Celine Gittens is principal ballerina at the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Born in Trinidad and raised in Vancouver, Canada, Birmingham has been her home since she joined the ballet company aged 18.
“Birmingham is probably the most diverse city I’ve ever lived in – and I’ve travelled a lot. We’re the UK’s premiere classical ballet touring company, so I can be dancing in Tokyo or London, Plymouth or Dublin. I’ve come straight back from dancing in Alice in Wonderland in Australia to performing Beauty and the Beast in Edinburgh.
The thing that strikes me most about Birmingham is its inclusiveness and celebration of all cultures. We have a great selection of restaurants and markets. Just along from the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, is the Bull Ring Indoor Market. There’s a delicious sushi bar, Otoro, and it’s a great place to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and Caribbean spices for a little memory of home. All Trinidadians have a security bag of curry spices in our cupboards. Even though I was nine when we emigrated to Canada, I still remember the beach, the music and vibrant colours and eating fresh mangoes and drinking fresh coconut water (years before it became a trendy thing) from our yard.
When I moved to Birmingham at 18 it was my first time living on my own independently, learning to pay my own bills and organise my own life. It took me about a year to slowly venture out more and get into the swing of Birmingham and everything it has to offer. We have rehearsals six days a week and we put on about 200 performances a year, so it’s quite intense.
When you first arrive in a city, your impressions are made up of lots of little scenes – people picking up litter, being kind to each other in the streets and shops – and those little things are what make a place feel like home. Birmingham is quite a young city with a vibrant arts scene and good universities – I graduated with a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham in 2012 – and there are lots of international students and student accommodation in the city centre.
Anyone coming to Birmingham for the first time should definitely go to the world-famous Hippodrome Theatre and catch a Broadway performance. Seeing a live performance is such a transformative experience – the theatrical storytelling, the beautiful costumes and the magical music.
Just up Thorp Street is The Meat Shack, where you can get the most divine burgers. They started as part of Digbeth Dining Club, the weekly street food event, and now have their own restaurant. Digbeth is a really up and coming area in Birmingham – I’ve done some photo shoots there. Digbeth Dining Club is like a little city of independent food shops open from Thursday to Sunday and you can really get yourself lost in there.
Also in Digbeth is Ghetto Golf, which makes for a great night out with friends. You drink cocktails while playing crazy golf in this old factory, every inch of it decorated by different street artists.
The Electric cinema in Station Street is the oldest working cinema in the UK. It opened in 1909 and is still a real time capsule with a wonderful atmosphere. It’s fun to dress up elegantly and enjoy waiter service drinks while watching a film. The Diskery, England’s oldest record shop, is another perfect time capsule and you can spend hours there rifling through all the vinyl records.
I love that Birmingham has such a rich history, with its old industrial buildings and canals. The Black Country Living Museum is the location for a lot of the scenes in Peaky Blinders and it’s a really good day out. You really get a feel of how life used to be, with back to back houses, outdoor lavs and a traditional sweetshop, bakery and fish and chip shop.
But the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, with crispy batter and freshly caught fish is my discovery of the family-run Dovehouse Fish Bar in Solihull. You can taste the care they’ve put in every mouthful.”
Main image credit: Bullring, Simone Hutsch on Unsplash