Vogue, December 1989
This was probably the most lavish photo shoot I’ve ever done. I’d just finished a big tour in America with The Royal Ballet and I stayed on to spend a week in New York with Arthur Elgort, the iconic photographer. He photographed me with Cynthia Harvey, the wonderful American ballerina, for Vogue.
I grew up watching Cynthia as a young dancer in the American Ballet Theatre School (ABS) and had always admired her and there I was doing a shoot with her! The little girl in the photograph is Arthur’s daughter Sophie, who enjoyed watching us doing move after move. It was exhausting! I’d never staged a big photo shoot like that and the floors weren’t good for dancers - there was a curved infinity wall and I was wearing clothes that weren’t made for dancing in. But it was a lot of fun and I felt very lucky to be part of it.
I’ve loved New York since that time, I guested with New York City Ballet several times and done a shoot in NY with Annie Leibovitz.
Viva la Diva Rehearsal, 2008
After I retired from professional ballet, I was introduced to Katherine Jenkins and our shared passion for Hollywood musicals bonded us. We came up with an idea to put together a show, titled Viva la Diva, based on all the divas who had inspired us, including Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland and Doris Day.
In this picture, I’m learning a flamenco routine with flamenco specialist Javier Marin at The Dance Attic studios in Fulham Broadway, London. Picking up the difficult rhythms was a challenge and I was incredibly frustrated with myself. I had always been passionate about flamenco dancing, but I had done very little. I wanted this to be a really good experience and achieve a decent level quickly and I knew this was my opportunity. Javier was so brilliant and I also didn’t want to disappoint him. Dancers are all perfectionists!
Working the Hair, 2011
Every ballet dancer prepares themselves for every show. It’s not like on lovely Strictly Come Dancing where I have a gorgeous make up artist. As a professional ballet dancer, you get yourself ready.
In this picture, I was feeling the strain of dancing Ginger Rogers’ role dancing the famous foxtrot in Cheek To Cheek in Top Hat. We were making a BBC documentary about Hollywood musicals and the anxiety is clearly shown through my facial expression. It’s quite revealing and sort of naked.
My Australian dance partner Nathan Clarke and I had only rehearsed for about a week. We were in an old 1920s ballroom and I had to trust everyone involved that they’d film the right angles. I was really conscious of doing the dance justice and Nathan and I copied the choreography exactly. In the end it worked and I really loved dancing it.
Nathan and I still work together all the time. For example, he was in Viva la Diva, he was part of the closing ceremony at the Olympics and choreographed the Singing In The Rain dance on Strictly. Throughout my career I’ve really enjoyed learning from talented artists like my good friend Nathan.
‘Cheek to Cheek’, Take 50, 2011
This picture shows Australian dancer Nathan Clarke and I moving on from the preparation and trying to emulate those foxtrot moves in Cheek To Cheek from Top Hat, replicating with the precision and timing of the original choreography. You’d think it would seem quite easy for a professional dancer but was incredibly difficult to achieve.
As a kid, I’d dreamed for years to be part of those amazing old Hollywood dance films. I was fascinated by how they managed to produce what seemed like pure dance perfection. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were the artists that made me get into dance in the first place. To suddenly feel a little of what they must have felt on set was a dream come true and a real thrill for me.
The Dress Rehearsal, 2012
I got the call from Kim Gavin, creative director for the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony five years after I’d retired. I was living in Australia and totally out of practice but agreed on the spot! It gave me six months to get my point shoes back on, get back into classical ballet fitness and restore my confidence.
I really did only have one opportunity to get my performance right. My role was The Spirit Of The Flame, to be performed right at the end of the ceremony before the Olympic flame was extinguished with four male dancers plus 200 keen ballet enthusiasts from around the UK. Before the performance we were secretly rehearsing in a car park in Dagenham, east London, wearing wellington boots because it had rained so much and puddles were everywhere. I tried to forget that we would be performing in front of 750m people globally!
I don’t enjoy heights but when I was told I would be flown in from the top of the stadium, which is 206ft high, I thought ‘I’ll never make an entrance like that again’ and agreed.
On the night of the closing ceremony, perched in the darkness above the stadium, I had the most incredible view of the Union Jack set and London beyond. It was both slightly terrifying but extraordinary. What a privilege to be part of an historic event, it is a memory I will treasure forever.
Strictly on Tour, 2018
This was the first night of the Strictly Come Dancing Tour 2018 backstage at The Arena in Birmingham. As a dancer, I’ve been on tour all my life - regionally as well as globally, but I was fearful of going on tour with Strictly. I had such fond memories of touring with a large ballet company but I knew doing it with Strictly would be different. I didn’t want my memories to be altered.
I needn’t have worried. It was absolutely brilliant to be in those huge arenas and to see how involved the audience are. My fellow judges Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli have taken part in the tour for the last eight years and know exactly what to expect. I’ve performed at the O2 as professional dancer and in some big arenas but the atmosphere of the Strictly tour was overwhelming.
Similar to being on tour with The Royal Ballet, it was wonderful to have some proper time with my colleagues, to get to know them and really talk. It was fun being in the coaches, arriving exhausted, being with them at breakfast and seeing them at the gym. This tour was as much fun as the other ones I’d done and everybody was in such good spirits.
Evolved by Darcey Bussell, published by Hardie Grant, is on sale now. Buy this book at a discount from the Saga Bookshop