Former Strictly stars dish on partner changes, tans and being booted off of planet sequin

Alex Jones, Russell Grant, Deborah Meaden and Robin Windsor joined us for our first ever Radio Times Festival and gave us a peek behind the sparkly Strictly curtain…

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At this year’s inaugural Radio Times Festival, former Strictly contestants Alex Jones, Russell Grant, Deborah Meaden and pro dancer turned It Takes Two panellist Robin Windsor took to the stage to talk about life after Strictly. The problem, Jones admitted, is there’s not much after that hunt for the glitter ball.

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“There’s just a glitter-less void. You feel like someone kicked you off planet sequin and everything’s really bland. You buy things with sequins on for ages afterwards,” she added as the others nodded along.

Strictly, it seems, gets to you more than one might imagine a dance show would.

Having all danced their way through various series – Jones and Grant took part in 2011 with James Jordan and Flavia Cacace-Mistry respectively, while Meaden took to the floor with Windsor in 2013 – they’ve plenty of fun stories from behind the scenes to spill…  

You get hooked on fake tan

“For ages you try and look brown as a sideboard because that’s how you’ve looked for the past three months,” Jones admitted. “All the bed linen has got this horrible orange mark on it and you have to throw it out. If you do Strictly you’ll spend a lot on bed linen.”

The pros are happy to fake chemistry to get the partner they want 

“Before being paired up we learn the group dance together,” Windsor explained, “It’s the first time we meet all of the celebrities. Cut back to 2012, Kimberley Walsh was in that year. The producers were making their final decisions about who would be dancing with whom and all of the boys just slightly hovered towards Kimberley. They want to see good chemistry and everyone was trying to fake it.”

Windsor wasn’t going to be teamed up with actress Lisa Riley

“2012 was the year I was with Lisa Riley,” Windsor continued. “What you don’t realise is producers are watching every single move you make. I was on the balcony having a chat with Lisa and we were being silly and giggly with one another and then I picked her up, did a lift with her. I found out later that I was actually paired up with [Olympic cyclist] Victoria Pendleton that year. But once they saw the relationship between me and Lisa, they made that decision to put me and Lisa together and it was the best thing they’ve ever done.”

The pro dancers are nervous about their pairing…

“We all stand there that night on the night of the launch show thinking, ‘OK….’ Let’s say the year Ann Widdecombe was there. Alan Dedicoat said: ‘Ann Widdicombe you will be dancing with…’ and we are all just praying that it wasn’t going to be us,” Windsor laughed. “Poor old Anton, he gets that every year. I think he’s got a winner this year with Katie Derham. I think he’s going to go a long, long way.

“That launch show is horrifying because your next three months is laid out by the partner you get. I’m very fortunate, I’ve become great friends with all of my partners. You’ve got to get on; you’re locked in that rehearsal room for eight hours a day. If you don’t like each other, it’s hard.”

Of working with James Jordan

“Day three he actually cried,” Jones admitted of being in the rehearsal room with James Jordan. “He said, ‘I can’t do anything with you.’ He was trying to teach me the Cha Cha Cha and I was just terrible. We got on famously, but luckily I’m laid back because he isn’t.”

… and of ruining Strictly for her mum:

“My own mother said, ‘I love Strictly, you’re really spoiling it for me,’” Jones laughed. “My own mother! She said ‘I’m on edge, I’m watching it behind a cushion.’”

Of nerves walking down those famous stairs

“When you first come down those stairs your top lip is stuck to your teeth like never before. Really unattractive,” Jones admitted. “All the spit has gone.”

Deborah stepped back the first time Robin tried to get close to her

“Robin said: ‘What are you doing? You have seen Strictly haven’t you..?’ It’s changed me forever,” Meaden admitted. “I’m much more comfortable. I’m changing the world of business arm by arm,” she added, mimicking stroking people’s arms.

The pro dancers are worried, too 

“We’re just as nervous as you guys,” Windsor revealed. “We’re petrified, we just don’t let you know it. We’ve got this responsibility for you to do as best possible job as you can do. Our biggest fear is that you’re going to forget the steps.”

The music sounds different with the band playing it

“You rehearse to a CD and then with a band it sounds completely different. It might as well be a different song and you think, ‘I don’t know where to start here,’” explained Jones.  

The pros do help choose the music

“It’s an 80/20 split between you and the producers because the song is very important,” Windsor said. “The show is an hour and a half. You need variety to appeal to different generations and so there’s ups and downs all the way through the show: up tempo songs, slow ones, etc.”

The outfits are a big worry

“Every Friday you go in to do a rehearsal and the big thing is, ‘What’s my outfit going to look like?’ Jones explained. Many times I have had more clothes on at the beach. It was a new experience. There were bits of me showing that I wasn’t very keen on showing. That was the Strictly way apparently.”

Some do avoid the tanning booth

“I never had a tan, ever,” Grant revealed. “It was just the thought of those paper pants…”

… some race to get in there first

“Every Friday everyone would have a spray tan and at the beginning, some of the men especially I think, are not sure. Then suddenly after about two weeks they’re the first in line, in their pants like ‘Come on I’m ready!’”

others feel like they have to 

“I wasn’t going to,” Meaden confessed. “But I was dancing with ‘Spray tan King’ over here [nodding to Windsor], so if I didn’t, I would have looked blue. I went in a couple of times.”

And some do it on the move

“I don’t leave the house without a small can of St Tropez,” Windsor admitted. “Little spray, carry on.” 

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Strictly Come Dancing continues Saturday at 6:20pm on BBC1