Strictly's Darcey Bussell: Western Isles trip 'the most amazing detox'
Exploring islands off the west coast of Scotland was an incredibly personal journey for Dame Darcey Bussell. Georgia Humphreys finds out more
PREPARE to be surprised by Darcey Bussell in her new travel series. The former ballerina and Strictly judge does a lot of things you would not expect; for example, donning a wetsuit and taking a dip in freezing cold waters, a beautiful secret spot, while visiting the Isle of Skye.
“I've never done wild swimming, and I've never had an urge to try it, knowing how cold it is,” notes the 51-year-old Londoner, one of the most famous ballerinas of her generation.
“But in those surroundings, it was very spiritual. It was quite magical and weird and wonderful, and I didn't want to get out afterwards.”
Audiences are used to seeing the dancing extraordinaire on stage – at 20 years old, she became the Royal Ballet's youngest ever principal ballerina, and has performed in over 100 productions with the company – or judging celebrities in the ballroom on Strictly Come Dancing (she announced her departure from the BBC show in 2019).
But the TV personality – who retired from ballet at the age of 38 – admits you'll see a whole different side to her in Darcey Bussell's Wild Scottish Coast, in which she takes in Skye, the Outer Hebrides, Islay, Jura and Bute.
Unique opportunities that came about, thanks to the four-part series, include being face to face with one of the world's rarest breeds of pony, making a spectacular crossing across the sands with a herd of Highland cattle, and seeing one of the true wonders of the natural world; the Corryvreckan whirlpool.
“I think it's something that I've always known, that for your wellbeing, mental and physical wellbeing, the outdoors is everything,” she reflects. “You know, it's the best medicine you could get.
“And being in an environment where you are quite isolated, getting ferries everywhere, it was the most amazing detox.”
Mother-of-two Bussell has a lot of family history in Scotland, and so relished the chance to find out more about her ancestry, too. And she admits it was emotional exploring the Isle of Bute, a place she had heard so much about from her grandfather, who spent many childhood summers there.
“I kept saying to him, ‘I will go and see it', and I was always upset that I never got that possibility when he was still alive,” says Bussell, who has two daughters with her husband, Angus Forbes.
“So, to actually finally be there, it did really, really hit me – and I didn't expect that.”
She adds: “It wasn't just another job; it was a real experience and has become a passion… I can't wait to take my family back there, and to show them all the places I got to see.”
One memory from the Isle of Bute that particularly stands out was filming at St Blanes – a ruin of an old chapel.
“We were there on a spectacular day,” she recalls. “But it had this energy, this magic about it – and it was just ruins.”
What she really hopes comes across in the programmes is how passionate the people who live on these islands are about their home (another highlight sees her join young environmentalists keeping the beaches clean for wildlife).
With the Covid-19 pandemic impacting how much and where we can travel, Bussell notes how grateful the locals were to have people visiting, because of how much they rely on tourism.
“They really want to show you the importance of this environment, and how they live, and how simple things can be – but how rewarding they can be.
“And I suppose, for me, it was just a wonderful cleanser, and a realisation of how happy you can be in the simplest situations. You don't need all these extra material objects that we feel that we always need, weirdly, in this society.”
Laughing, she admits she did feel like a bit of a “townie” and a “city girl” at some points during filming.
We see her help a family with their Highland cows (they bring them from the mainland and take them to an island for better pasture to get them through the winter months).
She gushes that the “giant, hairy” animals are “so beautiful, they're full of character”, while the incredible views meant that she felt like she was on a movie set.
“And the family were fabulous,” she elaborates. “I think when you go to environments like that, and you meet people that live off the land, your hat goes off to them because it's a hard life.
“And we realise that, ‘My God, they look happy and healthy on it! It just makes me think, ‘Why am I living in an urban society?!'”
It wouldn't be a show presented by Bussell without some dancing being featured, and in episode one, local Meena Watts, who teaches Bollywood dance classes on Skye, offers Darcey an impromptu lesson on the shoreline.
Meanwhile, Sophie Stephenson, who is keeping Skye's ancient dancing tradition alive, teaches Bussell some new moves.
Bussell shares she used to do a lot of Scottish dancing as a child, as her grandfather took her to quite a few ceilidhs in London.
“But it had been quite a few years since I touched it,” she says. “So, it was lovely to see quite a few people who are carrying on this tradition. They realise the social benefits of the dance and music and how it brings people together.”
Something Bussell is very passionate about is that such benefits should be accessible to every single child growing up – and she explains dance fitness is the best way to do make that happen.
Enter DDMix: a dance fitness programme she has designed to be used in PE lessons.
Based on many genres and styles, each workout just three to four minutes long.
“The great advantage of dance is that it is not competitive, and children don't have to worry about being picked or being excluded,” she says.
“It's not about if you're good enough to be on the A-Team of baseball, hockey or football.
“DDMix is a fun exercise that every child can enjoy, without any dance experience, and that any teacher can easily teach.
“The kids love it – and it is great for their physicality and mental wellbeing.”
:: Darcey Bussell's Wild Scottish Coast starts at 9pm today on More4.