The art of falling over with dignity

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMadonna - pictured at the 2015 Brit Awards - is not the first star to fall over in the public eye

Madonna has won praise for carrying on after falling on stage during the 2015 Brit Awards. What's the secret to elegantly recovering from an accidental plunge, asks Jon Kelly.

You've done it too, of course. Everyone has. The stumble. The shock and then the embarrassment. The mantra as you pick yourself up: "No, it's OK, honestly, really, I'm fine."

Admittedly, when most people inadvertently land on their backsides, they aren't being watched by millions at a nationally-televised awards ceremony. But Madonna has earned widespread plaudits for the way she recovered, gamely carrying on her performance and joking afterwards that her "cape was tied too tight". She's hardly the first celebrity to lose her balance so publicly - there was also Helen Mirren, Naomi Campbell, 1996 US presidential candidate Bob Dole, Fidel Castro, UK Chief Whip Michael Gove and former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock (whose fall into the sea in Brighton graced the opening credits of Spitting Image for years thereafter).

Image copyright Rex Features
Image copyright PA

When falling over, of course, the most important thing is to not hurt oneself. It's better to land on the soft parts of the body, says Jon Davison, who teaches clowning at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Keep your head up and don't let your body go tense: "If you are relaxed you'll be safer." Then there's the arguably trickier task of keeping your pride intact.

Try not to look embarrassed. Then turn it into a joke, says deportment teacher William Hanson. "I think you need to own it," he says. Take your cue from actress Jennifer Lawrence, who fell over at both the 2013 and 2014 Oscars and deepened her place in the public's affections by laughing it off ("What do you mean, what happened?", she told reporters after the first incident. "I tried to walk upstairs in this dress, that's what happened"). Heed the example of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose minders reportedly ordered photographers to delete images of him falling over in Ethiopia, thus guaranteeing the pictures were circulated even more widely.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image copyright AP

Never forget the example of William the Conqueror, who, according to legend, fell on his face as he waded ashore to invade England. He is meant to have then grabbed a pile of sand and uttered the rallying cry: "I have taken seisin (possession) of this land with both my hands!" In Madonna, his spirit lives on.

Image copyright Reuters

Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine's email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox.