How We Met: Michael Nunn & Darcy Bussell
'He came down to see me on "Strictly" recently. Typically for him, he told me just what he thought…'
Michael Nunn, 46
A celebrated British dancer, Nunn joined the Royal Ballet in 1985. He quit 14 years later and, with fellow Royal Ballet star William Trevitt, formed BalletBoyz. He lives in south-west London with his wife and their two sons.
When I first met Darcey back in 1985, she wasn't yet the famous ballet star; she was just a gangly girl from [London dance school] White Lodge starting out at the Royal Ballet alongside me. She had no airs, no graces. For the first few months, she was just another girl, the kind you didn't really notice very much. But then, almost suddenly, you one day opened your eyes, and there she was: a future star, no doubt about it.
We hit it off pretty quickly, and stayed friends for the long-term. That's not unusual among ballet dancers. It's an intense career choice, all-consuming. You really don't have any spare time, and if you do, you spend it with the people you've been working with all day. That's just how it is. And that's why, I suppose, I married a ballet dancer myself. Darcey didn't; she was the one that got away.
I suppose I did have something of a reputation at the Royal Ballet, but that's only because it tends to be a pretty silent profession and if you speak your mind, you stand out. Darcey wasn't particularly outspoken herself, but she was cheeky, and had a strong personality. I liked her.
For a long time, our careers ran along parallel paths, but then I quit the company in 1999, and we went our separate ways. I think what really brought us together again, what bonded us, was when Billy [Trevitt] and I put on a farewell show for her upon her retirement in 2006. We held it at Sadler's Wells, and it became the fastest-selling show in its history.
I believe she retired at just the right time. She had a family, and her children were of an age where they wanted their mother around. Also, her body was beginning to hurt, and when you are performing consistently at the level she was, that is something you can't hide.
She's branched out in all sorts of ways since. She does a lot of TV now, and, yes, I have occasionally watched her. She invited me down to Strictly Come Dancing [Bussell is one of the show's judges], and I thought she was good. She clearly enjoys it enormously.
One thing that defines ballet dancers is our sense of discipline. It drives us in everything we do, sometimes to our detriment. But that's why I like employing ballet dancers, even within an office environment: because of their discipline. They are never ill, never late. It is clear looking at Darcey that she is as disciplined as she ever was. Not only in terms of her physical fitness, but she looks exactly the same as she did 20 years ago. I've no idea how she does it.
Darcey Bussell, 44
Once one of the world's most admired ballerinas, Bussell retired in 2006 and has gone on to model for Marks & Spencer, write children's fiction, and is a judge on 'Strictly Come Dancing'. She lives in south-west London with her husband and two children.
We were a very tight-knit group at the Royal Ballet in our first year, 1985. But then that, I suppose, was unavoidable. You have to become firm friends in a situation like that. Our working conditions were very intense – although don't go thinking that the world of ballet is like it's depicted in that film Black Swan, because it really isn't; we do know how to have fun, to let off steam – but it is intense, so it helps if you bond with people who are going through what you are going through.
Michael was an excellent dancer, and had so much more ability than I think he realised; his confidence came later. We danced a lot together, not the classic stuff so much, but a lot of contemporary work; he was very supple.
Michael was the kind of person happy to stand out in a crowd. He was always speaking his mind, which may have made things a little difficult for him, if only because people within the Royal Ballet are expected to fit the mould, and Michael clearly didn't. He didn't like being treated like a kid, so he spoke out.
When he quit, I wasn't altogether surprised. He always did seem to be the kind of person to go off and do something amazing. When he left, he didn't just take Billy with him but a lot of other male dancers as well, so it caused quite a scandal. But BalletBoyz have gone on to do fantastic things, bringing a new audience to ballet, which is just great.
After I retired, I moved to Australia and lived there for five years. I was married, I had children, and was settling down. I'm back now, and Michael and I are actually living closer to each other than we ever have before. We don't socialise that much as families, simply because we are working all the time, but we're always in touch, and I'm very close to his wife, Belinda. She actually retired from the Royal Ballet the same day I did. We have an awful lot in common…
Michael and I have an enduring friendship. We don't argue because I'm not really the arguing type, but if we ever do disagree on something, I always win. He came down to see me on Strictly recently. Typically for him, he told me just what he thought, but, he has been very encouraging and enthusiastic as well. It took me a while to settle into being on television, even more live television, but of course the moment I did get comfortable, he quickly said something to bring me back down to earth. Do I behave similarly with him? Oh yes, I do, don't you worry about that.
The BalletBoyz perform a one-off gala evening of dance and music at Kingston's Rose Theatre (rosetheatrekingston.org) on Saturday
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