Let me set out the facts. I am a happily settled woman of 42 living in unmarried bliss with my partner of 13 years with whom I have three lovely children. My professional partner Kevin Clifton is 11 years younger than me and engaged to Karen Hauer – who is one of the most gorgeous women on the planet, and also a professonal dancer on Strictly.
But on the show each Saturday evening we have to dance as if we’re in love. There is real love, and there is Strictly love. This is the “intimacy” challenge that faces all the celebrity dancers – the struggle to deal with the physical closeness and intensity that dancing demands.
For the professionals it’s just another pairing. They’ve been partnered many times throughout their careers – Kevin danced with his younger sister for ten years while they won competitions and national titles. Quickly, you have to, in the words of another professional, “get over it, baby”. Without the physical closeness, the dance seems loose, and without sharing the intense looks, it lacks conviction.
Any self-consciousness must be abandoned if you want the dance to work. In the early days in the training room, I burst into fits of giggles as soon as I had to stare into Kevin’s eyes and I’d stare at his feet instead. But looking down just draws attention to your dodgy footwork, and giggles on the night won’t persuade the judges you have a connection.
Kevin advised me to tell myself that I was acting a part. Essentially that’s what half the dance is – getting into character, and acting out a story. The professional dancers do this every day, and the professional actors on the show are able to channel this already. It’s another skill I’m picking up.
I recently joked to Tess Daly on the show that it’s easy to fall in love with Kevin for the two minutes that we dance together on camera, because he’s a lovely man and a wonderful dancer. Kevin pretended to be offended – just two minutes? Of course… but that’s all it needs. It definitely makes it easier that Kevin and I get on so well and have a proper laugh. It’s easier to look like you love someone if you actually like them.
When we were first paired up, weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew many of the professional dancers from watching Strictly and I’ve interviewed Anton, Brendan, Pasha and James many times on BBC Breakfast. I danced with Robin for the Strictly Children in Need special in 2011. But Kevin from Grimsby, as he has become known, is new this year, and when we were paired up he came free from the baggage of reputation or previous outings on the programme.
In many ways that was a relief. But the fact he’s new also makes me feel extra nervous, because I don’t want to let him down. He is an outstanding, multi-award-winning dancer and I don’t want to be the reason he leaves the show before the audience sees everything that he has to show them.
And I don’t want to go before I’ve learnt everything he can teach me. We’ve danced the jive, tango, Viennese waltz and samba. We spend hours together in the rehearsal room. We laugh a lot and he and Karen have become good friends. My other half likes him, and trusts him, and my children are inspired by him. Together Kevin and I are discovering the magic of Strictly. There are some things you can act – but I don’t have to pretend that I love dancing with Kevin from Grimsby.
My five rehearsal essentials
1. Water to keep hydrated.
2. Extra strong coffee to keep alert.
3. Bananas for energy.
4. Twitter on our phones to break up the intensity of training.
5. And mints… to keep breath sweet. We once did a dress rehearsal after Kevin had eaten a fish-finger sandwich, which made the loving closeness a little harder to manufacture.
Strictly Come Dancing continues Saturday at 6:30pm and Sunday 7:15pm on BBC One