ALTHOUGH he has played key roles before, Leo Atkin, who was raised in Flixton, was on the verge of quitting after nearly 40 years on the stage.

Then he got his big break touring with the show Billy Elliot in the role of George, Billy’s boxing instructor and, occasionally, Billy’s dad.

The 66-year-old, who lived in Mansfield Road and attended English Martyrs RC Primary School and St Bede’s College, moved to Preston in 1974.

Until then, he worked for Manchester City Council and was a founder of the Town Hall Players.

He went professional after attending Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre from 1977-80.

Leo attended four auditions to get this role and was thrilled to be successful.

He said: “To play the role of George and, sometimes, Billy’s dad, in a West End musical is a dream come true.

“George can be a bit of a joke, but he is real.

“He has great self-importance He’s a bit of a know-all. He thinks he is always right but isn’t.

“He’s a miner, part of a strong community and will fight to the end with and for them, like a family.

“He would have thought Billy’s dance classes were daft.”

This sense of family persuaded George to contribute to Billy’s audition fund.

Leo enjoys working with the kids.

“Seeing all of them perform, not just the Billies, is humbling. Their attitudes and professionalism are fantastic.”

He is used to touring. He once toured the world with the American Drama Group of Europe playing King Lear.

The bonus this time was that, while in Manchester, he was able to spend Christmas with his family who came to watch him perform.

* Billy Elliot is at the Palace Theatre until January 28. To book, visit or telephone 0844 871 3019.