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Muddy meets Wayne Sleep OBE

The Plymouth-born ballet legend hoofs it to Devon this month to share the goss from his fifty years in dance, overcoming adversity and THAT dance with Lady Diana.

He’s Britain’s best-known ballet dancer, famed for working with Rudolf Nureyev, Morecombe & Wise and performing a surprise dance with Lady Diana at the Royal Opera House. More recently he was runner-up to Tuffers in I’m a Celebrity, competed on Celebrity Mastermind and spent time in India for The Real Marigold Hotel.

Closer to home, Wayne was born in Plymouth and trained at the Devon’s Geraldine Lamb School of Dance? Us neither! The ballet legend is hoofing it to the Palace Theatre, Paignton with his with new tour, An Audience with Wayne Sleep (who else?!).

High time for a Muddy chinwag…

Hello Wayne! Half a century in dance! I’m shattered after half an hour. How do you stay so fit at 74 years young?

Pic credit: @wayne_sleep

Oh well, I’m not really. Not after two and a half years of enforced hibernation. I used to be hopeless at relaxing but Covid meant I’ve had to learn. I have my Pilates mat by my bed, and now I’m so relaxed it’s always, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’ I put on a lot of weight, then I think I’ve reached the bottom of the barrel, better do something.

Bet your bottom is way higher than ours…

I wouldn’t be so sure. I do a big tap number at the end of the show – ooh, mustn’t give too much away! – so I have to be fit for that.

What else can we expect from the new show?

It’s me chatting about my dance career, how I became principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, founding my own dance company, touring the world with my show Dash. Plus, some dancing of course, live and clips of when I was younger. Plus, there’s a chance to ask questions – I did my first show last week and the audience was lovely BTW.

Should we bring along our little ballerinas?

Yes, it’s great for kids because among other things, it’s about dance as a career, and overcoming adversity.

Have you had to overcome adversity?

Pic credit: Wayne Sleep

A male dancer needs to be 5ft7 to get into the Royal Ballet School but I made it at 5ft2. Eight years in training and I thought I’d never make it in. I even thought about taking hormone therapy to grow, but it wasn’t an exact science at the time, you might get too tall or outgrow your strength. My boss, Dame Ninette De Valois, (founder of the Royal Ballet) heard about it and told me not to, saying “You’re just going to have jump higher, twist faster, and get on with it.” And that’s what I did. As Margot Fonteyn once said to me when I asked her what she thought had made her, it’s all about “tenacity”.

Any advice for parents of kids who want to dance professionally?

It’s a harsh discipline but it’s a wonderful career, and people need to remember it’s not just the dance jobs, it takes a whole huge team to run a place like the Royal Opera House. It’s not just about dancing, you need to be a good actor.

Can we talk about Lady Di? What did you think of the guy who played you in Netflix’s The Crown? Was it an accurate depiction of your famous dance?

Pic credit: Netflix

Netflix didn’t get in touch, you know, to ask me about it. But I thought the actor (Jay Webb) did well, although I’m not that camp! I was really pleased he did a pretty good job of the dancing – though not as good as me naturally… Of course, in reality it was at Christmas, not for Charles’ birthday. And Diana blowing the kiss, that was all nonsense.

Tell us all the gossip about how it came about.

Well, you see, it was a compete surprise – all hush-hush, a three-minute dance at The Royal Opera House for a charity gala. She chose the music, and she knew exactly what she wanted – Uptown Girl by Billy Joel – and of course she summoned me to the studio to choreograph and teach her a dance. Which I did, although I couldn’t come straight away as I was on tour, and sometimes even she was away so we even had to talk it through over the phone.

On the night, I was worried she might be affected by the bright spotlights and 2000 people watching – and that I might drop her. But she took to it like a duck to water. She wrote to me afterwards and said, “Now I know why you perform because of the reaction and the buzz you get from a live audience’.

Later, I was working in Munich, and it was a Sunday morning, and I was exhausted because of course you have to create fireworks every night. The phone went and the caller said, “This is your early morning call”, and I said, “Who’s this, it’s my day off.” The voice said, “It’s Diana.” “Diana who?” I said. And she said, “WALES!.”

Half an hour later I went to the hotel where she was staying and she welcomed me at the door of her suite with two huge jugs in her hands and the words, “Tea or coffee?” That was just what she was like, you see.

If you could dance with a young Royal now, who would it be?

Pic credit: @wayne_sleep

The grandchildren, of course, they’d be my size.

Where do you keep your OBE?

It’s in my mother’s desk which I inherited. With my other medals. I have a few, though I don’t like to brag.

Yes, and the Guinness World Record holder for the fastest entrechat-douze. Whatever that is?

How very dare you! Great French accent by the way… It’s a leap in the air from a standing position and crossing and uncrossing your legs twelve times.

Visiting any old Devon haunts when you’re here?

I love Dartmoor. We used to put up tents there in the summer. I made a huge mistake though once, and asked the guy in the ice cream van for a Cornetto. He looked at me very sternly and said, ‘This is Devon, we do the ice cream!’

My sister lives in Plymouth, and we always used to get the little boat over the River Tamar to Cawsands in Cornwall from The Barbican. It’s a lovely thing to do.

What are you up to for the rest of the day? Heading to the bar, or the barre?

Neither, darling! I’ve got a book to write, an autobiography for Hodder & Stoughton. I just need to decide what to call it: A Good Night’s Sleep, Sleep with Friends or Precious Little Sleep. I prefer the last one but I’m worried people will think it’s a self-help guide for people with insomnia.

Want more twinkle-toed tales from Wayne?

Book your seat for An Audience with Wayne Sleep at Palace Theatre, Paignton on Sunday 29 May (NB date has now been rescheduled, check website for date TBC). Tickets £25pp.

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