Strictly favourite Dianne Buswell shares how she got her life and health back on track, after an eating disorder put everything she’d worked so hard for at risk
She’s one of the most popular stars of BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing, runs a thriving wellness business, is about to publish her debut book, and is happier than ever in a relationship with the man she calls her ‘rock’.
But just a few years ago, Dianne Buswell was in the grip of an eating disorder so severe it not only threatened to destroy her glittering dance career but had put her at risk of a heart attack.
When she looks back now, she finds it almost impossible to reconcile the exhausted and deeply unhappy young woman she was then with the healthy, confident person she is today.
Dianne Buswell’s health wake-up call
Buswell, now 33, can scarcely believe how close she came to losing everything.
‘I still have moments where I go: “Wow” and I really do appreciate how far I’ve come,’ she says.
‘I feel very grateful for all of it – I just wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop focusing on others – I used to watch the other people in my dance company and compare my body to theirs, not realising how good I was just the way I was. Everything I do now is health-based and about wanting my body and mind to feel the best they can.’
Buswell was working with acclaimed live dance show Burn the Floor on a cruise ship in America in 2014 when her eating disorder reached crisis point. She was replacing meals with fluids and making herself sick, obsessively exercising and fixating on keeping her weight as low as possible – she had so little energy, she was barely able to perform.
She says: ‘I wanted to look a certain way, so I told myself I was only going to have so many calories, and my brain was so focused on that, that it became really dangerous.
‘I wanted to look a certain way, so I told myself I was only going to have so many calories, and my brain was so focused on that, that it became really dangerous.’Dianne Buswell
‘I was falling out of love with performing because I didn’t have any energy to do it. It all felt too much and too overwhelming, and my body just couldn’t cope. I’d always prided myself on having a lot of energy when I danced, but because I wasn’t fuelling my body, it was literally saying to me, “You can’t do this anymore”.
‘I would finish the act so exhausted that I would pass out on the side of the stage. ‘It was destroying my body and destroying my mind. I never in my life thought there would be a time that I didn’t want to dance. But now I was actually saying that I didn’t want to do a show, that it was all too hard.’
Buswell became so weak and ill that she was eventually forced to quit the job and return home to Australia, where she could recover with her family. She arrived back in Oz so deficient in iron that she was anaemic and, her doctor told her, had put pressure on her heart that could have caused a cardiac arrest.
Looking back now, Buswell knows that the decision to come home potentially saved her life. ‘It was crucial timing for me. I don’t know how much longer I could have lasted on the show, and it got to the point where I just had to go home.
‘It was my dream job, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt so sad, and that sadness became a big incentive to get my body better and healthier, so that I could keep dancing.’
‘I felt so sad, and that sadness became a big incentive to get my body better and healthier, so that I could keep dancing.’Dianne Buswell
The doctor’s stark warning had given Buswell a wake-up call and, surrounded by her family, she began to recover and rebuild. ‘My family played a massive part in helping me get back on track. I also have quite a strong mind in that I go one way or the other – which is probably why I had got to that place in the first instance.
‘But it also allowed me, very quickly, to go: “Right, okay, my job now is to get back on my feet for dancing”, which I did. The minute my body started to feel better, I wanted to dance again. I wanted to get back on the stage.
‘I got well and rediscovered my drive,’ reflects Buswell, ‘and that was the nicest feeling, being able to say: “I’m so much better now”, because when things were the other way, it was so tough.’
By July 2015, Buswell had landed a job on Australia’s Dancing with the Stars, which was followed in early 2017 by a successful audition for Strictly, which ‘changed everything’ in so many ways (we’ll come to that shortly).
Dianne Buswell on her new book
Buswell’s new book, Move Yourself Happy: 21 Days To Make Joyful Movement A Habit, is a hopeful, uplifting read that celebrates the joy of movement and offers readers a 21-day plan to transform their mental and physical health.
Buswell bravely details some of her own journey in the book, writing about how she turned things around, and hopes her honesty will help others suffering similar troubles.
‘I wanted to show that even though things can get tough, you can always come out of it. And if that can help even one person, then that makes me so happy. A lot of people go through stuff like I have – more people than you realise, because it’s often done in silence.’
The eating disorder has been under control for a number of years now and Buswell dips in and out of therapy to support that. She’s become skilled at recognising the signs that tell her when she needs some extra help.
‘I don’t have therapy as much as I used to, but I do have a lady I go to every now and again who is amazing. I know when I need it and so I’ll book a month block with her – I know that she’s always there, and learning about yourself and your body means you’re really in tune with it. That could be a dancer’s thing as well; I use my body so much that I’m very aware when something doesn’t feel right. For me, living a healthy lifestyle is what makes me feel great, along with knowing that I have it all under control,’ she adds.
