The cast of Cats, the movie musical in theaters December 20, includes Oscar, Tony, and Grammy winners, two people who have been knighted by the Queen of England, a late-night host, and arguably the biggest pop star alive. And Francesca Hayward, a relative newcomer to Hollywood, may be the busiest of them all.
The 27-year-old Brit is a principal ballerina in the Royal Ballet. She filmed her role as Victoria, the ballet-dancing cat, in between seasons spent dancing lead roles like The Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. When we spoke on the phone, she was in London doing press for Cats. The day before, she was in New York on Jimmy Kimmel, and the night before that, she was onstage at the Royal Opera House, where her performance in Coppelia has been getting rave reviews. Now that Cats is released, she’ll be back to her regular grueling schedule dancing in the acclaimed production.
“It’s been quite mad in the last few weeks,” she tells me, sounding like a member of One Direction describing a sold-out stadium of fans as “fairly enthusiastic.”
Also, I need to point out that she always looks cute. I scrolled all the way back to her prefame timeline, the days of ice bucket challenges and photo likes in the double digits. Yet there she was—red matte lipstick perfectly matte, sweater chicly rumpled, headed for stardom.
How did she rocket to the top of the ballet world? How did she leap so neatly from the ballet stage to the Hollywood red carpet? How was she, a person with no singing experience, cast in a movie alongside Jennifer Hudson and Jason Derulo in which she was asked to perform an original song by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber? Her answers are: snacks, sleep, and support from Meghan Markle.
“I’m definitely always tired,” she says. “That’s something that comes with my job. But just remembering the feeling of performing, whether it’s onstage or in front of a camera, there’s just something that draws me back every time. Sometimes when I’m tired, I remember the people who’ve maybe never seen a ballet before, or who need this escape.”
What advice would she offer other ambitious women? Hayward is so successful, in a way that clearly required so much drive and hard work, that I wanted her to spend the interview coaching me, guiding me to success like a millennial Marie Kondo. “Narrow everything down,” she says. “It’s very hard just to hold on to maybe one important thing, the thing that you would regret not doing. Remember that, and don’t let anyone else stop you or put doubts into your head. You can’t live your life with regrets about not doing something. It’s so much better to just go for it.”
“Finding ways to unwind and switch off is just as important as working very hard,” she adds. She recommends reflexology, even if you’re not, like her, essentially a professional athlete who wears tiaras and tights to work. And friends. “I love to laugh as much as possible,” she says. “I like to go to the pub with my friends and have good dinners, and I don’t always follow this advice because I can’t, but being on a film set I’ve really realized how important sleep really is, and switching off before bed.”
“And snacks! I’m always snacking," Hayward says. "It’s difficult obviously because when you’re dancing, I can’t always have a huge lunch because then I’m jumping around. I love bananas, I love almond butter, nuts, and definitely chocolate. Everyone knows that I’m not very nice when I’m hungry.”
And the rewards for her work are fun. The fanciest part is the clothes. “I’ve been very fortunate to be wearing some Chanel lately, that was like my Pretty Woman moment, walking out of Chanel with some bags of clothes,” she says. “And a lot of Bottega Veneta, which is one of my favorite designer right now. And I wore a Simone Rocha dress to the Fashion Awards in London.”
And what about, you know, the fact that she just filmed a movie with an entire awards season’s worth of celebrities? I asked Hayward who made her the most starstruck, and I expected her to spit out some platitude, like “They were all so impressive!” or “I can’t choose!”
“Definitely Dame Judi Dench,” she said, immediately. “I remember her walking in with Ian McKellan, they walked in together in rehearsals, and the whole room, all the dancers and the actors, everyone made this line, to kind of curtsy or bow to royalty.” She paused, seemingly in wonder, and I imagined Jason Derulo curtsying to Judi Dench.
“There’s something about them, especially in England, they’re like the royal family, they’re legendary. And they’ve earned that legendary status,” she said, reverently. And Taylor too: “She’s just the sweetest and most humble person,” Hayward said. “To be one of the most famous people in the world and make you feel very comfortable is quite a talent I think.”
To be fair, Hayward’s sense of comfort around A-list celebrities may be skewed. One day on the set of Cats, she received a phone call from British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, asking if she would be one of 15 women on a cover with the theme “a force for change.”
“It was one of the hardest secrets ever, I think I only told my grandma, and she was sworn to secrecy,” she says, laughing. She did the shoot, in which she spoke decisively about feeling pride in being a woman of color in the ballet world, while adding, “I think it will be great for the next mixed-race or black female principal dancer if she doesn't have to be asked about that. In ballet, it doesn't matter who you are.”
Later, Enninful called her while she was at a noisy restaurant in Covent Garden, and told her there was someone who wanted to speak to her. It was Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, who had personally chosen Hayward for the cover and wanted to say thank you. “She really made me feel like she wanted me to be a part of it and had chosen me as one of this amazing group of women herself,” Hayward said. “It was incredible.”
And if there’s anyone you could not resent for being personally thanked by Markle for agreeing to be on the cover of Vogue, it’s Francesca Hayward, who gets up before dawn to pursue her dreams, leaves behind no regrets, goes to the pub, and bows before Judi Dench. We wish her good snacks—and plenty of sleep.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer at Glamour.
Originally Appeared on Glamour