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Exclusive! Darcey Bussell gives honest verdict on this year's Strictly Come Dancing

The judge opened up about all things Strictly

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She is on the judging panel for this year's Strictly Come Dancing thanks to her incredible dancing background! In an exclusive interview with HELLO!, Darcey Bussell revealed that her friends used to affectionately call her Dame before she was officially made one. "They'd always say, 'Dame Darcey coming in the room,' as a wind-up," the former prima ballerina shared with us in October 2018 after receiving her honour for services to dance from the Queen in May. "So it was funny when it became official as I received all these texts saying: 'It's just not fun any more.' I was like: 'Sorry, I’ve ruined the joke.'"

Speaking about this year's Strictly contestants, the judge shared: "This is probably the biggest pool of celebrities we've had who I think are going to be shockingly brilliant. And we have a handful of surprises. Kate Silverton has been behind a news desk, so who'd have known she’d be a natural performer? Another is Joe Sugg - he has such rhythm and flexibility." Now in her seventh year on the judging panel, with Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli, Darcey confessed she is "more confident in who I am and what I do" on the show. The empathy she shows contestants - she is unfailingly measured and fair - is part of that. "It's much easier to be cruel because it's easier to identify the things that go wrong," she said. "It's much harder to try and see the best bits and strengths coming through."

darcey full© Photo: HELLO!

Darcey Bussell in our exclusive interview and photoshoot

It is why, she believes, stories of rivalry and resentment surfaced when head judge and former dance champion Shirley joined the panel last year. "That's so normal," she explained. "That's what they do with women. If we came in wearing a suit every day, then it wouldn’t be so interesting. But because we’re both dressing up, creating a look, it’s the same old stuff." She added: "There’s no competition because we've had our careers. We’ve both been experts in our field. To still be striving at my age…"

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The mother of daughters Phoebe, 17, and Zoe, 14, with businessman husband Angus Forbes, is a household name thanks to the show. She still travels by Tube and can occasionally go unnoticed if she’s quiet and keeps herself to herself. "It’s often my voice that people recognise. I suppose the only time I feel uncomfortable [about being approached] is when I’m with my kids, as I don’t want them to be affected by it," she shared. "I like to think I’m pretty normal and grounded at home, but if I’m somewhere I’m going to be focus of attention, I don’t think that’s the way they want to see me. Sometimes it makes them laugh, other times they’re like: ‘Urgh, Mum!”

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She’s not beyond getting starstruck herself. At her investiture at Buckingham Palace in May, Sir Paul McCartney was in the queue ahead, waiting to collect his Companion of Honour order from the Queen. "He's kind of big, isn't he?" the TV star revealed, talking for the first time about her date at the Palace. "My mum was really chuffed to meet him. His daughter Mary was there, who has taken a lot of photos of me, and very kindly said: ‘Would you like one of you and my dad?’ And I went: ‘Yes please, Mary.'" They threw a party for family and friends round the corner from the Palace after the event. "When you get an honour it’s really appreciating a collaboration, isn’t it," she noted. "It’s all the people who have supported you, believed in you, through all your ups and downs in your career."

READ: Strictly's Karen and Kevin Clifton open up in first interview since split

Next year marks another milestone as she turns 50. Blessed with an ethereal beauty and natural poise, she can’t be too worried about the ageing process. "Well I'm not going to get a new face," she joked. "When you get older, you’re more confident, but you’re also ageing so people say: ‘Oh dear, it’s such a shame.’ But you have to have an attitude. I’m going to grow old gracefully and sorry, I’m not going to change. The wrinkles? Never mind about them. When I was having kids and still performing, I had to work out a system of how I could stay healthy, vibrant and energised. And that’s what you have to do as you get older."

darcey bussell strictly launch

At the opposite end of the spectrum, her daughters, who are both interested in theatre and performance, are now teenagers and facing all the insecurities that adolescence brings. "I remember it so well, especially as a dancer. We had to wear leotards. We also had to be partnered. We had to do pas de deux classes at school and I remember going red and feeling: ‘Oooh.’ I remember even in my 20s I was paranoid about my calves, thinking they were too big."

She was, she says, a sensitive child who had to learn resilience in the competitive world of classical ballet. "I was pathetic; always feeling sorry for myself when I couldn’t catch up with the others." However she’s also benefited from the therapeutic aspects of dance. It’s the subject of a documentary she’s made for BBC2 to be screened next month. One group it follows is 12 young people with no dance experience, recruited from a Manchester mental health charity, who come together to form a dance company, culminating in a performance to a live audience. "Dance is an extraordinary tool to be able to express things you can’t always say verbally and to simply feel good. It lifts you, it releases natural positive endorphins and it changes you," said Darcey.

darcey bussell scd© Photo: Getty Images

Has dance given her emotional stability over the years? “I would never have known I was using it in that way, but I learnt focus, discipline, a structure, so I suppose it has. Dance was a brilliant way of understanding myself.” These days, Strictly provides her with all the performance she needs. It’s something she misses as soon as the series ends. “Suddenly I’m looking for a sparkly jumper, or a pair of heels for a night out, which I probably wouldn’t have bothered with before. The buzz and the sparkles are very addictive," she explained.

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