinson about online dating and our blended family BBC1)

Had the 24 year old me booked that lead role and I went on to establish myself as a leading lady jumping from big role to big role… I would never have learnt the humility I have had to learn - and I certainly wouldn’t have developed the great warped sense of humour that I’m thankful for everyday.

I now know what I need and what I want from a relationship, both professionally and personally. I’ve learnt how to value myself and not to base it on the opinion of others. All those past experiences have simply added substance to me both as a person and as an actress.

It goes without saying that I would have loved flitting from one big acting role to the next and I appreciate that there would have been major benefits to it, but I wouldn’t have built my little empire that now enables me not to be at the mercy of a decision maker on a creative team. It allows me to be selective in the work I do whilst still providing for my family.

It has also given me the opportunity to produce my own work from my comedy sketches with my comedy partner, to a pilot of a new pre school TV show.

And so my journey, turbulent and difficult as it may have been at times, has enabled me to discover and develop my many other skills. I have had the wonderful privilege of teaching thousands (yes thousands) of children over the years. I can no longer walk through my local Sainsbury’s without a child or parent running up to me for a catch up. Working with children gives you an amazing perspective on life and I’m so thankful to all my students for teaching me about myself. Being a part of my local community and nurturing young BAME talent has been an honour like no other.

(Wizard of Oz kids Show- Cherrystars Students in The New Theatre at The Brit School Of Performing Arts)

Above all else, I have learnt that I am not defined by a career. I am not Sharon the actress or singer or teacher or agent or producer. Yes those things are part of what I do, but they do not define me as a person.

My goal everyday is to be the best version of me. Humble, kind, grateful, creative and present.

And that big career defining role? It just hasn’t been my time yet but I have full faith that if I keep persevering, my career defining role will present itself - eventually.

Right now, I am blessed to be filming a recurring role on Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens for BBC/Amazon, shooting intermittently until January.

So to my fellow creatives out there – keep going, keep showing the world who you are. Let’s fearlessly and unapologetically create our own wonderful, unique and unconventional journeys together.

2018 is our year!

Submitted by Sharon Ballard

Pass It On®
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