Tuesday 6 December 2016

Strictly judge Darcey Bussell (46) undergoes hip replacement after successful career as a top ballerina

Decades of dancing has wreaked havoc with the prima ballerina's body - she discusses hip replacements, Strictly Come Dancing and cosmetic surgery

India Sturgis

Published 04/01/2016 | 14:53

Decades of dancing has wreaked havoc with the prima ballerina's body - she discusses hip replacements, Strictly Come Dancing and cosmetic surgery

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She is known as the soft touch on the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel, and in person Darcey Bussell is no less emollient.

Darcey Bussell attends the red carpet launch for
Darcey Bussell attends the red carpet launch for "Strictly Come Dancing" at Elstree Studios on September 3, 2013

As steely-eyed and resolute as the retired prima ballerina may be, she just can’t help herself.

“I’m pathetic,” she says. “I get soft spots for everyone - I really have to watch it. I’m just very aware of how it is affecting [the contestants]. It is so easy to be critical but you have to value where they are coming from and the expectations. Maybe I am not fierce enough.” She punctuates this with a snap of her fingers and a burst of laughter.

Four weeks into her fourth year as a judge on the BBC talent show it is hard to imagine her playing bad cop now. She is, rather, the kindly voice of reason: a balm to fellow judge Bruno Tonioli’s histrionics and Craig Revel Horwood’s harrumphing.

And away from the bright lights and glitter balls of the Strictly studio, she is still in her element when discussing this year’s runners and riders.

In 10 minutes we’ve covered singer Jay McGuiness’s hair (“Thank god he cut it”), broadcaster Jeremy Vine’s legs (“He’s slowly understanding he doesn’t have to do as much because his limbs are so long”) and presenter Katie Derham’s mesmerising elegance (“It is difficult for her to look ugly in any position”).

Despite chef Ainsley Harriott’s muddled steps he can do no wrong in her eyes, but she’s worried that Jay – “who has all the potential of just blowing [the competition] away” - may have peaked too soon.

“I don’t know whether he is going to be able to last. It is a long three months,” she says, genuinely aggrieved.

While training her professional eye on the dancefloor she has succumbed to fandom like the rest of us, it seems. We’ve met at a London members’ club, where she is wedged into an oversized sofa, nursing a green tea.

UNSPECIFIED - circa 1970 Photo of Darcey BUSSELL and BALLET (Photo by Phil Dent/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - circa 1970 Photo of Darcey BUSSELL and BALLET (Photo by Phil Dent/Redferns)

Aged 46 she looks cool and comfortable in a leather skirt, black Zara jacket and knee-high boots. Her nails are covered in glittery, jewel-encrusted varnish from last weekend’s show (“disgusting!”) but she possesses all the poise of someone who has danced principal roles for 25 years with companies such as the New York City Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet.

At 20 Bussell became the youngest principal dancer in the history of the Royal Ballet, having trained there from the age of 13, and went on to play roles such as Odette in Swan Lake, Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and the sugar plum fairy in The Nutcracker.

When she retired it was to the sound of an eight-minute standing ovation at the Royal Opera House after her final performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth. She is now President of the Royal Academy of Dance, a post she has held for three years.

It’s not surprising such a life would leave its mark, and the physical repercussions of decades at the highest level of professional ballet might be myriad.

“Ever since I’ve given up dancing, every physiotherapist or pilates teacher has said you have to keep moving. If I don’t I’ll have a hundred times more injuries because you get weak areas on your body. Looking after myself is something I probably have to be much more conscious of than the average person,” she concedes.

Bussell has had two operations on her ankle, torn her hamstring and snapped the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee. Last year she had her hip resurfaced.

“I had the resurfacing because I was too young to have a replacement. A lot of retired ballerinas have [hip replacements] but they usually wait until they are in their 60s, not 40s. I just think, look, how lucky are we that we can have titanium put in our bodies and it do wonders,” she says.

Almost 20 years ago a surgeon told Bussell her hips were only 50 per cent as strong as they should be for someone her age because of the pressure dancing puts on them, and she has long suspected she might need them replaced.

Hip resurfacing means less of the bone is cut away than if it was replaced and the ball and socket are relined with metal implants. Resurfacing is also less invasive and easier to repeat later or follow with a hip replacement afterwards, but can need repeating after five years.

Darcey Bussell attends the red carpet launch for Strictly Come Dancing 2014 at Elstree Studios on September 2, 2014
Darcey Bussell attends the red carpet launch for Strictly Come Dancing 2014 at Elstree Studios on September 2, 2014

Craig Revel Horwood has had a hip replaced and takes a similarly sanguine attitude towards the procedure.

“It’s funny,” says Bussell. “Craig is so excited about getting his other hip done now. I was like, ‘hello, how old are you?’” (At 50, he’s a good deal younger than the average hip replacement patient.)

Bussell is keen to point out that not all retired ballerinas need have their body parts removed or replaced in later life though.

“I was incredibly supple and did gymnastics as well. So half of my injuries are because I am over-supple and the joints could always go that little bit further. But I was happy to push and I have no regrets. That is important to say. It’s not a horror show. My body feels great now,” she says.

Married to hedge fund manager Angus Forbes, she has two daughters, Phoebe, 14, and Zoe, 11. Zoe is just as enamoured by Strictly as her mother and grills her when she comes home if she votes the wrong person out. Her older sister is more impressed with the staging than the salsa. Might either follow in their mother’s footsteps?

“Only Zoe wants to dance,” says Bussell. She loves jazz and contemporary but has tried everything.”

Hers would be difficult shoes to fill, but whatever path Bussell’s daughters choose to follow, she is anxious to set a good example when it comes to body image.

“I dye my hair and I use teeth whitening strips. Unless I burnt myself or damaged my skin I wouldn’t have cosmetic surgery,” she says. “Confidence comes from other places, not just how you look. Because of my girls, I would never want to give them a reason to think that was how to gain confidence.”

When she herself was a young girl, however, she was upset she wasn’t “shapely”.

“I had a waist but I didn’t have hips or boobs,” she says. “I was always a bit demoralised that I didn’t feel like a woman. You should never hide those things. Being sexy and feminine is an attitude too.”

She doesn’t worry about ageing per se but acknowledges doing so in the full glare of the public eye is “tough”. To stay fit she does two dance workout classes a week and takes long walks with the dog. And she is refreshingly no nonsense about food.

“Diets don’t come into it,” she says. “You need variety and to have a good source of greens, protein and nutrition. It is about health rather than looking right.”

Besides Strictly, Bussell has other projects keeping her busy, including a forthcoming album of quintessential ballet masterworks - The Darcey Bussell Ballet Collection - hand-picked by her.

“All my life I’ve been spoilt,” she says. “I’ve been immersed in incredible orchestrated thick pieces of scores and you forget that people don’t listen to them as much.”

So she ensured her children listened to classical music from a young age, playing them Beethoven in their cots when they were babies.

“They heard it all. It kept them calm and classical music is one of the best relaxants to be able to wind down with,” she says.

The collection of 30 tracks will be a walk down memory lane, with pieces such as Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker and Valse from Giselle. Will she be back on stage to dance to them?

“I’m not going back any time soon,” she replies. “Strictly is a big enough stage.”

The Darcey Bussell Ballet Collection is out on Friday 30 October on Sony Classical

Telegraph.co.uk

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