Joanne Clifton on quitting Strictly Come Dancing: “I achieved what I wanted to in dance… my heart’s always been in musicals”

Joanne talks to RadioTimes.com about the Strictly door being left ajar and pursuing her dreams in musical theatre

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You wouldn’t blame Joanne Clifton for wanting a bit of a rest after making the decision to quit Strictly Come Dancing after three years.

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But less than a day after it was confirmed that she wasn’t going to return to the ballroom this year, it’s been announced that she’s left the show to take on the lead role in a touring musical production of Flashdance.

RadioTimes.com got on the phone to Joanne to ask her why she thought now was the right time to leave “the best thing on TV”, wanting to turn her hand to TV acting and why the door is most definitely left open for her to return to the Strictly family one day…

Joanne, how are you feeling now that the news is out about you leaving Strictly?

“Yesterday I was feeling a bit weird about the whole Strictly announcement – it was strange because I had made the decision and everything but when it came out officially, everyone on Twitter was so sad. I had a weird day!”

Were you surprised by the huge reaction you had from fans of the show?

“I didn’t realise it would go that mental! I was getting message after message going ‘Oh no, I can’t believe it – what are you doing?’ and I was going – wait until tomorrow! Now that it’s been announced about Flashdance I’m feeling so much love, it’s wonderful!”

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Was it a difficult decision for you to make?

“It is a massive, massive decision. I talked a lot with my agent who’s like my mentor – it was tough. It’s tough because I love the show, I love everybody on it and I’m so grateful to be on it – it’s the biggest show on TV and the best show on TV in my opinion. But I feel like I’ve achieved everything in ballroom dancing in terms of competing and results and stuff.

“I did my world championship, British championship, European championship and then Strictly. And then won it somehow last year so I feel like I achieved what I wanted to achieve in that side of things. My heart’s always been in musicals anyway and I felt like now was the right time.”

Did you go backwards and forwards with the decision?

“I think after Ore and I won I think I had made up my mind almost straight away and I’ve stuck by it. There have been moments where I’ve been like ‘Awww’…because it is like one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make. It is the best thing on TV and I’m honoured to have been a part of it but my heart’s in musicals so I think I’ve made the right decision!”

If you perhaps hadn’t won the show last year with Ore Oduba, would you have stayed on Strictly longer?

“Maybe….I don’t know! I really don’t know. I have always wanted to do musicals and obviously doing Thoroughly Modern Millie has made me realise that’s what I want more than anything is the musical side of things. The kind of plan when I came back to England was to do three maybe four years on Strictly anyway, and then work in the meantime in my singing and acting for musicals. So it got to the third year and I won it so it was probably time to get out!”

What will you miss the most – and least – about being a part of Strictly?

“It’s very stressful and hectic. It’s a hectic schedule – us pros work seven days a week, because the Sunday the celebrities get the day off but we have to choreograph so it’s very, very tiring. But at the same time, so lovely to be on. I know that everyone says it and people go ‘Oh God…’, but it is like a family. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful environment that show and that’s what I’m going to miss.”

Would you say the door is completely closed on Strictly? Or could you come back for maybe one of the Christmas specials or to do the annual tour?

“Maybe… if they’ll have me, I’d love to. Never say never!”

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How do you think Shirley Ballas will fare as Len Goodman’s replacement as Head Judge on the show?

“I think she’s going to be wonderful. She’s taught a lot of us pros in the past – I know Kevin and I used to have lessons with her when we were children. She helped us win our British championship when we were like 14, but I think she’s taught quite a lot of the pros. She’s a big name in the ballroom dancing world, she’s won so many titles and I think she’ll be perfect for the job.

We’ll be seeing you in Flashdance this year but what other productions would you love a role in?

“I’d love to be Calamity Jane and Sally Bowles in Cabaret, and when I’m older I want to be Rose in Gypsy! I saw the recent production of it with Imelda Staunton five times – she’s like my idol! I have to be like her when I’m older.”

With all this acting on stage, would you like to transfer that to TV acting in the future too?

“I would absolutely love that as well. Obviously I’m learning a lot about the acting side of things doing live theatre, but one day! One day if I’m good enough that’d be amazing.”

Will you be watching Strictly this year – either at home or in the studio audience?

“I’ll have shows on a Saturday night on tour so I don’t think I’ll even be able to go once, unless maybe in December? But yeah, I’ll definitely be watching it because I’ve still got my family on there. So I’ll be watching it – but on catch up!”

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Joanne Clifton stars in Flashdance – The Musical in theatres across the UK later this year. For full details of tour venues and dates, visit www.flashdanceuktour.co.uk.