If ever a woman was living her dream life it's Beyonce Knowles.

In a few short years she's become one of the hottest singing talents in the world - and a Hollywood movie star.

The 24-year-old admits she can't quite believe the way things have panned out.

"I always had a dream from the age of about four or five to be up there on stage singing and dancing, like Michael Jackson," she says with a giggle. "I was obsessed with performing."

These days Michael Jackson might want to look and learn because Texan-born Beyonce can't seem to put a foot wrong.

As the lead singer with super-successful girl group Destiny's Child, she enjoyed a string of chart topping records including Survivor and Bootylicious.

Her first solo single, Crazy In Love, was an instant worldwide smash hit, and she's managed to carve out an acting career at the same time.

Now the busy star is back in front of the cameras again in the remake of The Pink Panther, with Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau, which opens this week.

She's also landed her first leading role in Dream Girls, a remake of the hit Broadway show and a part she admits she's hankered after for most of her life.

"I was born the year this was on Broadway and when it came to making the movie I just said 'Oh my God I have to do it'," she says excitedly. "Even though I'll be playing a singer, the role allows me to show a different side, no make up, hair, fat eyebrows.

"I have very emotional scenes and I think people are going to be really psyched because I finally have a part that I can really act."

So just how does she manage to combine two demanding careers? "It is tough," she says with a shrug. "I just have to be really passionate about what I do.

"But I am also ambitious. I just always want to challenge myself and learn. I really admire people like Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross who took that risk and are really good at it."

The star made her acting debut just a few years ago in the MTV musical drama Carmen: A Hip Hopera and since then has appeared alongside some of Hollywood's biggest movie stars, including Mike Myers in Goldmember and Cuba Gooding Jr in the 2003 film, The Fighting Temptations.

But it's her latest leading man, veteran comic actor Steve Martin, who seems to have made the biggest impression on her.

"His expressions and attitude were so hysterical it was hard to stay in character. I had to keep thinking 'be sexy. Please try to be sexy' when all I wanted to do was laugh."

She clearly had a ball making the movie, but readily admits she hadn't seen any of the original films which starred the late Peter Sellers in the iconic leading role as the bumbling French inspector.

"It was before my time," she says. "But I will watch them because I'm really interested now. It's historical for me to be a part of the new 2006 Pink Panther."

Beyonce also reckons Martin is the perfect replacement to step into the shoes of Sellers.

"Steve brings an added emotional layer to the part," she says. "He just made you love Clouseau because even though he was funny and silly, underneath it all, he was sincere and sensitive and loving."

Beyonce plays Xania, an international singing star who reduces Clouseau to even more of a quivering wreck. Initially she'd been reluctant to take the part because she didn't want to be stereotyped, but the prospect of working with Steve Martin and Kevin Kline finally won her over.

"At first I thought well, maybe this isn't a good idea, and I heard they were going to be in the movie and thought it just sounded hilarious and I'll be with funny people. It sounds like a winner," she says.

The star is regarded as one of the sexiest women in the world thanks to her knockout performances on stage, but she says appearances can be deceptive.

"I've always been incredibly shy, particularly as a teenager," she reveals.

"It's only as I've got older that I've become more confident and accepted more about myself."

In particular, she says leaving behind Destiny's Child (the group split last year) forced her to grow up.

"I had to depend on myself and my inner voice and my instincts.

"I didn't have the other ladies to hide behind," she says with a smile. "I came out of myself and grew and became who I am, and I kind of decided what I like and what I wanted."

Though she's sung with Destiny's Child for the last time, she's since managed to form a highly successful partnership with rapper Jay-Z, both in and out of the recording studio. He collaborated with her on Crazy In Love and they've been dating ever since.

But though she's remaining tight-lipped about their relationship she does admit she'd love to settle down and have a family one day.

"I grew up with a strong family and that's something I definitely want for myself.

"I just need to slow down and focus on that," she smiles.