This is a retrospective study tracing the longer term effects on identity and aspiration of white working‐class boys from an area of high social deprivation. The boys were members of an acclaimed boys’ dance company and have been retrospectively interviewed as young men in their twenties. Documentary and film material dating from the time they were 14 year olds and the film Billy Elliot were used in the interviews. A media discourse driven by a view of boys ‘in crisis’ that is blind to social class and the difficulties faced by some girls was uncovered. This is found to pervade the entire Billy Elliot discourse, which focused on the sensation of a boy performing ballet rather than on the class background and historical context of the miners’ dispute. The paper questions the discourse of laddishness and the social identity that is attached to the term ‘lad’.