I don't know if you know much about Darcey Bussell, but for today's series I thought of her as a perfect fit - a mother, that went through more then any other woman can do for her children, and yet, she is living what was her dream.
I was very fortunate to meet her in person, and though this interview below may sound somewhat careless, you have to imagine Darcey's personality: always joking , always humoring, and always humble.
At first I don't recognise Darcey Bussell for she has utterly changed how she looks. Instead of her trademark long, brown, flowing hair, she has a severe black bob like Edna Mould in The Incredibles. Her face is deathly white with heavily-kohled eyes and she is so thin it makes me gasp.
"I'm a ballet dancer," she says. "You have to be this thin and you have to be athletic."
Yesterday, performing the perfect curtsey, as one would expect, she collected her CBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace. "She said she was very pleased to be giving me the award," says Bussell. "I was very shocked. She also said she couldn't believe it was my last season with the Royal Ballet. I said I felt very comfortable with it because it's my 20th year with the Ballet."
Bussell is now 37 years old with two children, Phoebe, five, and Zoe, two-and-a-half. She is married to Angus, a hedge fund manager, and has finally, left her job as principal dancer for the Royal Ballet.
" I am now going to be a guest performer," she says, "which means I get to pick and choose more. At the Royal Ballet, as a principal dancer, you have to take the lead role whatever it is and be in every performance, which is very tiring and time-consuming. Now I should have more time off to spend with my children."
She also says she is getting old for a dancer. "I didn't think I'd come back to work after my first child," she says, "and certainly not after my second."
Why not? "Oh, no dancer has come back after giving birth for the second time. It's just too difficult."
Why did she come back then? "I'm very competitive," she says. "I am very driven. I thought: 'Hang on a minute, I shall come back. I shall make myself come back.' And I did."
Well, Bussell is a pretty formidable woman. She started dancing at the age of five but didn't go to the Royal Ballet school until she was 13. "That's very late," she says, "most people go at the age of eight but I don't think my mother thought about me being a dancer."
It turned out though that Bussell was a very good dancer and, as she puts it, "not much good at anything else." "I wasn't academic," she says. "So it was dancing or nothing really."
By the time she got to the Royal Ballet, she was way behind everyone else. "I was just doing classes after school and at weekends and I was like a beginner compared to everyone else." But at the age of 20, she became the youngest principal of the Royal Ballet after her acclaimed performance in The Prince of the Pagodas.
So, what does it take to be that successful, that young? "I always want to be the best," she says. "I push myself very hard. I practise for at least three hours, six days a week. I want every performance to be better than the last one."
But this lifelong commitment has taken a terrible toll. "When I was 20 I didn't think about anything," she says. "I have always been naturally supple and fit and athletic. I am rare in that sense. I am tall and not petite. I ate anything back then - bread, pasta, biscuits." Now, she says, she doesn't eat red meat or wheat.
"The thing about being a dancer is that you know your body inside out. I know every core group of muscles and I know how everything works and knits together. As you get older, problems arise with levels of fitness, natural muscular strength and energy levels. I find it takes me too long to digest red meat. It makes me uncomfortable and wheat leaves me lackingin energy. I'm a rice queen now." She found being pregnant very difficult. "I couldn't believe that lack of control of my body. I kept looking down at my growing belly and thinking: 'What is going on here?' I thought it would be like that for ever."
But two months before her due date, she woke up with an excruciating pain in her back. "I thought it was normal. People kept telling me you get back pain when you are pregnant."
As the night went on, the pain got worse. "I woke my husband up and told him we had to go to hospital." It turned out she had pre-eclampsia and the back pain was her kidneys shutting down.
"It was touch and go," she says. "Pre-eclampsia is usually diagnosed by high blood pressure but because I am a dancer and very fit, my blood pressure was low - but it was high for me. The doctor didn't realise that though." She was given an emergency Caesarean at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital and Phoebe was born.
"She weighed four pounds," says Bussell, "which was actually pretty good for a two months premature baby." Phoebe was kept in hospital for six weeks after the birth. "It was a very difficult time.
She was all skin and bones. No fat on her at all and she was fed through tubes."
