Nancy Dell'Olio talks for the first time about her (very) odd-couple romance with Sir Trevor Nunn
23:32 GMT, 31 March 2012
Enjoying her freedom: 'My life is a
show and my show is always on,' says Nancy
Nancy Dell’Olio is tired but happy. Actually, she is ecstatic. She has just finished the Strictly Come Dancing live tour and although it’s hard to imagine Nancy on a tour bus or staying in drab suburban hotels, her face lights up at the memory.
‘Oh yes,’ she says, ‘I never had more fun in my life. Live performance, the adrenaline, it is even better than to be on the television.
‘I don’t think there are any drugs that can give you such an exciting high. For me it’s been a great surprise, interacting with the public, them screaming at you, laughing with you. It’s the first time people can be touched by my warmth, by my humour.’
In fairness, it’s true. The audience loved her. So much so, she now has plans to do her own one- woman show, An Evening With Nancy, in which her audience will ‘share a part of her world’.
It will certainly be a unique night, but for Nancy it’s a natural next step.
‘My life is a show,’ she says. ‘And my show is always on, even at home. My life is acting, I’m on stage all the time.’
However, now that the tour is over, Nancy finds herself alone.
For all the attention that Strictly has brought her, there’s no escaping the fact that it was an adventure she had hoped to share with her former partner, Sir Trevor Nunn.
It was Sir Trevor, 72, the UK’s foremost theatre director, who encouraged her to go on the show – but by the time it began, last September, their eight-month relationship was in its last throes.
Speaking for the first time about their break-up, Nancy, 50, reveals how Sir Trevor’s positive influence led to her accepting the BBC’s invitation after she had rejected them for years, back to the days when she was living with then England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Nancy says: ‘I was not early to sign. I took a lot of time. They asked me every year and I always said no. I was always in a different space, different relationship.
‘Sven never liked me to be in the spotlight. In the end he would not allow it – well, not not allow it exactly, as I always make my own decisions, but he would not have liked it.
‘It was never the right time even though I met the producers a couple of times.
‘This time, when they asked me, it was different. I asked Trevor, “What do you think about me joining Strictly I am seriously considering it.”
‘We were coming back from a holiday in the South of France and I was about to have my last meeting to say yes or no. He said, “Absolutely.”
‘If you are in the public eye, you want your partner to be supportive, to enjoy it for you. It was the right time and I was pleased he was supportive.’
Yet in the end, Sir Trevor never even
made it to the rehearsals. It was, Nancy admits now, a volatile
relationship. She says: ‘We had quite a few intense rows.
‘You can’t expect a genius not to be fiery. He was a strong personality, but who wants an easy personality’
she says, there are no regrets. ‘I’m very pleased I had that chapter in
my life. I do hope I gave him something, as he gave to me, but there
can be a problem with people with too many bags.
is carrying a lot of bags in his life. I don’t have any bags, any
children. I’m free and can enjoy my life like never before.’
Nancy and Sir Trevor’s relationship was revealed last April, there was
some confusion as to whether he was still with his wife, the actress
Imogen Stubbs, 50. When she learned about her husband’s new friendship,
she declared she was heading straight to her lawyer.
later she admitted that she had found someone else, and days after that
she and Sir Trevor were photographed on the doorstep of their West
London home in their pyjamas.
'He pursued me': Nancy and Sir
Trevor dine out in Fregene, Italy, in May
Nancy says: ‘They had been separated one year when we were together. Trevor never left home, she was the one about to leave to go to a flat.
‘He was going through a divorce. That wasn’t publicly known at the time, but he was. He was coming through one of the most difficult years of his life – that’s what he said to me. He was working very hard, the divorce was becoming known.
‘Being with me, it was a boost for him. I think every man takes a lift from being next to me. It was a very passionate relationship.
‘He wanted to come to my world. It was his choice, that is why he started dating me. He pursued me. I think I was definitely what he needed at that time.’
The couple met at the Ivy Club in West London, a favourite with the capital’s in-crowd. Sir Trevor, 72, is one of Britain’s foremost directors and known for being rather serious and high minded. Nancy is known for . . . well, for being Nancy. It was such an unlikely match that, inevitably, people became intrigued.
Nancy says: ‘He enjoyed being part of my world but it shocked him. For someone who is never known in that way, it is quite a surprise.
