When he arrived he immediately attracted crowds. He was then still handsome and appeared to be in good physical shape. Women screamed, 'Rudi, je t'adore,' trying to touch his hands while talking and asking for his autograph.
I was the only woman photographer among some 40 men allowed to take pictures of him rehearsing a 19-strong company, the Ensemble Instrumental de Basse-Normandie. After the rehearsal I asked some of his musicians how he was as a conductor. They politely said he was OK but one of them remarked that Nureyev was still learning.
I had been cautioned to speak only French or English to him because he would be rude to anybody speaking Russian, associating the people with the Communist system which had persecuted him. But I deliberately spoke Russian to him. Contrary to everything I had been told, he was kind and affable. He spoke Russian with a heavy provincial accent, and I was surprised how poor his vocabulary was. Thirty years in the West hadn't suppressed his background; the Tartars living in pre-war times along the river Volga were among the poorest and most primitive people in the Soviet Union.
I asked him about the coup, 'What we are witnessing now,' he said, 'it's extraordinary. I do hope Russia will soon become a completely new and wonderful country.' He was particularly impressed by Anatoly Sobchak, the Mayor of St Petersburg. 'I predict he will become a great man.' 'Are you going to conduct there?' I asked. 'Maybe.' Straightaway he asked me whether I could arrange for him to play with Yuri Temirkhanov, the leading conductor, a man born in the same year as Nureyev and also of Tartar origin, if distantly.
On my return to London I began searching for Temirkhanov. When eventually I knew he was going to be at his flat in St Petersburg and I was about to get both men to London for negotiations the news came that Nureyev was ill and could hardly walk.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content