Some people say that when you meet your hero they are always a disappointment, but thanks to Strictly I have met my hero – and he definitely wasn’t. Now I’m lucky enough to call him a friend and he’s a lovelier fella than I could have ever imagined.
I’d been foxtroting competitively for a considerable amount of time when the BBC approached the ballroom dancing world with the germ of an idea for Strictly about ten years ago. Now, everyone knows all about it and it’s the best gig in the dancing world, but back then it was frowned upon. We had just gone through the whole Come Dancing era and by the end of that, ballroom dancing was widely ridiculed – nobody wanted to go back to that time.
I, however, had a huge motivation for trying to get on the show. The most exciting thing for me about Strictly Come Dancing was that Bruce Forsyth was hosting it. He wasn’t one of my idols – he was my idol. Fred Astaire seemed a world away in Hollywood, but Bruce Forsyth was down the road at the Palladium. I had grown up on his variety performances and could only dream of being on the same stage as him.
When I started out as a dancer, I couldn’t make a living from teaching or performing demonstrations and I was supplementing my income by working as a baker, painter/decorator, bed salesman, life insurance salesman, financial advisor. Bruce was everything I dreamed of being.
I first met him at the Dorchester hotel [in London] when we were launching Strictly to the press. I came out with Lesley Garrett and Bruce introduced himself. I shook his hand but couldn’t say a word. After the launch he came over again and I remember exactly what he said to me: “I understand you play golf. Perhaps we could have a game after the show.” I was so desperately trying to remain cool, I casually said, “Oh, that would be lovely,” while inside I was trying not to pass out. It was all I could do to stay upright at the thought of playing golf with my hero. And to think now we play a lot of golf, Brucie and I.
From the very first series everyone joked about our chins, saying I was his secret love-child, so I jokingly mentioned to him on the course one day that it would be a great gag for us to do Me and my Shadow together. Before I knew it, he came over having talked to the producers and we were on. I nearly fell over again! Performing that number on Strictly was my career highlight; the cherry on my rock cake, right there.
This series I have loved doing a bit of behind-the-scenes presenting and would love to do more if the producers think I’m good at it. So when people say that I’m Bruce’s natural successor on the show, it’s a huge compliment – I couldn’t think of a better one, really!
Strictly Come Dancing is on tonight at 6:30pm on BBC1