When we meet Kiki to talk about her lifelong passion for ballet, she happens to be listening to Classic FM, which provides the perfect backdrop for her memories and stories of the ballet. Loving everything from the music and costumes to the world-class ballerinas, Kiki has adored the world of ballet from a very young age. Her first experience was a matinee of Sleeping Beauty “My mother was so worried I was going to chatter all the way through. But I didn’t. I l sat there, completely enraptured. I think my mother lent over to say something to me and I told her to be quiet! I was only four and I was in my party dress. That was it. I’ve never looked back. I’ve still got the programme from that ballet.”
Although her own ballet lessons stopped at 15 – “when boys and parties rather took over!” her passion never waned. Kiki says “you can track my career path from where I sit. I started in the gods (the cheapest available), then I moved down to the amphitheatre, then the balcony, then the stalls. Now finally, at the height of my career, I can sit in the Grand Tier!”
When you visit Kiki McDonough on Symons Street in London, the influence of ballet is clear from the moment you walk in. You’ll see a framed, signed Margot Fonteyn ballet shoe, with the programme corresponding to the ballet she danced in the 1960s in that very shoe – Giselle. Kiki also has shoes signed by Lauren Cuthbertson, “a great favourite of mine – we did the Lauren collection together” and by Francesca Hayward “who I think is a lovely dancer”.
The story of the most characteristic Kiki McDonough jewellery is interwoven with details inspired by the ballet. “It was the original inspiration for my gemstone colour combinations,” explains Kiki. “No one, when I started the business, was mixing coloured gemstones together. I went to see Sleeping Beauty and the Spring Fairy was in a pale blue and green tutu. I thought it was such a beautiful combination that I came back and made the Blue Topaz and Peridot earrings. Everyone was rather sceptical, but it’s still our best-selling colour combination, 25 years later.”
Kiki’s distinctive, classic double oval earring design also took its inspiration from the shape of the tutus themselves. “The bigger stone is the bottom layer of the tutu, and the smaller stone the top layer,” Kiki explains. “I can often be seen with a programme and a pencil, scribbling down ‘Garnet and Citrine’, because the Autumn Fairy has come in wearing burgundy and yellow. So a lot of the colour combinations started with the ballet, then my imagination took over.”
While Kiki does like contemporary dance – like Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake – her real love is classical ballet. “It takes you to a completely different place. You forget everything. For me, it’s the one time where I go in, sit down and I’m taken to a different world.” And if you are planning to go to the ballet at Christmas, “you have to see The Nutcracker,” Kiki advises. “It’s magical – that massive Christmas tree, and all the children around it with their toys. It’s truly heart-warming. The production at the Royal Opera House is so timeless. Every time I go it has that same magic.”
Kiki’s favourite ballet ’wonder moment’, that cemented her love of ballet “I was 19, and had no money. In those days you had to queue up to get tickets in advance. I wanted tickets for Romeo and Juliet, and I got to the end of the queue and the man in the box office said that they’re all sold out. I was obviously looking so crestfallen, and he asked if I wanted a last-minute returned ticket for the performance that evening to see Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. It cost me a whole week’s wages and it was the most memorable and special evening.”