The 68-year-old dancer and Royal Ballet veteran is renowned for his boundless energy and enthusiasm. But a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2015 terrified him and set him on a whirlwind course of treatment. He tells us how he managed to continue filming a TV show in India while recovering, and why he's joining hundreds of others for our March for Men in London.
1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer. Shocked? Me too. But even with those statistics, it won’t affect me right? I’m fit and healthy, I dance for a living! Of course not.
In 2015 these were my thoughts. And then I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was going for regular blood tests and had a medical before a new job with a theatre company, which I thought would be completely normal. However, suddenly everything wasn’t completely normal. The blood test that measures prostate specific antigen (PSA) showed that my levels were very high – an indication that there can be a problem with the prostate. I had to have a biopsy and then came those dreaded four words: "You have prostate cancer".
Now I’ve danced with Princess Diana, performed on the West End Stage in front of thousands of people, even faced the I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here jungle. But nothing terrified me more than hearing that. As a dancer, I am used to just getting up and carrying on if I’m injured, but it soon dawned on me that this would be no mean feat. This could – and probably would – affect my life from now on.
Being OK was something I worried I wouldn’t be when I had been given my diagnosis
In a matter of what seemed like moments, it was all about treatment. I was told by the doctor that I could have radiotherapy. However, this meant I would have to have several visits to hospital, and at the time I was about to film The Real Marigold Hotel in India and didn’t want to miss that fantastic opportunity. The show must go on.
We talked about brachytherapy, where tiny radioactive pellets are put into the prostate to kill the cancer, and in the end I decided to go for this option. I was admitted in August and had the procedure the next day under general anaesthetic. Fifty-six radioactive pellets in my prostate later, and the deed was done.
After the procedure, I had to stay in overnight until I had managed to pee, which was a real nuisance. I remember my only focus was on running water and rain. Eventually, they had enough to discharge me. Within about two weeks, I was on a plane to India to film. Apart from a few problems with my waterworks, I felt OK. Being OK was something I worried I wouldn’t be when I had been given my diagnosis.
This June, I’m swapping my dancing shoes for walking boots and taking part in the London March for Men
It took having prostate cancer to realise how vital it is that, as men, we need to take notice of this disease. Many of us – me included – will argue that we are fit and healthy, we exercise and eat the right foods. But how aware of our health are we?
To those who have the view that prostate cancer is an old man’s disease, stop and think. If you are a man over the age of 45 or have had someone in your family that has had prostate cancer, leave your pride at the door and go and have a conversation with your doctor. I worry that men feel so butch all the time and think they have to be the strong one, when actually, being strong is facing up to the fear.
As a proud ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK, I speak to a lot of guys, and encourage them to know the risk and speak to their GP about any concerns. This June, I’m swapping my dancing shoes for walking boots and taking part in the London March for Men to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK, and awareness of the disease. The ask is simple. Rally the troops and join me on 17 June.
Let’s stand united or, in this instance, walk!