In 1963, journalist Barry Norman – later famous on television as a film critic – was writing on entertainment for The Daily Mail, and he shadowed Dame Margot Fonteyn for a day, the day she recorded the Gayane and Swan Lake pas de deux for Richard Attenborough’s Gala Performance programme for the BBC.
Here’s the article transcribed from newspaper clippings:
Dame Margot’s Longest Day
At half-past two yesterday afternoon Dame Margot Fonteyn rather generously offered to let me share her breakfast — milkless tea, buttered toast and an apple. I declined with thanks.
At four o’clock I saw her again. I was having tea. She was having elevenses.
She sat down to lunch at half-past six. I don’t think she ever got around to dinner…
A topsy-turvy day for Dame Margot, you see. And one that, because of the Transatlantic time lag, was about seven hours longer than anyone else’s.
The timetable went like this…
At 7.30am she arrived in London from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she appeared on Friday, to fulfil a promise to the BBC to dance with Rudolf Nureyev on a new TV show Gala Performance.
She went straight home and to bed. At 2.30pm came breakfast — “a frugal meal, I suppose. But I never eat eggs and things for breakfast. I hate eggs.”
Meanwhile in Studio Four at the TV Centre in Shepherds Bush, ballerina Annette Page had been standing in for Dame Margot at the morning’s rehearsals.
Miss Page said, “Margot and I are great friends and I did it as a sort of favour to her.”
At 3.05 the star herself arrived. Mr Nureyev tore his eyes away from his image on the monitor screen long enough to give her a kiss.
Miss Page gave Dame Margot her skirt. (Both ballerinas were wearing tights as well, I may add.)
Rehearsals for the pas de deux from Gayane began at once, Dame Margot all calm and professional, Mr Nureyev all temperament and edgy.
In the middle of one prodigious leap he found time to wave aside a technician who was standing in front of the monitor.
At 3.45 there was a pause for make-up tests, a chat and a rest. At 5.15 rehearsals started for the pas de deux from the second act of Swan Lake.
At 6.30 there was lunch and then, at 8pm, Dame Margot and her partner began to record their 15 minutes of dancing for transmission on November 18.
By midnight Dame Margot was home again. She said, brightly, ”Quite a day.”
I asked her why, at 44, she undertook such a frantic schedule. She shrugged and said, ”I suppose it is because I just like working.”
But Richard Attenborough, who introduces the programme, put it rather better.
He said, “She is a complete professional. I don’t know anyone else who could have the kind of day she has had, give the performance she gives and still look as fresh as the morning dew at the end of it.”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.