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Darcey Bussell and The Sunday Express Children’s Prize
Jeffery Taylor, the former dancer, critic and an arts feature writer for the Sunday Express, interviews one of Britain's favourite ballerinas about dance and growing up. November 2003

Darcey Bussell is one of the best-known and most popular ballerinas of the Royal Ballet since the legendary Margot Fonteyn. Fame pursues her. She features in Madame Tussaud’s and the National Portrait Gallery and received an OBE at just 25; she is photographed for glossy magazines, sculpted for museums and filmed every other day of her life. Yet Darcey is also a woman deeply committed to her family life, married to city banker Angus Forbes and a devoted mother to two-year-old Phoebe. She is due to repeat the experience and bear her second child in mid February 2004. And when she heard of the Sunday Express Children’s Award, a new initiative presented as part of the National Dance Awards, she was as generous with her praise as she is with the beauty of her dancing. “What a wonderful idea,” she said, “I’d love to present the Award at the winner’s ceremony in January, but I’ll be only a few days away from giving birth and anything can happen.”
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"Expressing yourself through music and movement gives confidence in all areas of your life, even at a young age. It’s magical."
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The Sunday Express Children’s Award will be won by a young reader between the ages of 6 – 16 who has achieved during the last twelve months a high standard of dance in the face of exceptional difficulty. Life could be made complicated by added responsibilities at home through illness or financial strictures, or problems at school. The Sunday Express believes in the determination, creativity and courage - all characteristics needed to succeed in dance – of the young people of this country and is eager to acknowledge them.
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Royal Ballet star Darcey Bussell during a break in rehersals
Photo: © Michael Dunlea, Sunday Express

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“You don’t want outside influences when you’re a kid,” says Darcey, “you want your own imagination and shapes and feelings. But if a child is forced, through whatever circumstances, to take on extra or more adult responsibilities, dancing really can be a bridge out of that serious part of their life. I’ve seen kids with these problems and because they love their dancing they can cut off from whatever terrible things might be happening to them and that helps them cope. Expressing yourself through music and movement gives confidence in all areas of your life, even at a young age. It’s magical.” Talking to this mature, driven woman of 34 who has maintained for fifteen years her leading position in a profession notorious for its rapid burn out of talent and an obsession with youth, you are made aware that the words make believe and magic have other meanings on her lips than to the rest of us. They mean what they say. “Make believe is just what kids want,” she insists. “Growing up too quickly is a terrible thing and dancing lets children who are burdened be a kid again. It’s so important to have a childhood. A lot of criticism of dancers is that we’re too disciplined and blinkered. People say too many restrictions are put on dancers and we lose our childhood. But, you know, dance takes you back into your childhood.”
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"It took me a whole year to find the secret behind the discipline that people say is so terrible for children. I thought it was wonderful when I suddenly discovered how to mould myself the way I wanted to."
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Darcey was born in April, 1969, the daughter of Andrea, a former dancer and model, and John Crittle, an Australian fashion designer, and started Saturday morning classes when she was 5 at the original Rambert School, then housed in a converted church, renamed by Marie Rambert The Mercury Theatre, in Notting Hill Gate. “I never thought of wanting to be a ballerina,” she recalls, “I looked forward to every Saturday as a fun time with my friends.” But it was obvious to Darcey’s mother, and to her second husband, dentist Philip Bussell, who Darcey promptly adopted as her father, that her daughter was a born performer and at eleven years old sent her to Arts Educational stage school, then based in the city’s Barbican. “My mother thought there was no way she’d send me to the Royal Ballet School because she’d been so unhappy there herself. I persuaded my mother to let me audition for White Lodge, the Royal Ballet junior school and started there at 13. It took me a whole year to find the secret behind the discipline that people say is so terrible for children. I thought it was wonderful when I suddenly discovered how to mould myself the way I wanted to.” Darcey joined the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in 1987, aged 18, and two years later became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer. Darcey was an immediate hit with both the public and press and became not only immensely popular as a dancer but the company’s glamorous ambassadress.

But the Sunday Express Children’s Award is not just for children who want to grow up to be professional dancers like Darcey. “Dance suits everybody,” she says. “It’s ideal if you’re a show-off like me, and it’s also a very private thing, like getting carried away with the music and having a good time. It gives physical confidence and teaches self discipline, you learn to focus on something you want and make it work. A lot of kids never discover that really useful tool for their future. I was a bit of a wild thing with no control and when somebody says do a step like this and shows you how to do it and you learn how to achieve it – it’s just brilliant.
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"I was awful at school, I was always being laughed at because I was too wobbly and bendy..."
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“I was awful at school, I was always being laughed at because I was too wobbly and bendy with no sense of direction, I’d always go the opposite way to everyone else. I found through my dancing a concentration level I didn’t know I had – it was invaluable for the rest of my life.

“And whether you go on stage or not, isn’t it a great relief pretending you are something, or someone you’re not? You can express feelings and find depths within yourself by dancing that help you grow whatever age you are.”

Further details of how to nominate children are on our
Sunday Express Children's Award page



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Darcey Bussell
Photo © Michael Dunlea, Sunday Express