New Doctor Who Ncuti Gatwa began his acting career in a school show at Dunfermline High – with a message to Barack Obama.
Aged 16, the nervous schoolboy turned 14th Time Lord took to the Fife auditorium stage in Queen musical We Will Rock You.
And not for the first time, he was making history.
Gatwa was the first black lead in a Dunfermline High School show and in the programme for the musical, he made sure there was a light-hearted mention for the then American president elect.
It read: “Eat your heart out Obama!”
After that fledgling role, he graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and performed at Dundee Rep before landing his breakthrough TV role as Eric Effiong in Netflix’s Sex Education.
The 30-year-old will take control of the TARDIS after former Doctor David Tennant returns to the role for three special 60th anniversary episodes in November 2023.
Ahead of 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker’s exit on Sunday, we looked through the programme notes for his stage debut.
We also spoke to a former school friend about that formative performance.
Born in Rwanda, Gatwa came to Scotland with his family in 1992 to escape the genocide in their homeland.
They lived in Edinburgh before moving to Fife.
He was in S5 when he was selected to play the role of Khashoggi in Dunfermline High School’s 2008 Christmas show.
In the programme, the youngster said he had consulted his friends about whether or not to go for the part of the villain commander who belts out hits including A Kind of Magic – a role which has been played by Darren Day, Rhydian Roberts and Jonathan Wilkes.
He wrote: “I don’t know what inclined me to really go [for the role].
“I’m feeling pretty intimidated by the idea of performing in front of a crowd but it has definitely been a rewarding experience so far.
“Getting up on the stage will definitely be a great achievement for me as well as being the first black principal in a Dunfermline High School production.”
While the show proved to be one of the actor’s highlights in Fife, he was suffering in silence from what he described as relentless racist abuse aimed at him in school.
In a 2019 BBC documentary, he said: “It was so normal for me to have racial abuse spat at me and then when I moved to Dunfermline, there were a group of boys who made up a racist social media page geared at me.
“It was like, ‘Get the n****r out the school’.
“I remember coming home that day and when my mum came home that day it wasn’t the most empathetic responses.
“I remember she was like, ‘Get on with it’. I thought I was the only black Scottish person in the world.
“I definitely felt growing up that I wasn’t seen as the same as anyone around me because no one around me looked like me.
“There were no black Scottish role models.”
A star in the making
Fellow school show cast member Stephen Till, 29, was blown away by Gatwa’s acting talents and says he was unaware of the torment suffered by his fellow pupil.
An aspiring actor himself at Dunfermline High, Stephen met Gatwa during rehearsals, although illness forced him to pull out of the production.
He told The Courier: “He was really bubbly, full of life.
“As he put it himself he was a divide and conquer type of person, kill with kindness.”
Describing his stage talent, he added: “He had a very good speaking voice, and he was a fairly decent singer as well.”
In his first year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the future Doctor Who returned to Dunfermline High to speak to pupils about his career.
Stephen, now a student nurse, says he looked up to Gatwa and that his success encouraged him to pursue his own career in acting, although it wasn’t meant to be.
He was “really chuffed” when he learned his former school mate was to become the new Doctor.
Stephen said: “I couldn’t believe that somebody from a town like ours was making it big like that.
“I’m really happy for him, that he’s grown up from Rwanda, basically destroyed the bullies at school and shown them up.
“It’s a great success story.”