As principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, Darcey Bussell lived every little girl’s dream. Now she’s swapped the ballet shoes for the glitz of Strictly Come Dancing. Ahead of her appearance at Cheltenham Literature Festival, she talks to ELAINE MCLAREN about the thrill of her new role and her love of zumba
JOINING the Strictly judging panel can be no easy task, but if anyone is qualified to do it, it’s Darcey Bussell.
Given her former incarnation as prima ballerina and former principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, it’s fair to say Darcey knows a thing or two about performing.
And despite being the new girl alongside old hands Len Goodman, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli, it’s not her judging duties which worry her most.
“Giving out marks and talking about where I think the contestants can improve is the easy part.
“The hardest thing is sitting still when all I want to do is get up and dance myself,” laughed Darcey, who is widely recognised as being one of the greatest English ballerinas of all time.
Alhough she clearly loves dance in all its forms and has devoted the past 30 years of her life to it, she’s finally hung up her dancing shoes for good.
Strictly fans saw her perform a breathtaking American Smooth with one of the show’s former professional dancers Ian Waite to launch the new series, but Darcey has already decided the dance was her last.
“I’ll always enjoy dancing with my friends, of course, but I won’t perform in public again,” said the 43-year-old.
“I performed at the closing ceremony of the Olympics in the summer and while it was an amazing experience, I found it incredibly tough physically.
“I wanted to perform to the very best of my ability.
“Even though I knew most people wouldn’t notice if it wasn’t quite up to standard, it’s not in my nature to accept that of myself.
“I trained incredibly hard, something I hadn’t done since I retired in 2007, and while I loved every minute of it, I realised my body is happy as it is.”
Darcey may have hung up her ballet shoes, but there’s one dance craze she’ll continue to embrace – zumba.
“I love it,” she smiled. “It’s such fun.”
To the outsider, it’s easy to imagine Darcey’s life in the Royal Ballet as one long round of beautiful performances, but it wasn’t all as glamorous, as her new book reveals.
Darcey Bussell: A Life in Pictures features some stunning images by the likes of Mario Testino, Lord Snowdon and Mary McCartney, but also includes some rather telling behind-the-scenes photographs.
“I wanted it to tell the real story, warts and all,” said Darcey, who had total control over the pictures used.
“I honestly didn’t realise how difficult it would be to do, but it actually took three years to produce.
“I’d have the memory of the photograph being taken, then have to search for it.
“My editor would often say, ‘Darcey, enough is enough,’ but I would say ‘No, I want that picture.
“It’s like an autobiography in that it takes you right through my career, the highs and the lows.”
Darcey will be talking about the book – sure to be at the top of many a young girl’s Christmas list this year – when she appears at the Cheltenham Literature Festival tomorrow.
The audience will undoubtedly have many questions about her incredible career, but the subject of Strictly Come Dancing is sure to raise its head.
So how is Darcey coping with the different level of celebrity appearing on the smash hit, prime-time show brings with it?
“I can honestly say I haven’t noticed a difference, although it is early days yet,” she said.
“And I don’t look half as glamorous in everyday life as I do on the show.
“I’m genuinely excited about seeing the celebrities improve as the weeks go by and I already have an idea of the ones to watch.
“Kimberley is obviously such a great performer – she’ll always turn out a great performance, whether the steps are perfect or not.
“People have criticised Denise because she is a trained dancer, but it’s people like her, who set such a high standard to begin with, who we can be tough with. I expect to see her really improve.
“I was also pleasantly surprised by Colin,” she said. “Being as tall as he is, I expected him to look a bit awkward on the dance floor, but he had great natural rhythm.
“I only hope the wrong people don’t go out of the competition too early.”
* Darcey will be at Cheltenham Literature Festival in Imperial Square tomorrow, 6pm.