Darcey Bussell – Strictly Come Dancing judge, former prima ballerina and godmother to Azura – reveals what it’s like working with Craig, Bruno and Len and why she loves being at sea

Darcey Bussell at P&O Cruises' 175th anniversary celebrations
Darcey Bussell at P&O Cruises’ 175th anniversary celebrations

I went on my first cruise with my husband, Angus, and our two daughters last summer on Azura to Norway. We were awfully spoilt as the crew all remembered us from the launch. The girls (Phoebe, 12 and Zoe, nine) were over the moon – they were desperate to get on the ship. I didn’t really know what to expect from cruising but I was pleasantly surprised. We had so much to do, and the most extraordinary thing is having that fabulous view out of your window every day. And I love sleeping with the motion of the waves.

The Norwegian fjords are just so stunning, and you can access such hard-to-reach places by ship. We sailed right next to giant mountains, with tiny houses hanging off them right on the edge of the water. As the ship is incredibly large, I thought that it might be quite imposing as it arrived into little Norwegian towns, but it feels like it belongs.

In June I did a Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise for a weekend, sailing from Gibraltar to Southampton, with Craig Revel Horwood and two professional dancers from Strictly. We performed three or four shows on board joined by some of the guests from the ship. It felt natural combining Strictly and cruising – it reminded me of the old liners and their big dance floors. It was great to see people doing the tango, the waltz, the cha-cha-cha: everything they had been learning on their cruise. I really want to do another; we’re trying to fit in a couple more, but when Strictly starts it gets a bit crazy. I’d go on one again like a shot.

The buzz for Strictly is very exciting, it’s a very positive show. The other judges are such gentlemen, they really look after me; even after one season I still feel like the new kid on the block. I know Craig the best, through his choreographic work. I admire Len immensely and I quiz him constantly on his knowledge, he’s a fascinating man, and I love Bruno’s passion.

Live TV is very nerve-wracking. It’s wonderfully timed but there’s that pressure for everything to go smoothly. Luckily I’m used to performing live, but this is slightly different. Plus, when I perform on the show it’s also a totally different world to ballet. First of all it’s a dance floor and not a stage, it’s the same level as the audience meaning they can see the contestants’ every move – and their nerves – and the celebrities can see the audience too. There are cameramen running around you as well; the last time I performed the poor cameraman fell over. I suddenly realised he’d disappeared but I had to concentrate on dancing.

London is my home and always will be, wherever I am in the world. I’m now back in England, having lived in Australia for five years. Strictly wasn’t the reason to return but it was a pull – it was important for the kids to come here as well. I was born in London, and grew up in Notting Hill, but now we’ve come back to South West London which is much greener. When you have kids you do think about outdoor space a lot more so we may end up in the country one day. But I like London’s vibe, it’s a very exciting city, it’s creative, inventive, there’s so much happening; I love the arts and the entertainment.

I’ve been lucky to travel a lot with work. I guested in the New York City Ballet and loved Manhattan so much that I nearly accepted a job with them. It’s great when we take the kids there – they think they’re on another planet. When I travelled with the Royal Ballet we often got a day at the beginning and the end to explore and I always made the most of that; I had to save my legs though, that was always important. We did a lot of Orange County in the US, China, Hong Kong, Asia. Japan’s amazing. I love the sushi – I could never get bored of that.

In Barcelona I love that you can find people dancing in the streets. You can go down into the small, old parts of the city and come across a group of young people dancing, it’s very romantic under the moonlight. And Argentinians tango in the streets – it’s just under their skin to dance. I found that I had an affinity with Buenos Aires, maybe it’s because I have danced with a couple of Argentinians before. Like them, I don’t have many inhibitions, although it definitely depends on the environment, the inspiration and the music. But generally I really don’t care. I’ve even done line dancing in Texas. It’s great fun.

I go to zumba classes to pick myself up, have fun and laugh. If you love music, then you love to move, and movement is so essential to our bodies and how we feel. We need that get-up-and-go feeling and if you don’t move your body you’ll get sluggish. I would love to be allowed to train the celebrities on Strictly, but as a judge you’re not allowed – you’d get your favourites too quickly. For me it would be more natural if I was in the studio with them. I find it very hard to be behind the desk. I’m a mover.

I’m now recognised for my voice rather than my face, which is funny. Since Strictly younger people will turn round on the tube if they hear me. It’s always a very positive reaction though.

I love Strictly because it’s teaching people a new craft. The celebrities have to learn 10 different styles in three weeks and their bodies are just not used to it, but they throw themselves into it. I really admire them.

When we start Strictly in London in the UK, the other three judges are still very busy doing the US show so we don’t get to mix properly until the last month. They can then relax a bit more and have some fun. Bruno is a terrible influence – he’s quite a party animal.

Darcey’s book Darcey Bussell: A Life in Pictures is available from all good book stockists, (Hardie Grant, £30).

Darcey Bussell has performed on P&O Cruises’ Strictly Come Dancing themed cruises with Craig Revel Horwood and is godmother to P&O’s Azura.

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