Darcey Bussell Photo: Telegraph/Martin PopeIn 2007, after receiving a historic eight minute standing ovation, Darcey Bussell — famed prima ballerina and once the youngest principal dancer in the history of the Royal Ballet — traded in her toe shoes for an apron. Nearly two years on, this mother of two enjoys being able to pick up her daughters, and having only forty-five minutes of exercise a week.

Once hailed as “the first English ballerina since Margot Fonteyn to capture the popular imagination”, Bussell had it all in terms of fame and fortune.

“Bussell interspersed a career of endless prizes and accolades with an enormous public profile, pirouetting from magazine cover to television show, to being awarded an OBE and voted one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine, to having a waxwork made of her in Madame Tussauds.”

As always, however, this fame came at a price.

"People don't realise how much pain there is behind a ballerina's smile," Bussell sadly concedes. "Most days I would wake up with everything hurting." Aside from aches and pains brought about by “always pushing your joints to their extremes, constantly forcing your limbs into positions they are not supposed to be in”, Bussell suffered from a bad back and a terrible ankle condition.

An encounter with the life-threatening lung and heart condition, preeclampsia, before giving birth to her first daughter in 2001, made Bussell realise what terrible strain she was putting on her body. Now enjoying her retirement in Sydney, where she only uses the gym for forty-five minutes each week, Bussell says that “It's wonderful to feel my body finally healing after so many years of strain."

On the other hand, an improved, less strenuous lifestyle was not Darcey Bussell’s chief reason for retiring.

“I could have gone on,” she says. “But I'd been fortunate enough to have kids — many ballerinas can't. I wanted to be a real mother to my daughters, and when you're training six days a week with three-hour performances three evenings a week, there's not a lot of time for anything else except ballet.”

Her daughters, Phoebe, seven and Zoe, five, enjoy having their mother home. They even help her come up with the storylines for her Magic Ballerina children’s book series. Bussell says that she has no desire for them to follow in her footsteps. “They must follow their own dreams, not mine.”

As to her own choice, Darcey Bussell had this to say: “Ballet was my life, but now it’s family first.”~ London Telegraph, May 17