National Television Awards: Hollyoaks actor Billy Price, from Bishop's Stortford, receives long-list nomination
A young soap star from Bishop's Stortford is in the running for a prestigious award on "television's biggest night of the year".
Billy Price said he was "speechless" after learning he had been nominated for Best Serial Drama Performance for his powerful portrayal of troubled Sid Sumner in Channel 4's Hollyoaks.
The former Northgate End primary pupil and Bishop's Stortford High School student is now looking to his home town for support as he bids for a spot on the short list and a chance to clinch the title at September's National Television Awards (NTA), which are voted for by the public.
A place at the London O2 Arena ceremony hosted by Joel Dommett would be a dream come true for the 21-year-old, who honed his skills with roles as a Lost Boy in a production of Peter Pan at Harlow Playhouse and as Fagin gang member Charley Bates in Oliver! at the former Rhodes Arts Complex, now South Mill Arts, in Bishop's Stortford.
He is up against 25 of the country's most familiar screen faces in the hotly contested category, including some of his own cast mates, but he said: "Just to be at the awards with my name on the wall would be all the world to me."
Billy got a taste for theatre as a 10-year-old when he went to see a performance of Billy Elliot: The Musical as a birthday treat for mum Denise.
He was hooked by the story of a boy who begins taking ballet lessons. "I really fell in love with it and I said 'I'd really love to do that'."
Billy signed up for an audition on the way out, swapped his rugby boots for tap shoes and learned to dance at Bishop's Stortford's Graham School of Dance & Theatre Arts and Jacqui Ison School of Dance & Theatre Arts.
Although he did not get a part in Billy Elliot, he clinched plum parts including a role in a West End production of Goodnight Mr Tom, which won an Olivier Award for the show and plaudits for Billy.
The Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington said: "William Price, as his extrovert fellow-evacuee Zach, also plays the Artful Dodger to his chum's Oliver, and shows a talent for lapsing into Astaire tap-numbers that augurs well for his future."
He then played Jem in Regent's Park Theatre's production of To Kill a Mockingbird, again to acclaim.
Roles followed in SHHH!, a comedy drama for Nickelodeon and YouTube, short thriller Patsy and action short Funky Line.
He joined Hollyoaks, Channel 4's long-running soap set in a fictional Chester suburb, in 2019 and was soon promoted to a show regular with a major story planned for 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Filming was halted for six months, disrupting the script, and shooting is still subject to Covid-19 restrictions, which have proved challenging. "It put a spanner in the works, but it all worked out in the end, although there are still a lot of things that aren't quite back to normal," said Billy.
Over more than 100 episodes, his character has been at the heart of several hard-hitting plots exploring racism, right-wing radicalisation and county lines drug dealing, culminating in his apparent death and then a devastating accident that led to partial amputation of a leg.
The pressure has been intense: "Being one of the younger members of the case, I've got to get it right and I've put my little heart and soul into it."
As part of his preparation, the show's researchers ensured he had the chance to talk to real people facing those difficult issues and Billy said he felt a genuine responsibility to give an accurate portrayal. "I got an idea of how complicated and brutal these things are," he said.
He has enjoyed the challenge of portraying such intensity – including pushing his own fictional father off a cliff – and said: "With a soap, it's a show that's on every single day, and every single day you've got to keep people so interested that they'll watch again tomorrow and the next day."
He launched straight into his full-time showbusiness career after leaving Bishop's Stortford High School, where drama teachers Natalie Maher and Hayley Bart-Williams were influential and inspirational.
"I owe so much to them," he said. "I wasn't the sharpest pencil in the pot when it came to maths and things like that, but they took me under their wing."
Today, Billy is based in Liverpool for Hollyoaks filming but still regards Bishop's Stortford as home with grandparents Rose and Tony Price, who are his biggest fans, mum Denise, dad Gary, older sister Charlotte, now a mum of four, and brother Ben Harrison-Price, a member of Stortford rugby club's first-team squad.
While he does get recognised while out and about, his childhood friends keep his feet on the ground.
"It's like I never left and I still see all my schoolmates. It's just the same, I haven't changed and nor have they."
He is matter of fact about his own stardom: "I just dress up for a living – I haven't saved the world, I'm not an NHS worker."
Although just 21, he has been in the business for a decade and said: "I've been acting professionally since I was about 11. I've always believed in myself, that I would do it, but it's crazy that it's happened."
Ultimately, he would love to go to Hollywood and emulate the career of his movie heroes Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey, all renowned for their method acting.
He said: "I'll see where the wind takes me. I'd absolutely love it if the call came – I'd be there, but there are so many actors out there and I have a long way to go."
There are two voting stages in the National Television Awards: a long list of nominees featuring the most watched programmes and their stars from each channel, and the subsequent short list of the leading contenders in each category. The public vote in a nationwide poll via post, phone and online, with the process being verified by independent adjudicators.
To vote for Billy, see www.nationaltvawards.com/vote.