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Margot Fonteyn - pirouettes and politics

*Accompanies episode 48 of Ladies Who London podcast.

When you think about ballet, you don't often think of military coups as well. Let us

Image - Dance Magazine archives

change your mind about all that as we tell you of the iconic Margot Fonteyn.

Starting at the tender age of 4, Margot Fonteyn - or rather, Margaret 'Peggy' Hookham, her proper name - was a ballet superstar, being one of the Royal Ballet's most famous ever lead dancers.

She started out at the Vic-Wells ballet, and inherited some of the most famous roles in the ballet world, catapulting her into the glittering lights of Covent Garden.

Image - DANCE MAGAZINE archive

Unusually for dancers, Margot danced well into her later life, only retiring at the age of about 60. In her long career, she had been partnered with the spellbinding and headline grabbing Rudolph Nureyev, almost 20 years younger than her, seen here dancing together. Together they raised merry hell, including being arrested in San Francisco at a party smoking pot!

Photograph: Express/Getty Images

But this was far from her most exciting escapade. Having married the Panamanian ambassador to the UK, Roberto Arias, she was involved in a failed coup that her husband was helping orchestrate. Margot acted as a decoy for her husband who was trying to ship weapons into the country. When it failed, he fled the country, and she was arrested and later deported!

Image - DANCE MAGAZINE archive

She was toying with the idea of retiring, when Rudolph Nureyev defected from Russia, and they were partnered together as one of the most spellbinding ballet partnerships ever. Here is a clip of them dancing together in Romeo and Juliet.

Any further ideas of retirement were completely scrapped when news reached her on tour that her husband had been shot and was paralysed. This would change her future, and dictate her career and finances for the next 30 years.

To find out how the story ends, join us on episode 48 of the Ladies Who London podcast.

Listen on Spotify here

Listen on Podbean here

Other things mentioned in the podcast;

Statue of Ninette de Valois at the Royal Opera House, near the Floral Hall side.

Margot's final performance

Margot in pictures - click here.

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