September 17 2014 Latest news:

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A single mum was inspired by the tragic death of her sister to return to her first love and tread the coveted boards of the West End.

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Mother-of-two Joanna Strand recently appeared in The Phanton Of The Opera and she is now understudying in Master Class at the Vaudeville Theatre, the critically acclaimed Broadway transfer about the life and loves of opera singer Maria Callas.

The 38-year-old, who lives in South Hill Park, Hampstead, looked set to follow the traditional path to stardom when she trained at the Royal Academy of Music in the late 1990s.

But during this time her sister Ilana suffered a massive and unexpected brain haemorrhage that left her blind, paralysed and with little short term memory.

The shock affected Joanna’s confidence and left her struggling to perform.

“I’d lost that ‘get up and go’ attitude and that’s one thing you can’t do without in this industry,” she said.

Raising her two daughters Lotti and Lilly, now aged 12 and 10, along with helping to care for her sister and teaching singing lessons at Francis Holland School in Marylebone meant Joanna’s own career had to be placed on hold.

But Ilana’s bravery and positive outlook before her death in January last year inspired her sister to follow her own passion again.

“She was extraordinary, gracious, stoic, never felt sorry for herself and wanted me to succeed,” said Joanna.

“It made me think ‘come on, let’s get on with it’ because in the grand scheme of things there wasn’t really that much at stake.”

After starring in a couple of amateur productions she attended open auditions for The Phantom Of The Opera.

She failed to win a part on her first attempt but on her third audition was accepted into the company performing eight shows a week.

Although she now relies on endless babysitters, Joanna said her daughters do not mind too much.

“Of course it’s difficult, but they love coming in and trying on the costumes and are really supportive of what I do,” she said.

She is currently performing her first solo show Transatlantic, a jazz cabaret which includes numbers by West Hampstead born singer Dusty Springfield, and will appear at The Forge in Delancey Street, Camden Town, on March 25.

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