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Sixty Seconds with Dame Darcey Bussell

The former prima ballerina, 50, on becoming a dame, leaving Strictly and watching ballet in every kind of weather

You’re presenting free outdoor broadcasts of opera and ballet live from the Royal Opera House — isn’t that risky with the British weather?

Yes, we have to keep our fingers crossed! But weirdly, with all the other outdoor shows we’ve done, the rain doesn’t diminish anybody’s spirit; they’ll have their raincoats and umbrellas, still watching patiently as the rain drips into their glass of wine. The British are used to it, so we’re quite good at it. I’ve sat at open-air events in the rain myself plenty of times!

What’s the idea behind the live broadcasts?

We’re reaching audiences that maybe wouldn’t be able to book tickets to the ballet, or maybe wouldn’t think about going. It’s also an amazing insight into how a live ballet is produced. During each interval and just before it goes live, we go backstage and get interviews with the choreographer, the dancers and the designer, to get an idea how the production has been put together. It’s amazing.

Co-presenter: Ore Oduba PICTURE: REX

What’s your involvement?

I’m presenting a cinema screening of the ballet Romeo And Juliet this evening. I’m presenting it with Ore Oduba, who I’ve got to know well because of Strictly [He won in 2016]. We’ll be at the Royal Opera House and will introduce the public to what’s going on. It will be screened live in cinemas and on BP Big Screens around the country. I first performed at the Royal Opera House when I was 13 in my first school performance, so my connection goes back a long way!

Aren’t you a bit tired of Romeo And Juliet?

No way. I was about 21 when I first did it and I did it until I reached 40. I’ve danced it 100 times, in China, in Japan, in America — but never, ever a dull performance. It’s one of those ballets that is so touching, because the story is so extraordinary. The characters are strong and the music, by Prokofiev, is one of the most beautiful scores.

How did you celebrate turning 50 this year?

I celebrated big — that was important. I think I shouldn’t be ashamed of these things, so I went for it with all my friends and family and it was lovely.

How do you feel about leaving the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel?

Of course I’ll miss it. You don’t take a decision like that lightly but it was right for me to leave. I’ve been very lucky to do seven good years and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it but I have no regrets.

What was it like to receive your damehood last year?

It was surreal actually. It’s all a bit of a blur now. I was very nervous, which was weird, as I’ve performed all over the world in front of large audiences. I didn’t know the Queen would be presenting it until I walked in the building, so that was amazing. I’ve got a big admiration for everything she’s done. She always blows you away with her knowledge of every individual who gets an honour.

Do many people call you Dame Darcey?

For fun, yes. I have friends who have called me Dame Darcey as a joke for years, so it’s taken the novelty out of that. As for my daughters, I’m just boring old Mum!

Royal approval: The Queen PICTURE: GETTY

You must have had a strict diet as a ballerina. Can you relax and enjoy your food now?

I never really had a strict diet. I was very fortunate and ate what I wanted. Like any athlete you burn it off very quickly. Now I don’t! So if I want to be strict I cut out bread and pasta.

Do you ever dust off your dancing shoes?

I do it for fitness. I have my own programme called Diverse Dance Mix, which we’ve put into schools, so dance fitness is part of physical education. I also do a little bit of Pilates to keep my body moving and strong. But nothing extreme. I’ve done my extreme dancing. Now I just do it for enjoyment.

Are your two teenage daughters chips off the old block?

My youngest does dance. She loves contemporary dance but she does everything. My oldest is not a dancer but she still loves coming to see shows.

Will you feel strange when you hear the Strictly theme tune at the start of the next series?

Yes, I’ll feel very odd. It’s such a wonderful show and such a great team and I will miss all of them dreadfully, though I’ll be visiting without fail. I’ve got a lot of friends there.

And how will you be spending your ‘free’ Saturday nights?

I coach dancers at the Royal Ballet so I’ll be watching their shows but otherwise I’ll probably be with my family watching Strictly!

Bussell presents The Royal Ballet’s Romeo And Juliet, which will be broadcast live in cinemas and free on BP Big Screens around the country tonight, roh.org.uk