When Jonny Labey was killed off on EastEnders last year he was heavily rumoured to be heading for the Strictly dance floor. Instead, the actor signed up for ITV’s Sunday night entertainment show Dance Dance Dance – and went on to win the first-ever series, stunning judges as he channelled everyone from Michael Jackson to Fred Astaire to Madonna.
The win hardly came out of the blue, given the 24-year-old and his girlfriend Chrissy Brooke had topped the leader board every week. Labey himself graduated from the Bird College of Dance in 2014, where he polished up his skills in jazz, tap, ballet, commercial and contemporary dance.
Ironically, it was that dance training background that has put him off ever going on Strictly.
“I know that with Strictly if you have dance training you get shunned if people find out,” he told RadioTimes.com, doing an impression of outraged viewers: ‘Ah it’s a fix, they’re dancers, it’s a fix!’
“So I went into the meeting for Dance Dance Dance thinking, ‘Okay, we’re going to play down the fact that I’ve had dance experience and that I’m an actor.’
“But the producer said that all of those people that get shunned from Strictly for dancing, he was like: ‘We want those people.'”
Why? Well, Dance Dance Dance sees celebrities recreate iconic music videos, so it would be sacrilege to ruin them with an appalling performance.
“No one wants to see someone do a rubbish Usher impression, or a rubbish Beyonce, because people are very precious about those songs and those numbers and those artists,” Labey explained. “It just wouldn’t work.”
All five celebrities on Dance Dance Dance – including JLS star JB Gill and soap actress Lucy-Jo Hudson – were good dancers even before they started working on the show. This, it turned out, was hard for some viewers to wrap their heads around. Where were the Ed Balls and the Jeremy Vines of the world?
“The British public were a bit confused with the show, I think,” Labey said. “There’s no underdog. The British people I don’t think are used to that.
“But it’s nice to have a show that just looks at the quality of what they’re creating, and that’s the focus of the show. It was an amazing thing to be a part of.”
The show was pre-recorded, so the duo hopped on a plane to Jersey to watch the grand final on the TV in Labey’s local pub The Seymour. The whole community turned up, having watched his progress every Sunday night at the pub’s special Dance Dance Dance evening.
“Honestly it was so rammed it took about 20 minutes to get to the bar,” the actor said. “It’s incredible, the room was just filled with people that had such significance not only to my career, but my dancing especially. Old school teachers turned up.”
Surely keeping quiet about his win was hard?
“Having done EastEnders, where you’ve got secrets left right and centre, it was quite an easy one to keep by comparison,” he joked.
“Obviously my parents knew. But because the competition last night was so close, in terms of marks, I think there was only three points in it by the end, so there were loads of people going, ‘Oh god I hope you win, it’s still all to play for!'”
What was Labey doing? “Grinning.”