‘I use my body so much that I’m very aware when something doesn’t feel right. For me, living a healthy lifestyle is what makes me feel great.’Dianne Buswell
Buswell started dancing at the age of four and became an Australian Open champion, turning professional at 21. Although she was used to travelling around the world for her career, taking the job on Strictly and moving to the UK felt completely different. This was a new beginning in a country where she didn’t know a soul and, although she didn’t realise it at first, a show that was going to give her overnight fame.
Sweet-natured, with an infectious sense of fun and that distinctive shock of vibrant red hair, it’s not hard to see why viewers were quick to take her to their hearts. ‘I didn’t realise Strictly was as big as it is until I got here, and I’m just so grateful to feel part of it,’ she says. ‘It’s like Disneyland for dancers – that’s the best way I can describe it!
‘When you’re on a tour, you’re always going back home at the end of it. But, with Strictly, I’d made the decision that I was going to move to the UK and start this new career and, for the first time, there wasn’t a date when I’d be going back.
‘I literally didn’t know anybody in the UK, and came over on my own with a case full of summer clothes, which was a real learning curve! Finding my way around, using the Tube, and even trying to open a bank account was such an eye-opener. But I’m so glad I stuck with it. I’m happy living in the UK, I love my job and, obviously, I have Joe…’
Dianne Buswell on her relationship with Joe Sugg
Joe is Joe Sugg, the 31-year-old YouTuber and actor, and Buswell’s celebrity partner on Strictly in 2018. The two of them reached the final of that series (won by Kevin Clifton and Stacey Dooley who, incidentally, also fell in love) and now live together in the Sussex countryside, having escaped the hustle and bustle of London.
‘Joe is my little rock – I call him my angel because he is just so good for every aspect of my life,’ says Buswell.
‘He has the most understanding of my job, and he gets how much I love it, because he was there first-hand seeing my passion. But, more than that, he’s so creative, and we just bounce off each other. He’s so kind and gentle and caring, and just amazing.’
She describes the relationship as ‘super easy going’, although says they are quite different characters: ‘I’m very carefree, whereas he’s a bit more of a worrier. He takes a lot of time to get things absolutely perfect, while I’m a bit more “rush and get it done and, oh yeah, that’s fine”.
‘Joe is my little rock – I call him my angel because he is just so good for every aspect of my life.’Dianne Buswell
‘So we have different ways of doing things, but we’re also similar in that we love to create stuff, and we love the outdoors and the countryside. We have an old camper van and love nothing more than just getting in that and going for a drive to the beach.
‘We’re together, but we have our own lives as well as our own careers, which is really important for us. We try to keep a lot of our relationship private, and I think we’ve found a good balance with that.’
Dianne Buswell on her career journey
Buswell has just finished the Strictly Come Dancing Live tour and is also working with the Gymondo fitness platform, where she’s created a programme, Danceworks. She runs her own wellness platform, Buswellness, there’s work planned around the launch of Move Yourself Happy and, before long, it’ll be time for Strictly again, where she hopes to stay for the foreseeable.
‘I love Strictly Come Dancing and so don’t see myself going anywhere – but I don’t have a five-year plan either. The diary is looking very full, but I try to take things month by month and job by job, so that I don’t feel too overwhelmed. I genuinely love being busy, but I also want to try and get some proper downtime in there and do a bit of travelling with Joe this year.’
Buswell took a copy of her book back Down Under, where she spent Christmas and New Year, to give her family and friends a sneak preview of what she’s been working on for the past year. And there was one person more than anyone she was hoping to impress.
‘My mum is quite a harsh critic,’ she says, ‘but she absolutely loved it, which made me very happy. I’m so excited to get the book out there now, because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for such a long time.
‘I love Strictly Come Dancing and so don’t see myself going anywhere – but I don’t have a five-year plan either.’Dianne Buswell
‘I think movement in general is something we can take for granted. My hope is that I can get people up and moving a little bit more, finding the joy in it and making themselves feel so much better in the process.’
Is the book a symbol of just how far Buswell has travelled since those dark days of her mid-twenties? You bet it is.
‘Oh, 100 per cent,’ she says. ‘It feels like a massive achievement after everything I’ve been through. I’m proud of myself. Seeing my book and knowing the work that’s gone into it makes me feel quite emotional. This is a real pinch-me moment.’
Move Yourself Happy: 21 Days To Make Joyful Movement A Habit by Dianne Buswell (Watkins, £18.99) is out on 14 March, available from Amazon and all good book shops.