‘Yes he is known but I had never seen him in the papers before he was with me. Every man has a lot of publicity with me. Through me they’re seen in a different light . . . or finally people notice them. He couldn’t believe the sort of interest I generate. He was completely surprised. He knew I was well-known but he did not know the sort of attention I get.’
Dell'Olio with Strictly Come Dancing performer Anton Du beke
Age has always been a touchy subject with Nancy – she was famously 36 for at least five years – but she insists that Sir Trevor’s advancing years had nothing to do with the split. Nor was the fact they seemed to have little in common as a couple.
‘Absolutely not,’ she says vehemently. ‘We had so much in common, more than people think. I’m too deep a person to like a superficial person.’
No one, I suggest, would ever accuse Sir Trevor Nunn of being superficial.
Nancy stops for a moment. ‘Ah yes,’ she nods. ‘I suppose everybody could say to me I’m superficial. I wish sometimes I was more superficial, it would make life a lot easier.
‘People were surprised that we were together but I was not surprised. I can talk about everything, I’m proud that I can. I like to learn everything.’
She recalls: ‘Our first date was all about Shakespeare, it was something that we had in common. He was about to produce The Tempest. I said I had always liked The Tempest, I like his later plays.
‘I don’t want to be too specific but I do know a lot about Shakespeare. We were intellectually connected.
‘And our inner child connected. Yes, he is very serious, very deep, but his business is still about creating dreams, entertainment. So you have to have a young spirit, and that part was very attractive.
‘I liked to call him Peter Pan. He has a lot of personality. He is a very fascinating person. He is much younger in real life. I don’t really care about age in people, you look at the soul.’
Nevertheless, the arguments clearly became too much and the couple broke up. Nancy says: ‘I think that we were both shocked by the intensity and passion of our arguments and, yes, it’s fair to say at times it could be scary for both of us.
‘Age is never important, but what is important is what stage in the journey you are at. And I think we were at different stages.
‘Sometimes you don’t want things to be finished. I felt like it was unfinished. A lot of things have been left unsaid, unanswered, but I think we both knew we had to end it. Instinctively, emotionally, it was the right thing to do.
‘Every ending is sad, of course, but I don’t regret anything. Every relationship gives you something in life, and it gives you what you need at the time, even if it’s not always what you want.’
Nancy is not a woman who is used to being alone. She met her first husband, an Italian lawyer twice her age, in her late 20s, and then left him for Eriksson. When they finally split up in 2009, she had not been single for more than 20 years.
Before Christmas she was linked with Heston Blumenthal’s pastry chef, James Petrie, but Nancy says: ‘James is only a friend. The last few months, no one has been in my thoughts. For the first time my thoughts are free, my heart is free.’
Nancy with former partner and ex-England manager Sven Goran Eriksson
She adds: ‘It’s an exciting life. Not everything is sunshine, but I will handle the difficult things, the negative things.’ She refuses to talk about it, but Sven has launched a legal bid to evict her from the Belgravia apartment that she lives in but which he owns.
For now, Nancy is determined to concentrate on her new-found love of performing.
A couple of weeks ago she paid 4,000 for a small part in the choreographer Matthew Bourne’s revival of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells. Nancy explains: ‘Usually it’s the other way round. Every year Tracey Emin and I auction a dinner with us for the Terence Higgins Trust.
‘Last time the winner was a manager from Barclays Bank, an American. He paid 7,000. This time it was me doing the bidding, for this dancing part in Sleeping Beauty.
‘I thought, why not It’s only a small part but I think Matthew Bourne should call me to do the Wicked Stepmother.
‘She has already been played by Julia Roberts [in Mirror Mirror] and Charlize Theron [in Snow White] this year. It’s the year of wicked stepmothers, so it could be Julia Roberts, Charlize Theron and Nancy.’
And then, of course, there’s her one-woman show to get off the ground. Perhaps it could be directed by Sir Trevor, I ask her
‘Yes,’ she giggles. ‘I would love him to direct. Now yes, but maybe not then. I remember I said to him once – we were staying with friends and we had a blazing row – I said, “You’re never going to direct me anyway.”
‘He said, “You can be quite sure about that. But who knows You never know what the next chapter of your life will be.’