WTA legend Martina Navratilova was one of eight high-profile women – each of them affected by cancer in some way – who recently stripped off for this year’s edition of The All New Monty, a television special that aired on the UK’s ITV channel on May 7.
The program, in its third year, again saw separate groups of female and male celebrities learn routines to raise awareness of the importance of self-examination and regular checks in the early detection of breast, cervical, testicular, prostate and other cancers specific to the genders.
“I know what I'm doing on Centre Court. But I don't know what I'm doing here,” said Navratilova, who nonetheless decided that however vulnerable she felt, the cause was too worthwhile to say no.
This year the women performed to ‘This Is Me’, the hit song from The Greatest Showman. Ahead of an emotion-charged live filming at London’s Alexandra Palace in February, Navratilova joined her cast mates for two days of rehearsals in the English seaside town of Blackpool, where the group tested the water with a first public showing. She also spent time one-on-one with choreographer Ashley Banjo of Diversity, the dance troupe that won series three of Britain’s Got Talent.
Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion and former WTA World No.1, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, leading to a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. In an interview for the Monty program she opened up about the diagnosis and how she handled it.
“I’d depended on my body for my whole life,” she explained. “I’d treated it well and it had treated me well in return, so the diagnosis felt like a betrayal of sorts. And then there’s the loss of control over what’s going to happen.
“I found out it was DCIS, which is not the worst kind. Sometimes I feel like I lucked out, I had the good cancer – if ever there was an oxymoron. For me the scariest parts were going back to the doctor and getting a mammogram to see if anything else is there.”
The sporting great also revealed how the trauma of leaving her family behind when she defected from Czechoslovakia had helped prepare her for the battle with cancer.
“Growing up in a communist country, you have to keep things buttoned up,” Navratilova said. “And then I left my family and I didn't see my parents for four years. And that’s what I’ll start crying about because I can’t get that time back.
“You just think, get on with it. Because the worst part of my life was already behind me. This is only me, I can deal with it, but what hurt me was hurting my mum. [By comparison] cancer was a piece of cake.
“She wouldn't believe I'm doing this, knowing how shy I am.”
‘The Full Monty’ is a British slang phrase which broadly means “the works” and more specifically is applied to a striptease that ends with total nudity. The ITV concept is also a reference to 1997 film The Full Monty, in which a group of ordinary men, down on their luck, form a stripping troupe to raise cash and lift their spirits.
On the night, Navratilova was joined by other gutsy celebrities including TV host Colleen Nolan, BBC broadcaster Victoria Derbyshire and singer Lisa Maffia. The program was duly nominated for a BAFTA Television Award in the Reality & Constructed Factual category.