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Ballet. She is widely acclaimed as one of Britain’s greatest ballerinas, and is now president of the Royal Academy of Dance. Since retiring in 2007, Darcey has also become familiar outside the world of ballet through her many public appearances, including a starring role in the Olympics, modelling for Marks and Spencer, and of course, as a much-loved judge on Strictly Come Dancing. In addition she has released four series of children’s books (Magic Ballerina), toured with Katherine Jenkins, danced on The Vicar of Dibley, had a rose named after her, and, unusually in her profession, she has managed to have a family of her own. We asked her where it all began and what’s next…


Prima ballerina and Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell reveals her incredible journey from rebellious, football-playing schoolgirl to principal dancer at the Royal Ballet... and beyond!

arcey Bussell CBE spent nearly two decades at the top of her profession, with 18 years as principle dancer at The Royal

 The ballet and gymnastics went well together to a certain point – my gymnastics teacher really liked me doing ballet  but gymnastics wasn’t great for ballet because of the posture. You have to have a slightly bendy back, and I’d always stand wrong in ballet because of it.

What sort of child were you? I was a naughty child! I was a little bit strong-willed and I rebelled a lot, but at the same time I always wanted to please. I was like two different people sometimes. I suppose I had a little bit too much energy, and if my mother told me not to run, I would run!

How old were you when you started dance lessons? When I was quite young I had knock knees, so I was sent to ballet school every  my legs out, and burn off some energy. But I was quite rebellious. I used to hide under the piano unless one of my friends turned up, then I’d come out and join in. If no friends came, and I didn’t feel like it, I’d stay under the piano for the whole class!

When did ballet become your passion? It came to me quite late. I enjoyed dancing, but I enjoyed many other things too. I was always a sporty kid, swimming and playing football. I was really into my

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Who first encouraged you to believe that you could make ballet your career? I went to a stage school called the Arts Educational School at the Barbican, and while I was there I did ballet twice a week with a teacher called Miss Campbell. I used to speak to her about dancing and she said I probably had the ability to be a dancer. I must have been about 11 or  someone had mentioned the idea of dancing professionally. I did all the contemporary and jazz classes too, but when you’re a child, unless you’re the best, you never think you’re actually good. I was very conscious that there were always people better than me. I had the physicality that was needed to be a dancer, but I needed to tame everything else into position.

How did dancing make you feel when you were a child? It was a way of expressing myself. I was quite dyslexic and my vocabulary wasn’t large, so dance was a lovely escape. Most children enjoy music, and to have  feel like anything’s possible. It gives such enjoyment, and like any exercise, you release endorphins which make you happy. I obviously treated dance very differently when I joined the classical ballet world. I had technique to learn and I took myself very seriously. But generally, I’ve always associated dance with being a lovely, lovely form of entertainment.

     

You joined The Royal Ballet at 13. Was your mother influential in this move? No, it was all my decision. She actually advised me not to go because she thought I wouldn’t have the discipline or the kind of dedication you need to succeed. But actually, it helped me focus all my energy into something. And from then on the teachers there totally enhanced my passion. I became quite blinkered actually. I think for my second year, when I was about 14, I didn’t want to do anything but work on my dancing.

So at the age when most people are rebelling, your drive and focus kicked in? Yes, I suppose everyone’s different, aren’t they? I think I just needed it. I was desperate for those kind of boundaries,  that I could achieve. The teachers gave me a belief that this was where I could succeed, so I thought ‘There’s no way of turning around now, I’m in it’!

At what point did you realise you could make it? I had an inkling when I was about 16 that I was doing all the right things to be able to succeed. But I have to say, you are left to your own devices to make it work for yourself from that age onwards. Getting that job in a professional company is so

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