New Year’s Honors: Phantom of the Opera choreographer Gillian Lynne ‘never expected’ to become a dame

The choreographer behind the musicals Cats and The Phantom of the Opera has been made a dame for services to dance and musical theatre.

Gillian Lynne, 87, said her inclusion in the New Year’s Honours List was “not something [she] ever expected”.

After rising to ballerina stardom in her teens, she later became an influential choreographer and director. Her 70-year career has included working on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love.

Dame Gillian, of Primrose Hill, said: “It was very flattering. There are people in this business who want accolades, but I never dreamed of them, it never occurred to me. I am just someone who makes ballets and asks, is it going to work?

“My husband came in holding an envelope from the Cabinet Office and he had a look of awe on his face. When we read it, we both burst into tears simultaneously.”

Dame Gillian started as a dancer with the Royal Ballet in 1942, aged 16, an experience she discussed in the first volume of her autobiography, A Dancer in Wartime, published in 2011.

When the Royal Opera House reopened in 1946, Dame Gillian was a leading dancer there in productions of Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Checkmate.

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After she left the Royal Ballet in 1951, she starred in the 1953 film The Master of Ballantrae opposite Hollywood star Errol Flynn, who taught her “how to act”.

But it is for her work choreographing and staging musical theatre shows and directing ballets that Dame Gillian is best known.

She has battled pneumonia since April but said that despite her illness, 2013 had been “very exciting” because it included both the recognition in the New Year Honours and the Olivier lifetime achievement award as well as working on the West End production of Dear World.

This year she is staging Robert Helpmann’s ballet Miracle in the Gorbals for the Birmingham Royal Ballet and publishing the second volume of her autobiography.

She is also the star of a fitness video for older people, directed by her husband Peter Land, which will be released this year.

“I’ve had a wonderful life, but I wonder how long I can keep going at this rate. I’ve been very lucky,” she said.

“But I’ll keep going until I drop.”