Dame Darcey Bussell talks to Nathalie Whittle about the backstage world of Strictly, ditching perfection, and making Christmas magical...
As Darcey Bussell, 49, pirouettes at our shoot, her delicate red dress swirling as she spins, it’s fair to say we’re all thinking the same thing – how does she look that good? “Strictly does motivate me to get into shape,” she admits. “Even after seven years on the judging panel, I still worry: ‘OMG, I’ve got to put all those beautiful dresses on – how am I going to make myself look decent in them?’”
Darcey’s secret? “Two glasses of water first thing in the morning, walking every day, lots of chicken, fish and greens, no cheesecake for a while (I’m a sucker for it) – and two classes of dance aerobics a week.”
It’s clear there’s no stopping this former prima ballerina now. She lives in London with her husband, Australian businessman Angus Forbes, and their two daughters, Phoebe, 17, and Zoe, 14.
I’ve performed on dance stages all over the world, in front of presidents and queens… but the Strictly ballroom is one of the scariest. I performed on the show three times before becoming a judge. What you don’t see at home is exactly how close the audience is to you when you are dancing and there are all these cameras swinging around you – it really is daunting.
I always thought my nerves would only be there if I was dancing, but I do get nervous as a judge – even now. That’s OK, though. It’s live television and anything can happen, so you’ve got to keep your wits about you. My calming mechanism is to listen to myself breathe for a few moments – it really does work.
When the Strictly cameras aren’t rolling, the four of us judges can usually be found having a laugh backstage. Bruno [Tonioli] is always having a cigarette, and we’ll all chat to the professional dancers and the choreographer Jason [Gilkison], who’s just gorgeous. Then we get called and everyone’s running in and out of dressing rooms, and I’ll see Claudia and Tess [the hosts] going through piles and piles of notes looking a little stressed.
Another thing you don’t see when watching the show is how many costume changes there are before we go live. Anton [du Beke] might not be satisfied with his jacket and you’ve got people saying “Oh no, I want the tie to be in a different colour” and “I need more bling on this.” Then there’s that moment when someone rips their tights – you’d be surprised how often that happens. It’s a normal day on Strictly!
I love having another woman on the judging panel. I have to admit, I got used to it being me and the guys, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but Shirley [Ballas] has slotted in so easily, and I love listening to everything she has to say. Of course she was going to be very nervous to start with, but (wisely!) she’s been asking everybody for advice: “How much time do we have for this?” and “What do we do next?” It takes a long time to understand all the details of the show.
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