Caroline Flack dishes on her time on Strictly and tips 2016’s finalists

From the "nice nerves" she had as a contestant to who she thinks will go far in this year's competition, the 2014 ballroom champion tells us what it's really like taking part

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Caroline Flack danced her way to glitterball glory in 2014 and, like most of us, eagerly awaits the start of this year’s fourteenth series. 

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From getting to know her pro partner Pasha Kovalev, to ballroom nerves and who she thinks will be this year’s final (that’s a tougher question than first thought) we caught up with Flack to talk all things sparkly…

On pre-show pairing:

“It’s almost like a quick ‘speed dating’ in terms of the dancing. The girls stand in a circle and the boys are in the outer circle and they dance around you and then they go ‘swap’ – boom – ‘swap’ – boom – and then they film it and sort of see who’s good with who. 

“You’re too nervous,” Flack says of trying to stick near the dancer you want to be paired with most. “You do it on your first day.”

“It’s fun,” she adds. “They make it so fun.”

They really don’t know who they’re getting paired with on the reveal night

“Absolutely hands down do not know. And I knew I wanted Pasha, and they gave him to me in the dress run, so I was gutted as I was like well if they’ve given him to me in the dress run, I’m not going to get him. I was like gutted, gutted, gutted and I was thinking well, I’m not going to get Pasha who am I going to get? You just don’t know. Then they obviously double bluffed and they gave him to me and I screamed.”

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Being thrown in the deep end…

“You do the group dance on one day and you think it’s going to be like step, kick, step kick, ta-dah! But it’s not, it’s proper moves and lifts and stuff. But it’s good because you get thrown into it and you need to be thrown into it rather than gradually pushed into it because it’s massive.”

On those first steps…

“I remember my first day just thinking ‘What am I doing? Is this the right thing to do? Oh god I’ve got to dance. Am I going to get up and dance in front of people?’ It took me about three days of training and then I was just obsessed.”

On show day nerves:

“If you look at my first cha-cha and then I did it again in the final you can see how different they are. The first one I didn’t even smile. Then by the final I was like [she mimes a big grin]. You learn that as you go along. 

“It was like the sickest you’ve ever felt but then you’d be smiling at the same time. It was never a horrible feeling. As soon as that music came on, you just go ‘Oh god I’ve got that feeling again’, but they’re good feelings. They’re like nice nerves.”

… and mistakes:

“What’s the worst that can happen? Fall over? Did that. Fell over. It happens. I almost fell on someone in the crowd. I almost kicked a woman in the face during my American Smooth. It’s fine, what’s the worst that can happen?”

On wanting a tough trainer…

“You need a strict partner. That’s why I liked having a Russian. I’d sit down and be like, ‘Let’s have a coffee’, and he’d be like, ‘Do it again!’ I needed that.”

And wanting to get to know the female pros

“I said to Laura [Whitmore, who is taking part this year] you’ll become obsessed with their bodies, the way they move, how quickly they pick up the routines, you’ll just be in awe of them. Still am. They’re really helpful. They’ll help you. So if you’re struggling you get a girl to come and help and show you how to do stuff with the techniques and stuff. It’s all very ‘family’.”

Why previous dance experience doesn’t help:

“We all speak different languages. I can speak French but I can’t speak Chinese. It’s like learning something different. You can do ballet but that’s completely different to doing Latin dancing. In fact, it’s almost harder because you’re used to doing your arms in a certain way and then suddenly you’ve got to get your body in a certain way. So you’ve got to get yourself out of your bad habits. So, actually, dance experience I don’t think it helps or hinders really. If you haven’t done Latin and ballroom then it’s completely new. Your legs and arms are doing all these weird things and you’re walking with your toe first and then doing that… they’re new rules.

“My ballet didn’t help me do waltz, in fact I was terrible at the waltz – I was bottom two. I loved doing it, I loved feeling it but then I looked completely different to how I felt.”

Making friends for life:

“I still speak every day on my WhatsApp to the girls I was in Strictly with. I still speak to Judy Murray every week (How weird? I still speak to Judy Murray!), Alison Hammond. Sunetra [Sarker], Jenny [Jennifer Gibney], Pixie [Lott] and Frankie [Bridge]. We all still speak to each other. It’s been two years since we started that group. It’s my only WhatsApp that’s been going that long and it’s my Strictly girls.”

People really aren’t thinking about winning

“In my experience, everyone’s a bit too nervous to worry about the winning thing. A lot of the time you just want to get through your routine – get to the end and worry about not making a mistake. When you get the critique from the judges, and the pointers, that’s what you think about. When I got to the final none of us were thinking about winning, we stood in this little bubble – whatever happens, happens. It didn’t matter. There was no way we thought about winning.”

On the show opening up emotions:

“It opened me up emotionally. Definitely. I didn’t realise how emotional I was and Pasha sort of brought it out of me. The show dance, I was like ‘Lets do Michael Jackson’s Black or White, that’s my favourite song ever’ and he went ‘You’re not emotionally ready for that,’ he goes ‘You’re going through an emotional time at the moment [Flack and her then boyfriend Jack Street split during the series]. We need to do something slow and work with your emotions.’ I was like ‘I don’t want to do a slow show dance!’ and he was like ‘This is what you need to do’. We did that and I was like ‘Oh yeah…’

“It wasn’t hard, it was actually a nice outlet, a way to show people how you felt. I felt like a proper artist. Look at me, I’m so creative, this is how I feel,” she laughs. “Funny now, not funny then.” 

How it felt when it was over:

“The morning after I woke up with the glitterball– I slept with it that first night – the morning I woke up after that I laid in my bed and I felt like someone had put cling film over me and I didn’t know what to do with my life. My sister called me like, ‘Where are you everyone’s getting ready for Christmas?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m coming’. I just felt really weird. She was like ‘You’ve just won Strictly!’ But it still felt like it was all over. It did matter that you’d won – it was amazing [to win] – but you didn’t want the experience to end. I missed it.”

On being envious of this year’s contestants…

“I’m envious that I’ve had that experience and not ever going to have it again in a weird way, but it’s still exciting and I’ll put it on and be obsessed with it. You watch it in a different way, in a way where you can go ‘Oh, that’s the salsa, one two three da da da…’ I suppose you watch it like the viewers that watch every year, they get to know the routines. And they can say whether that’s a good cha-cha or that’s a good rumba. Become a judge at home, that’s really fun.”

If you had to pick a winner now…

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“That’s a tough one. Do you know what? You can’t tell. Obviously, I’ve already seen that Laura’s [Whitmore] a natural, so I’m going to put Laura in there for the final. I’m going to throw Melvin [Odoom] in, I’m going to say Judge Rinder and Daisy [Lowe]…. and Pasha [with his celeb partner Naga Munchetty]…”. 

Caroline is ambassador for the Cetaphil range of cleansers and moisturisers. Available in Boots, Superdrug, Lloyds and leading independent pharmacies. For more information please visit www.cetaphil.co.uk.
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Strictly Come Dancing returns Friday 23rd at 9:00pm and Saturday 24th of September at 6:30pm on BBC1