Darcey Bussell Photo Credit-Charlotte MacMillan


Darcey Bussell interview

The legendary ballerina talks to Time & Leisure about opening dance up to all, the highlights of her career and her life in south west London

One of the most acclaimed dancers of her generation, Darcey Bussell was principal of The Royal Ballet for almost 20 years and has been president of the Royal Academy of Dance since 2012. She has also been a much-loved fixture as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing.

We chat as the Royal Academy of Dance (the RAD) is about to open its new headquarters in SW11. Not only is the size of the building significant (some 60,000sq ft in a project costing £19.5m) but also in terms of what it hopes to achieve in bringing dance to a wider audience.

“It’s exciting for RAD members but also the community,” says Darcey. “Having an inspirational high-tech space for dance is key but it should also be open to the people around it.”
The new building, part of the Coda development on York Road, is home to training facilities, seven large dance studios, a café and a shop, and a performance space, and the RAD will participate in outreach and wellbeing initiatives in partnership with Wandsworth Council.

The RAD, which was established in 1920, is one of the most influential dance training organisations in the world with members in 85 countries. Darcey says that while it is important it stays true to its roots as a place of professional dance, it has a huge role to play in bringing dance to a much bigger audience. “It’s not just about training the next professional ballet dancer, it’s about connecting people and using the joy of dance for wellbeing.”
It is this work that will help dispel some of the misconceptions around dance, and ballet in particular. “There is this idea that you only train if you want to have a career in dance and that you have to be of a certain body type. But whatever your ability and whatever your shape, it’s about enjoying dance for expression, fulfilment and also gaining strength. It has a lot more value than people realise.”

South west London life

Darcey is no stranger to south west London, where the RAD is based – she lives in Wimbledon and describes it as the ideal mix of town and country. “I love the green spaces but it also has that kind of hubbub of a bustling town.”

“I like that it has lots of community events with festivals and concerts and you don’t have to go into the centre of London to get all your entertainment. It has that village feel in that people are respectful to each other, and it’s not just some urban environment.”

Beginnings in ballet
Darcey started her career at the Royal Ballet Lower School in Richmond Park. She says it was a transformative time but admits it was tough. “It was good and bad. It was one of the biggest moments for me in terms of developing my confidence, strengths and ability. But also, it was incredibly hard work. While I treasure that it gave me great strength and resilience, it was tough at times. I think though that any school will have its highs and lows.”She went on to become principal of the Royal Ballet School aged just 20. How did it feel to achieve success at such a young age? “I don’t think as a dancer that you see it that way as you still have so much to learn. You’re constantly developing and growing. You’ve never really ‘made it’.”

“It did have its pressures, particularly in what was expected from me. Also, the training keeps you firmly on the ground. It’s an unusual place.

“I think it’s more about the people that you work with that really make it a success.”  She describes the highlights of her career in terms of the companies she has performed with such as the New York City Ballet and the Sydney Australian Ballet Company. “And also working with great choreographers, particularly Kenneth MacMillan and his belief in me as a taller British dancer.”

Her advice for those young dancers wanting to follow in her footsteps? “You have to keep a very wide view on what’s out there. There’s an expectation for dancers to be incredibly versatile and to try many different styles. So even though you want to perfect the one that you’re passionate about, my advice is to make sure that you do try as many as possible because you never know what you’re going to love and it might change through the course of your career.”

Her accomplishments as a dancer have led to different avenues of work, paths that have surprised and delighted Darcey.  This has included her TV work – in particular, Strictly Come Dancing, on which she was a judge for seven years. “I just loved working with all the different artists on Strictly, and the dedication that went into producing the show was amazing. Doing Strictly and being able to do various documentaries are things that you don’t expect and I wouldn’t have ordinarily had the opportunity to do in life.”

She reflects on her career: “I have no regrets. Even when I was injured I would always try to make the best of a situation. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”