Destinations | Perfect Weekend

Steven McRae’s Sydney

Born in Sydney, Steven McRae joined the Royal Ballet in 2004. Acclaimed for his fiery technique and impeccable timing, he was made a principal in 2009 aged 23.

February 21 2010
Alison Gunn

“Sydney Harbour has got to be one of the most inspiring places in the world. Sitting there, looking at the Opera House, is awesome – so that’s where I’ll head on Saturday morning, with my sister, Kelly, and my nephew, Thomas, who’s two. There are several cafés on the quay, but the one in the Park Hyatt Hotel [pictured] has the best view. I’ll have a full English breakfast while Thomas chases pigeons and we all soak up the excitement of the city.

From the harbour you can walk to the Botanic Gardens, which is a beautiful place to wander through; I’m still surprised at how different the plants in Australia are. Or we might jump on a ferry and go to Manly Beach. It’s not so touristy as Bondi, and has a promenade right on the water with some great restaurants – Whitewater is my favourite – from which you can watch all the action. Everyone’s out surfing, of course, but I don’t surf because, like many children, I got put off going in the sea after watching Jaws. It sounds stupid but they really do have shark attacks here, sometimes in just two feet of water.

Another place you can reach by ferry is a tiny cove called Watsons Bay. It’s got a branch of Doyles, essentially a fish and chip restaurant, but Sydney has such wonderful seafood – the fish is so fresh, you get huge great prawns, fabulous lobster… When I was a boy I had bad asthma, and the drugs I had to take affected my appetite. But now I really enjoy my food, so I’ll be making the most of it. We’ll sit there on the beach, looking back towards the East Side skyline.

When I’m in Sydney I’ll stay with my parents in Plumpton, the suburb where I spent my childhood. My room is pretty much the same and my mum keeps all my old dance certificates and trophies on the wall. Australian culture is all about competitions – the last one I did here was the Adeline Genée, at the Sydney Opera House, when I was 16. I was back there last December dancing in Sleeping Beauty with the Australian Ballet, which was a great honour. If I’m not performing, I often help my old ballet teacher, Hilary Kaplan, at her dance academy, Alegria.

If I hadn’t become a dancer, I would certainly have got into motorsports. I was brought up on the racetrack: my dad used to drag race, and my sister nearly took it up professionally, until my mother put her foot down. So on Saturday evening we’ll all go to WSID – Western Sydney International Dragway – to watch a race. It’s spectacular, particularly when it starts to get dark and you see huge red flames coming out of these beautiful, long, sculpted cars.

Sunday morning is lazy. Dad picks up the papers and we’ll have breakfast in the backyard, by the pool. Later, I’ll stick on my shorts, T-shirt and favourite Paul Smith loafers and we’ll take a family trip up into the Blue Mountains, where it’s 10 degrees cooler than the city. From the Three Sisters lookout, the landscape is awesome – so vast it’s almost scary, with rocks that are millions of years old. Nearby there are some little towns – Leura, Katoomba and Wentworth Falls – with tearooms and shops full of crafty, antiquey stuff. My mum loves all that.

Sunday evening is barbie time. Dad cooks everything on the barbie, even in winter. We’ll have steak and fish, and my mum’s potato bake: layers of sliced potatoes, cream and cheese – a heart attack on a plate, but delicious. I’ll play darts with my sister, we’ll talk and listen to music. I adore The Killers, but I’m also into jazz, Chet Baker or even Frank Sinatra – he has great timing and phrasing. If I watch a movie it’ll be a classic Hollywood musical, such as Singin’ in the Rain. I love to tap dance and, who knows, some day I might end up in musical theatre. Everyone should watch that film once in their life.”

See also

Australia, People, Sydney