A YOUNG Inverclyde man who moved to London to pursue his acting dreams as a teen has just been named Hertfordshire Business Person of the Year.

Warren Bacci received the accolade at the Hertfordshire Business Awards 2014 for the success of his two performing arts businesses — Top Hat Stage School and Top Talent Agency.

He was brought up in Gourock, where his mother Pauline McWilliams hails from, and his father Mario ran Mario’s snack bar.

After moving to London, he was an actor with parts in Holby City and The Bill and was also a member of a four-piece boy band, but after discovering that his talents lay more in developing the skills and confidence of children and young people, the seeds of his business were sown.

During the past six years, Warren has developed the non-selective performing arts school into a nine site business across two counties and, after spotting a gap in the market in Hertfordshire, launched the Top Talent Agency and signed more than 500 actors from across the UK.

He now constantly has children starring in West End shows including The Lion King and Les Miserables, as well as top TV series, like The Missing, and feature films, such as Nativity 3.

Warren said: “I am completely overwhelmed. I am so proud and delighted that all the hard work that my business partner Andy Musgrove and I have put into the two businesses has been recognised. It just motivates me to achieve more with the businesses in the future.” “I realised a few years ago that the market for children engaging in performing arts was growing, and so too was the market for the public to see them in professional productions.

“Parents were discovering that performing arts training can really help even the shyest of children increase their confidence, and there just isn’t enough time devoted to drama and performing at primary schools. At the same time, Billy Elliot had just opened in the West End and was doing really well and there was a revival of Oliver! the musical planned. More children were appearing on TV and taking lead roles in film than ever before.

“There were other performing arts schools in Hertfordshire, but not really any credible talent agencies, and I knew that I could run two very complementary businesses — one acting as a sort of talent pool for the other, in the early days at least.” He now runs the two performing arts businesses from St Albans, just north of London, with his financial director Andy Musgrove, and a loyal army of staff, many of whom work both as teachers in one business and agents in the other.

His stage school business is going from strength to strength, with nine sites now across Hertfordshire and Surrey and with plans to be rolled out across the UK over the next five years, and the talent agency now has more than 500 children and adults on its books and competes very successfully against long-running talent agencies from London and the rest of the UK, particularly in securing work for children in TV shows, films and theatre productions. The agency is now building its adult actor division.

The business also tries to give back to the community. Top Hat recently put on a huge West End show in London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with 400 of its students performing alongside stars of the stage and screen to raise money for the Royal Marsden and Noah’s Ark children’s hospice. Warren even performed himself on stage, taking the lead role in ‘Putting on the Ritz’, backed by his students and teachers.

One decision Warren made that has had a huge impact on many youngsters in the region was to give free classes to a number of talented children who could not otherwise afford to pay every year.

The scholarship scheme is now worth over £16,000 per year, awarding full annual scholarships to 18 children — each worth over £900.

This decision has also paid off commercially.

Warren said: “Some of my biggest successes have been children who came into the school and agency via this route. We have scholarship children who have appeared in top London productions alongside my other agency kids.” The accompanying picture shows Warren with stars from stage and screen at the ‘Top Hat in the West End’ show at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.