She’s the belle of the ballroom, with more than 750,000 Instagram followers, and a YouTube vlog to channel her fun and fiery side. As Strictly Come Dancing sensation Dianne Buswell enters the competition for her third year, the firecracker of the dancefloor is beyond excited to be back with her pro-dancer family.
But life as a dancer isn’t all glitz and glamour, as Dianne shares in this searingly honest interview – opening up about her past obsessions with exercise, romance in the spotlight with social media phenomenon Joe Sugg, and speaking out as the dancing role model she never had...
At a top secret Strictly Come Dancing rehearsal venue in central London, Dianne Buswell bounds up the stairs from the basement hall where launch show preparations have overrun – sparking a mass exodus of familiar faces, including Gorka Márquez, Nadiya Bychkova, Giovanni Pernice, Graziano Di Prima, and Neil Jones.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” smiles Dianne, offering an introductory handshake, which blends into a hug as I reassure her that it’s absolutely fine. In fact, the 15 minutes spent eavesdropping on the dance professionals’ training session was enthralling. Between musical blasts of ‘New York, New York’, there’s an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, before enthusiastic cheers and goodbye banter – a brief gander behind the scenes of Britain’s biggest and best loved TV show, in which Australian ballroom star Dianne has made waves since being recruited in 2017.
Her debut season was disappointingly short-lived. Partnered with Reverend Richard Coles, the pair were voted off in week two. But last year she realised her dream in double measures.
Dianne, 30, and former thatcher-turned-YouTube phenomenon Joe Sugg, 28, finished runners up, before going public with news of a relationship, which had blossomed during three-months of all-consuming training. Now she’s here, on an unusually blustery evening in August, gearing up for her third ride on the Strictly juggernaut and feeling – in her words, as we meander along the street in search of coffee – “so excited” to be back with her pro-dancer family.
We settle into a corner booth, and Dianne orders an Americano. It’s gone 6pm, but after rehearsing her socks off for nine hours, caffeine consumption rules, presumably, go out the window. In any case, she takes her health seriously. Her diet is full of the good stuff – lean proteins, fruit, vegetables, grains, and healthy snacks rich in energy and taste. She eats often, a mixture of light and plentiful, especially during the gruelling Strictly schedule. For the lengthy period of live shows, the professionals work seven days a week, because not even Sunday – the one day to choreograph the following week’s routines – is available for rest.
“As a dancer, it’s so important to know about nutrition, because what you put into your body reflects what you bring out in your performance,” declares Dianne. “I can go, and go, and go! I don’t physically get to a point where I’m exhausted, so I can dance all day, from 9am until 10pm, and still feel OK at the end of it.”
Vivacious inside and out, Dianne, who starred in the 2015 series of Australia’s Dancing With The Stars, says Strictly bosses were bowled over by her on-stage spirit when they first clapped eyes on her performing in Giovanni Pernice’s touring show, Dance Is Life, in early 2017. An invitation to audition followed. She breezed it.
Although Dianne’s success is indicative of her lifelong passion for dance, and determination to be the best version of herself in every performance, her career once came close to collapse. Nine years ago, aged 21, after working her way up from a small dance school in her hometown of Bunbury, western Australia, to joining a prestigious national dance company, she embarked on a global tour, which sparked a frightening and dangerous period of controlled eating and excessive exercise.
“I was so used to being top dog in a little dance school. Suddenly I had to up my game,” says Dianne, an accomplished hairdresser who closed down her salon to dedicate her all to dance.
We didn’t have social media back then. My pressure was, simply, my environment
“Everyone in that company was the best at what they did – they were all hard-core. It was very competitive. I wanted to be the best on stage, to look the best.”
Appearance, she quickly discovered, was a “constant conversation” among her peers. Women would judge others’ weight, and their own. Being scrutinised by theatre-goers also contributed to Dianne’s predicament.
“You’d hear comments from the audience like, ‘her body’s amazing’, and I’d think: ‘I need to get a better body to stand out on stage.’ We didn’t have social media back then. My pressure was, simply, my environment.”
And so it began. Out of sight of her Italian mother, Rina, and dad, Mark, who had raised Dianne and brothers, Andrew – a three-time Australian ballroom champion – and Brendon, in a healthy home environment rich in “family, love and celebration with beautiful food”, she began a strict regime to shrink her body.
“I tried everything. Sometimes I did three shows a day and I’d go to the gym in between,” says Dianne. “I was exercising excessively, and cut out so many meals. If I [ended up] off that schedule, it would really throw me. It was an addiction, I guess.”
Her weight plummeted, and over the course of a year, the impact on her health was huge. Depleted energy caused her vitality to waste away, and Dianne’s dance partner at the time observed her breathing becoming increasingly laboured. At her worst, climbing a flight of stairs was a challenge, and her periods stopped.
Dianne looks apologetic when she admits she was “quite happy” with her smaller frame, because she “felt more like a dancer, visually”, but on the inside it was a different story. She was frightened by her misery and dysfunction, and felt like a shadow of her former self.
“I literally went from this bright, bubbly person to a really low-energy Dianne, who’d wake up at one in the afternoon because I was so tired,” she says. “Energy has to come from somewhere, and I was getting none of it. It got to the point where I had no physical energy to do the show or other things.
“Anxiety came with it, because I didn’t feel well enough to perform, and had to every night. The anxiety stemmed from worrying whether I’d get through it. I was dancing the show thinking: ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ It was a very vicious circle. Thank God I caught it when I did.”
Dianne vividly remembers flying home from America at the end of the tour, and into the arms of her mother who was “beside herself” with worry about her daughter, and rushed her to the doctor. After a series of routine blood tests, Dianne was driving home with Rina when the doctor phoned to say she was suffering from iron deficiency anaemia, and required immediate hospital treatment.
“I’ll never forget the moment I had the iron transfusion. The feeling was like no other,” smiles Dianne. “They pumped iron into me and after I went home, for the fun of it because I felt so good, I went for a run. I didn’t feel puffed, I didn’t feel ill, I just felt alive again. That was the best feeling.”
As she talks through the litany of events, tables surrounding our corner spot fill, and at one point there’s a momentary lull in background music, which prompts Dianne to hush her voice. Ironically, this is the bit that should be shouted from the rooftops.
“Since that point, it was a massive turning point for me. I realised I’d 100% put my career on the line, and I never wanted to return to that state, ever,” says Dianne.
To read more of Dianne's exclusive chat with us, where she reveals how partner Joe Sugg brings out the best in her, pick up the October issue of Happiful in our shop now, or in supermarkets from Thursday 19 September or subscribe to read for free online.
‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is on BBC1, Saturday evenings from 21 September. Find out more about Dianne and Joe’s upcoming tour at thejoeanddianneshow.co.uk
Follow Dianne on Instagram @DianneBuswell