Madness descended on Barkingside this week when X Factor finalist Stacey Solomon visited her former school.
Hundreds of King Solomon High School pupils lined the car park on Tuesday, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the 20-year-old, who left mid-way through her A-levels three years ago.
They chanted and waved homemade banners with the words: “We love Stacey” and “Stacey has the Essex Factor”.
After more than an hour, a blacked-out car glided through the school gates and the crowd went wild.
The pupils surged forward as the doors opened to reveal Stacey, dressed casually in jeans and leopard-print top, her mentor and X Factor judge, Dannii Minogue, in a long red coat and five-inch heels, plus their camera crew and security guards.
They signed autographs for everyone from pupils to dinner ladies and posed for pictures before being greeted by headteacher, Spencer Lewis.
Stacey even had a hug for her former IT teacher, David Bernstein, who said: “I’m so proud of her. I really hope she wins and makes a big success of her life, because she deserves it.”
Mr Lewis introduced her to the school stage saying: “This is an amazing and proud moment for all of us.
“Everybody has been supporting and voting for Stacey. Those of us who have been here a long time will remember her on this stage performing in plays and in the Purim show. We knew then how talented she was.” Ms Minogue told the packed hall: “Thank you for all your support. She told me she was very naughty at school and was sent to the naughty room.
“Her record card was not that good, but there is hope for you all. You could one day end up like Stacey Solomon on the X Factor.”
She then introduced the “Queen of Dagenham,” who simply said: “This is the weirdest thing ever,” before belting out West Side Story’s Somewhere.
Stacey’s brother Matthew, who is in Year 13, sat in the front row, next to Ms Minogue and Mr Lewis.
Giggling and pointing into the crowd, Stacey occasionally fluffed her words. “I can see some of my teachers and I’m thinking ‘Oh, my God’,” she said.
She sang two more songs; her X Factor audition piece, What a Wonderful World, and Somewhere over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz. Backstage, Stacey and her team spoke exclusively to me about how important the support from the community has been to her.
She said: “It’s really nice to be back. My best times were at school. It’s really weird to be back and it was scary to see the headteacher, I thought I might get in trouble. I thought no one would turn up, so it was amazing to see all the support I got.”
Ms Minogue said: “It’s incredible for Stacey to be back here because we all live in the bubble in the studios, and it’s so nice for her to see all these familiar faces.
“The support has been amazing. It’s really special to come here and see that. It’s an incredible boost for her today. When she goes back into rehearsals, all that support will mean so much.”
Brother Matthew added: “It’s unbelievable having Stacey coming back here. Even though I see her every week, it’s great to see all the support she has at school. I’m so proud of her.”
Stacey will battle with the two other finalists in this weekend’s final .
So, does she have the essex factor?
Kane Hopps, 17: “I’ve been watching X Factor and voting every week for Stacey. She is the best by far. I like how down-to-earth she is. She has the whole package.”
Natasha Stanton, 18: “It’s really good to have a positive role model representing the Jewish people. We’ve all been voting We’re so excited that she’s come here.”
Limor Herst, 16: “Stacey was really good. We’ve heard her on TV all this time and it’s amazing to see her live. She’s got such a nice personality and is really funny. It’s made me like her even more.”
Elan Dacosta, 15: “She was brilliant. Her singing was great and I really want her to win. I’m definitely going to vote for her.”
Jordana Shulman, 15: “I thought she was amazing. She’s really truthful and funny. We were so excited that she came to our school, things like this never happen and it’s the highlight of the year. My friends in other schools are so jealous.”
Natasha Kanolik, 17: “It’s so exciting to have someone from our school on TV. I think she’s got such a great personality and should definitely win.”