The People’s Strictly: meet the contestants

Among the six deserving Strictly fans taking to the dance floor for Comic Relief is a Royal Marine commander, a youth theatre founder and an autism campaigner...

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Six lucky members of the public are about to embark on their very own Strictly Come Dancing journey.

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Fulfilling the dreams of many a fan, the six contestants have been paired up with a professional to embark on some serious training (with a healthy side order of sparkles, sequins and fake tan).

Each contestant was nominated by family or friends because of their inspiring life stories. Expect to shed a few tears tonight when the first contestants find out they’re competing in suitably dramatic style…

The four-part series, which kicks off tonight, will follow their progress before a showdown during the Comic Relief live show on 13th March. 

Let’s meet the contestants… 

Heather Parsons, 53, Southampton

Nominated for: Setting up charity Where There’s A Will to support intensive care patients and their families

What did you do after you found out? I didn’t eat or sleep for two days. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I was so excited and terrified.

How is working with Ian? He’s fabulous. He’s been so patient. That tells you everything about how training is going!

Any dance experience? As a child I did quite a lot of ballet. At my parent’s house I wore a hole in the carpet by a piece of furniture I used as a barre.

Did you enjoy transformation day? It is every little girl’s dream to be made to look pretty. Normally I’m no make up and hair scraped up so that I’m not an infection risk!

What’s been hardest? I’m really bossy and in control of everything and suddenly I’m not allowed. I get told off all the time: “You’re not allowed to lead!”

What is driving you? It’s kind of like dancing for the NHS in a way. People are just so excited. It’s lifted the whole department.

Heather is dancing with Ian Waite 


Anna Kennedy, 54, Uxbridge

Nominated for: Setting up schools and an awareness charity for people with autism

Did you suspect anything? I didn’t have a clue. I’ve been trying for years to get tickets to Strictly because I just love it so much. I thought I was going to keel over!

Enjoying training? I’m loving every minute of it. It’s my autism-free zone.

Any dance experience? I do to zumba now but for 10 years I didn’t do anything. I just felt that I had to be at home.

Are you competitive? I do always put 110% and I am quite hard on myself.

Did you enjoy transformation day? It’s like being in a sweetie shop. I haven’t seen the costume I’m going to be wearing but I’m looking forward to it.

What’s driving you? It’s a fantastic platform to raise awareness about autism.  All the mums and dads who follow me on Twitter and Facebook are living the experience with me. I’m giving them little tasters of what I’ve been doing.

Her partner Robin Windsor says: It’s the fastest Charleston we’ve ever had on Strictly. I’d love a glitterball. I still haven’t got one yet – it’s about time! 


Phil Barnett, 54, St Ives

Nominated for: Founding youth theatre company Kidz R Us

How is the Strictly experience? Amazing. Wonderful. Brilliant. I can’t find the words. It’s like a dream come true.

Did you enjoy transformation day? I’m not used to having my eyebrows plucked!  I’m usually in charge and organising everything so to be able to let go is amazing.

Any dancing experience? I’m not a trained dancer but I’ve been in amateur shows. I know how to move in time.

Strengths? I’m not a shrinking violet so the performance side of it won’t need to be dragged out of me.

Weaknesses? 45 minutes into our first practice I tore the cartilage in my knee. I had to have an operation so I haven’t done any dancing. It’s genuinely very frustrating and scary that I can’t practice.

Are you competitive? Yes! I’ve been telling the kids in my youth theatre group that they’ve got to do their best and work when they are tired. Now I’ve got to practice what I preach.

His partner Janette Manrara says: He’ll be fine. I filmed all of his steps on video so he can at least watch it. It’s just keeping him calm.


Michael Pattie, 57, Dumfries

Nominated for: Fundraising and campaigning for the Meningitis Research Foundation

How is the Strictly experience? I’m living the dream. I’m in a little bubble of a make-believe world. How many million people would love to be in my shoes right now?

Any dancing experience? I’ve done a Strictly fundraising show for Meningitis Research Foundation every year for 10 years. We’ve had to have a rest this year because I’m doing the real thing.

Seen your costume? My one big worry was that they’d give me a see-through pink shirt. I’ll go so far and get stick from my mates, but that’s OTT.

Are you competitive? I’m very impatient. I will give my absolute everything to doing my best and that’s all I can do. If I do that and I win, that’s fantastic.

Worried about the judges? If you fluff up in front of Craig what’s he going to say to you? That was awful daaaaarling? So what. I won’t be losing any sleep. He’s a pussycat!

His partner Aliona Vilani says: Michael is a very gentle man so our tango looks like a waltz sometimes. He’s got a lot of potential but he’s just a beginner so we have to start from scratch.


Cassidy Little 33, Peterborough 

Nominated for: Helping other Marines through rehab after losing his right leg in Afghanistan in 2011

Were you shocked? There had been a couple of things that don’t fit together. I was already on the back foot. You could feel the energy of a surprise coming.

Any dance experience? I trained as a dancer. My wife is a huge fan of Strictly Come Dancing. I only watch the dances. That’s the part that really excites me.

Biggest Strictly surprise? How well I click with Nat. I didn’t expect that I’d so quickly be able to make that connection.

Has injury affected training? Absolutely but let’s not dwell on that. We’ve got two options: we either do it with the prosthetic or we don’t do it, we go home and we feel sorry for ourselves. I’m not really keen on choice number two.

How was the transformation day? Two words: Guilty pleasure. That’s all you’re getting from me!

His partner Natalie Lowe says: Everyone is literally shell-shocked about this experience. This is a daunting process. It’s important that they feel they are in good hands.  


Trishna Bharadia, 35, Buckinghamshire

Nominated for: Working with MS charities to raise awareness of her condition

How is the Strictly experience? It’s amazing. I have to keep pinching myself. You don’t ever think something like this is going to happen to you. I’m a normal person just doing what I do because I want to help others.

Did you suspect anything? No! I was in total shock. Looking back I think ‘Why did I not pick up on something?’ There were lots of phone calls at home!

Any dance experience? I do zumba but I sleep for a couple of hours before to get the most out out it.

Worried about training? I was because my main day-to-day symptom is fatigue. I plan my life with military precision because I have to in order to do all the things I want to. Strictly has been a learning process, especially for the production team – I’m the first person with MS that they’ve come across.

Ready to perform? I’m really nervous but I have this chance and it’s something so many people would love to do, so I have to not let the nerves get the better of me.

Trishna is dancing with Aljaz Skorjanec


The People’s Strictly starts tonight at 9pm on BBC1

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Read more: Cassidy Little and Trishna Bharadia tell their stories