Ex-dancers blend ballet and floristry at Spa Pavilion show

Retiring from their lives as ballet dancers, Stephen Wicks and Mark Welford took a leap of faith and launched a career as florists. Entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE finds out how their new profession has blossomed.

STEPHEN’S mum, devestated she’d never see him perform on stage again, suggested he and fellow dancer and friend Mark devise a show about their passion for flowers.

It’s blossomed into yet another career for the duo, who are touring the country giving audiences top tips on arrangements and sharing stories from their days in the Royal Ballet Companies and running their flower shop. Blooming Marvellous comes to the Spa Pavilion at 2.30pm next Tuesday.

There’ll be a chance to try your hand at design on stage and take your efforts home.

Some of the duo’s arrangements will be raffled off for local good causes, along with a copy of their recently released book Flower Arranging.

“There’s something for everybody and most of the stuff we do the audience can do at home. We’ve big designs, small, fun, quirky; something for everybody,” says Mark.

The only thing there won’t be is dancing.

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“No,” he laughs. “It’s been 16 years since we retired from the stage so I’m afraid that’s probably pushing it slightly.

“There is ballet music involved; at the end of the show we do a couple of big arrangements and try to time it to a piece from The Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky.”

Stephen and Mark met at the Royal Ballet School when they were 11.

They danced in the then Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet, directed by Sir Peter Wright, until 1990 when it moved to Birmingham to become the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Mark went there for four years while Stephen went to the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House for four years.

“It was during this time, when our sell-by date as dancers was rapidly approaching we felt we needed to do something else when this idea came up of opening a flower shop,” Mark remembers.

“We’d grown up together, worked together and had the same sort of interests. We loved food and loved floristry and thought opening a flower shop was going to be slightly easier than running a restaurant,” he laughs.

With the help of the Dancers Trust, a charity that help dancers re-train and get back into the real world after their careers have come to an end, they opened Bloomsbury Flowers, in Covent Garden; a stone’s throw from the Royal Opera House, in 1994.

“We haven’t looked back really. We’ve got some fantastic clients [Darcey Bussell, Jennifer Saunders and Jamie Oliver are among those mentioned] and you never know what’s going to happen each day you open the doors.”

Mark remembers one day a man clanked into the shop dressed as a knight in shining armour.

“He was going to Hyde Park to leap off this horse and kneel in front of his girlfriend and ask her to marry him. He came to order some flowers as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I asked him where he’d parked his dragon.”

Stories from the duo’s life on stage will be shared too.

During a tour of North America in the early 80s the company were told a special guest would be joining them to play the role of the queen in Sleeping Beauty.

It turned out to be Margot Fonteyne.

“Stephen and I had seen her dance years ago before we were in the company and suddenly there we were dancing on stage with her. It was just the most really emotional and fantastic experience,” he adds.

While they enjoy being on stage, Mark admits doing floristy is less stressful than dancing around and lifting girls all the time.

So they took a four-week career course and opened the shop.

“It was a real leap of faith and a learning curve,” he sighs. “It’s just great, a very exciting career to be in.”