Art, Artists, Dancers, On this day...

On this day… was born Gillian Lynne

Dame Gillian Barbara Lynne was an English ballerina, choreographer, actress and theatre-television director. She is famous for her theatre choreography to the two longest-running shows of Broadway history: Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

First steps

She was a precocious dance talent from an early age. Her gift for dancing was discovered by a doctor. As she was underperforming at school, her mother took her to a doctor, who after hearing everything her mother said, turned on the radio and told her that he needed to talk with her mother alone. Then he encouraged her mother to look at little Lynne, who was dancing to the radio. And said to her mother that she was a dancer and encouraged her to take Lynne to a dance school.

Gillian Lynne (Photo credit: Getty images)

She found in dance the way to overcome the tragedy of her mother’s death when she was only 13.

While Gillian Lynne was dancing for Molly Lake’s Company, she was spotted by Ninette de Valois who asked her to join the Sadler’s Wells Ballet during the World War II. With the opening of the Royal Opera House after the war, Lynne received her first major solo in the Sleeping Beauty. Very soon she became a ballerina admired by her dramatic roles as the Black Queen in de Valois’s Checkmate, the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle and some roles created especially for her by Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann.

She also reached an instant success at the London Palladium as star dancer and in the West End. She also worked as both dancer and actress on early British Television.

Choreographer and Director

She worked as choreographer and director on many productions of the Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company and English National Opera as well as in many West End and Broadway shows, especially when she worked on the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals Cats (1981), The Phantom of the Opera (1986) and Aspects of Love (1990).

Gillian Lynne on stage with dancers during the Cats Premiere (Photo credit: Getty Images)

She was also a very prolific television choreographer and director notably for The Muppet Show series, she won a BAFTA in 1987 for her direction and choreography of Simple man. She died on 1 July 2018 at a London hospital from pneumonia, although her company continues to produce television, film and stage productions.

She was born on this day in Bromley, Kent (England).


  • When she was 87 years old, she was made a DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2014 New Year Honours List.
  • In 2011, she choreographed the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall.
  • In 2018 The New London Theatre was renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre, making it the first theatre in the West End of London to be named after a non-royal woman.