Within five months of giving birth, Bussell was back at the barre. "I missed dancing so much," she says. "It's what I do. I can't think of myself as anything but a ballerina and I was out of shape and I'm not used to that." She got back into shape by doing Pilates. "I've been doing it for 20 years," she says. "It's the ballerina's secret. It keeps you flexible and toned but it's not fat-burning. It was a great way for me to get back into shape before I started dancing again."
Her second child, Zoe, was also born by Caesarean section. "The doctors were worried about me developing pre-eclampsia again that they had to take Zoe out a few weeks early."
But it wasn't plain sailing the second time. "Zoe had reflux and for the first three months she couldn't eat. She would cry and cry and I would latch her on but then she couldn't swallow. It was very depressing. I'd see other mothers with these big bouncing babies and I'd think: 'What's wrong with my children? What's wrong with me?'"
Her children are now absolutely fine. "They are wonderful and I just want to spend more time with them. They don't mind me working because I'm a ballet dancer so it's rather glamorous for them. I used to take Phoebe with me when she was a baby and I was dancing abroad but it's all too hard now they are both older."
The children often come and see her dance. Do they dance themselves? "Yes," she says. "They both love it." Isn't it a bit nerve-wracking for the ballet teacher to have Darcey Bussell as a pushy parent? "I'm not pushy!" she says laughing. "Actually, Zoe goes to the same dance school I went to. It's in a basement in Notting Hill and it still has the same barre and floor. It takes me back."
Would she like her children to become ballerinas? "Not really. It's a difficult life. It's obsessive and isolated and poorly paid. It's a very small world and very few of us are in it. I have been very fortunate to have done as well as I have. There are many other talented dancers out there who have not had the success they should have had. You have to be very strong physically and emotionally to do this and then you have to sit back and watch your body break down."
This is part of the reason why she is not going to work as hard. "My hips are disintegrating 50 per cent more rapidly than other peoples of my age. I have had two operations on the same ankle to get rid of calcified bones. I am more than likely going to have to have hip replacements when I am older. I have constant back-ache. Do you want me to continue?"
What will she do then? Much has been made recently of the fact that she could possibly be made a Dance Tsar, in charge of persuading school children to take up dancing as a way of battling obesity.
"I don't know about being a Dance Tsar," she says, "but I have been talking to the Department of Health about bringing dance into the school curriculum somehow. I think children are interested in dance, partly because of Billy Elliot and partly because if you go into any school playground, loads of kids are doing street dancing.
"I think it would help self-esteem and self-knowledge. Everyone loves music, loves to move. It is joyous to do that. It is like exercising without realising you are doing it.
"Everything is easy for children these days. They don't have to try. You are not allowed competitive sports because it means a child might realise he or she doesn't run as fast as another child but, hey, that's what life is about. I can dance but I can't do other things. I think people should encourage children to get out of their comfort zone to strive for things, to aim high. I think dance could help that."
She wrote her second book, Darcey Bussell's Dance Body Workout, after having Zoe. "I did it because I truly believe Pilates is such a good thing, especially if you have had children.
"Most women don't have the time or money to go to the gym or take classes and they can do this at home. It's great for strengthening stomach muscles and for working the lower back." She's also bought herself and her two daughters tap shoes and they are going to become a little tap-dancing troupe. "We are all going to learn together."
So it's stay-at-home, tap-dancing mum and author for Darcey Bussell then, is it? She smiles a bit cheekily. "I want to be at home more. I want to see my children and my husband but, of course, I have booked myself up solid with dancing commitments so I shall have to learn to plan better. I am just so used to working hard." Somehow, I doubt this will ever change. "
I relate to Darcey in many ways. Although, I was blessed to be able to have my children naturally, and able to carry two of them full term ( the first two were induced, similar to Darcey's reason : for the fear of unknown, you can read about it here ), I , however, now have four. And just like Darcey mentioned, I found that the hardest time to come back was after the second one. I am not sure of the phenomena or if there is even one, but I believe that you really learn about yourself, your abilities, your loves and desires when you have more then expected to deal with. At that time I found for myself that my love for dance is inseparable from my being, I simply cannot survive without a barre and mirrored room in my daily life. The pictures of Darcey Bussell that I selected for today's post are from her most recent years, showing once again that nothing is impossible if there is love and passion.
What are you passionate about? Is there something that will never change for you?