Tonight Darcey Bussell goes on a journey in search of her inspiration, Margot Fonteyn. We found out all you need to know about one of the greatest British dancers of all time.
Who was Margot Fonteyn?
Born in Reigate, Surrey in 1919, Margaret Hookham adopted the name Margot Fonteyn early in her dance career.
Fonteyn was first signed up for ballet classes by her mother when she was aged just four.
At eight years of age, she and her mother joined her father in China where he was working for tobacco company.
There she continued her ballet tuition with Russian teacher George Goncharov, returning to the UK aged 14 to pursue a career in ballet.
What about her dance career?
Fonteyn joined the Vic-Wells Ballet School in 1933, quickly rising through the ranks in the company.
By 1939 she was appointed prima ballerina, having danced principal roles in ballets such as Giselle, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.
She became the muse of choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton, earning particular acclaim for her portrayal of Aurora in Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty.
In her career, Fonteyn was partnered with Robert Helpmann in the 1940s, and Michael Somes in the 1950s.
With the latter, she performed in the first ever colour telecast of a ballet and the first ever British televised version of The Nutcracker.
But her most famous partnership was to be with one of the greatest male dancers of all time, Rudolf Nureyev.
Who was Rudolf Nureyev?
At a time when many thought she may be approaching retirement from dance, Fonteyn was paired with Soviet defector Rudolf Nureyev.
In 1961 Nureyev, formerly of the Kirov Ballet, became the first Soviet artist to defect to the West, and caused international scandal when he sought asylum in Paris during a Kirov tour.
Upon joining The Royal Ballet, he first danced with Fonteyn in February 1962 in Giselle when he was 24 and she was 42, beginning one of the most celebrated partnerships in dance.
The two were close both on and off-stage, with Fonteyn never approving photograph of Nureyev that may have been unflattering.
Nureyev famously said of her: “At the end of 'Lac des Cygnes' when she left the stage in her great white tutu I would have followed her to the end of the world.”
Did she marry?
Nureyev has always maintained that the two had been romantically involved, though Fonteyn denied this.
In 1955 she married Dr Roberto Arias, a Panamanian diplomat in London.
Fonteyn was arrested in 1959 after her husband had attempted a coup against the Panamanian government.
After her death it was revealed that Fonteyn had been involved in this coup attempt.
Arias was left quadriplegic in 1964 after he was shot by a rival politician.
What about her life off-stage?
Finally retiring from dance at 61 in 1979, Fonteyn and her husband retired to Panama where she was close with his children from a previous marriage.
The two lived on a cattle farm and Nureyev proved to be a close friend. Although her farmhouse did not have a telephone, she and Nureyev would talk on the phone several times a week.
Shortly before her husband’s death in 1989, Fonteyn was diagnosed with cancer.
Nureyev paid for much of her medical treatment and despite his busy schedule as a performer and choreographer, he visited her often throughout her illness.
The cancer, sadly, could not be cured and she died aged 71 at a Panama City hospital on February 21, 1991.