DREAMS really do come true promises Natasha J Barnes as she embarks on a fairytale Christmas playing Cinderella.

She's come a long way since first treading the boards on a small stage at Ringwood School.

The hugely talented Hampshire actress got her big break when stepping into the shoes of leading lady Sheridan Smith earlier this year. She stole the show and earned rave reviews after being thrust into the West End spotlight when the Olivier Award winning actress took time off from the role of Fanny Brice in Broadway epic Funny Girl suffering stress and exhaustion.

Now the 26-year-old is about to become a leading lady in her own right as she takes to the London Palladium stage in the star-studded London Palladium pantomime, alongside Paul O'Grady, Julian Clary, Amanda Holden, Lee Mead, Paul Zerdin and Nigel Havers.

"I've always wanted to be Cinderella, so dreams can come true," says Natasha.

"I've really had the best year working with so many amazing people known for so many different things and that is continuing. All their talent is really inspiring.

"I've always hoped I would one day get the chance to be a leading lady in my own right and I'm really relishing it.

"I still actually need to have a think about what's happened to me this year. I haven't really gotten to grips with it all!

"I think there's a bit of the Cinderella about my story so rounding off the year with a story about the girl who ends up with her dreams coming true is lovely as it has sort of happened to me."

Natasha initially caught the theatre bug after joining Bournemouth-based Big Little Theatre School at the age of five and went on to impress critics in roles including Anne Frank.

She performed for the company until the age of 18 and was also a leading light in productions by Ringwood School, where she was a pupil until 2008.

"The drama productions there were just incredible for a school," she tells me. "They were hands down the best experience. They weren't just like a thrown together school play, you felt like you were part of a professional production."

Self-taught Natasha is close to her family, who still live in Ringwood. She returns to Hampshire whenever her schedule allows her and is thrilled at the local support she has received.

"My mum got stopped in Waitrose and asked how I'm doing the other day," she laughs. "It's lovely that people back home are thinking of me. I feel really lucky. It's not like that in London at all. The only time I was recognised was when I was literally stood beneath a poster for Cinderella on the tube!

"I come home whenever I can. I did a concert for Big Little on Sunday so I rushed home for the day on my day off. I just had time to have a cup of tea with my Mum and Dad and see the dogs!

"I'll be home for Christmas though and I can't wait. We have two shows Boxing Day and two on Christmas Eve so I'm lucky it's just straight down the M3 for me. It's a locked doors affair for us. We play games and eat all day. It's just me, my parents and my two younger brothers and my boyfriend is coming down too. I can't wait just to have a day off with my family and watch The Snowman!

Natasha has credits in West End shows such as American Idiot, Chess and Spring Awakening after making her professional acting debut as Alice in a 2000 BBC Radio production of Alice Through The Looking Glass. Recent TV appearances include Doctors and Doc Martin.

She is sworn to secrecy on a few exciting projects for 2017, but her dream is to one day create a role in a major new biopic. "I just thought the Carole King biopic Beautiful was stunning. Maybe Judy Garland, that would be a dream. I love Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe and all the original stars. I'm just obsessed with them and their stories."

For now, she's making the dreams of young pantomine-goers come true as she brings the ultimate rags to riches story to life on stage in the West End.