Strictly pros Neil Jones and Katya Jones on celebrating ten years together and returning to the show

The Strictly stars talk to RadioTimes.com about professional line-up changes, being a couple on and off the dancefloor - and Sunday lunch with Ed Balls

Neil Jones and Katya Jones - Strictly Come Dancing

It’s hard to believe that Neil Jones and reigning champion Katya Jones have been a part of the Strictly Come Dancing family for only two years.

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In such a short space of time, the married couple have firmly established themselves as some of the best-loved pros – with Neil lighting up BBC2’s It Takes Two and numerous Strictly specials, and Katya gaining infamy with Ed Balls in 2016 and a Glitterball trophy last year.

“We both love the show,” Neil tells RadioTimes.com during a break in rehearsals for the couple’s new live show. “And Katya’s had two amazing years – like, really great years!”

Katya won series 15 of the BBC1 show with Holby City actor Joe McFadden in 2017 and says the trophy “is on my piano downstairs. It’s disappointing because it’s quite small,” adds Katya. “It’s a tiny version!”

“Thank god,” chips in Neil. “Otherwise I’d just be having to look at this huge trophy every day – a smaller version is a little bit more subtle!”

Ah, Neil. Despite not having had a celebrity partner for the past two years running, it turns out there are up sides to him having had a slightly lighter timetable in the autumn. Well, for Katya at least…

“It’s been actually a little bit better in a way that Neil didn’t have partners,” explains Katya. “Because I’d come back exhausted, you’d be there, ready to make me dinner…”

“I was the house husband!”

“Yeah, fill up the bath for me, talk me through everything. It’s nice to have someone supporting you when you come back home.”

For both the celebrities and the professionals, being a part of Strictly is undoubtedly relentless. Twelve-plus hour training days, media commitments, costume fittings and rehearsals mean that for couples both on and off the show, there can be a strain. The dreaded ‘Strictly curse’ is never out of the headlines, while fellow Strictly married couple Kevin Clifton and Karen Clifton announced their separation earlier this year.

“They’re our really good friends and we’re obviously not taking any sides,” explains Katya. “But it’s quite hard to know that something went wrong. But you know what, the way they get on with it and the way they’ve carried on – and like they say, they actually have a stronger dance partnership now. They’re so professional and we’re just friends with both of them still.”

“I’ve known Kevin for years,” adds Neil. “Karen I’ve only known since I was on the show, but I’ve danced with her a lot as well. With both of them I’ve always said ‘no judgement – just if you want to talk about anything, just let me know’, because I think it’s really important that everybody on the cast also knows they’ve got support from us all.”

Karen Clifton and Kevin Clifton on Strictly Come Dancing
Karen Clifton and Kevin Clifton on Strictly Come Dancing (Getty)

Katya, who says that “all the girl pros have such a strong bond” on Strictly, adds of Karen: “It’s great the way she coped with it, and it’s not an easy situation.”

Discussing their own relationship, Neil says that he and Katya both being a part of the show hasn’t changed anything between them. “It feels exactly the same doesn’t it?”

One big thing that has changed on the show this year is the line-up of professionals. Strictly fans reacted angrily to the news that show original Brendan Cole hadn’t been asked back, while Chloe Hewitt, who had also joined Strictly in 2015 as part of the professional cast, was another shock departure.

“Chloe had the same role as me on the show so I was always around her,” reflects Neil. “She was a lot younger so it was always like that big brother. I was always helping her out, and I felt she was so natural in a presenting role so I thought she was great for this show.”

“I think it was hard for her, absolutely there’s no doubt it was hard for her to get the news,” adds Katya. “I think she really connected with the younger audience, with the girls. She was always smiling, and even now, the smile never leaves her face.”

With Chloe and Brendan leaving, it’s meant that three new faces have joined the Strictly line-up this year. Graziano Di Prima, Johannes Radebe and Luba Mushtuk – who was one of Katya’s best friends in her teens.

“We come from the same dance class,” Katya says of Luba. “We were inseparable. And then life took different paths; she always had a dream of going to Italy and I always had a dream of going to England and literally that’s what happened.

“Life took us in those directions and then years on we met on Strictly again so that was really nice. She did what I did for the first year on Strictly as she was an assistant for the main choreographer, and now she’s got the chance to be a main pro so that’s going to be really good.”

Neil, meanwhile, is already a fan of Johannes. “We saw him on Burn the Floor when it came to London and I pointed out straight away that he was my favourite dancer on the cast,” he says. “He was so great to watch so I’m looking forward to getting to know him as well.”

Although neither of them know Graziano, Neil jokes that they’re “going to be teasing Giovanni, for sure” about the fact there’s another Italian stallion in the Strictly pro line-up. Although whether this will mean that Neil definitely, finally, gets a partner… he’s not so sure.

Neil Jones and Katya Jones - Strictly Come Dancing
Neil Jones and Katya Jones – Strictly Come Dancing (Getty)

Either way, both Neil and Katya are looking forward to getting back in the ballroom this autumn – especially now that Katya’s the reigning champion.

“I actually said that after my first ever series, Ed [Balls] allowed me to make an impact, and coming back last year I really felt a little bit nervous. ‘How can I impress the audience again? Will it be possible?’

“But then I said to myself it’s going to be a totally different celebrity with a totally different personality and naturally there’s going to be different levels of performance. I always work hard and I always put everything into it, so this year I’m actually excited because now that I’ve won it’s going to be different again. That’s what’s good about this show – every year is absolutely totally different.”

When it comes to potential partners, Neil is after “someone who just really wants to have fun and is going to be entertaining for the audience” – whether that’s because they’re competitive and want to go all the way, or a celebrity who is there to have a laugh. “Either way, I’m their man!”

Katya, too, is after someone who “doesn’t take themselves too seriously.” After all, she had great success with Ed Balls..

In 2016, the former MP became an unexpected national treasure – throwing away his inhibitions and throwing some serious shapes on the dancefloor. His Gangnam Style routine became one of the most infamous moments in Strictly history and was even nominated for a Bafta.

After going through such an experience on the show together, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Katya and the former Shadow Home Secretary are still firm friends.

“We just got on so well,” enthuses Katya. “I was asked to do a speech for International Women’s Day at the police headquarters and I thought ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do that? I’ve never done anything like this’. So, of course, the first person who sprung to mind was Ed – he’s just brilliant with the public and how to handle the audience.

“So straight away I needed advice, he gave me great points, and it just went perfect. He texted me to say how it went, and anything like that he’s definitely the first person I go to.”

Neil also chips in that Ed “makes a great Sunday lunch” and even babysits the couple’s pet dog Crumble from time to time.

“I was speaking to Ed and I was like ‘what am I going to do this year?’” adds Katya, looking ahead to the upcoming series. “His suggestion was to either get out early so we could do the Christmas special together or just keep winning, which I also quite like.”

Perhaps Ed will be making a reappearance in this year’s Strictly Christmas special? Let’s hope so. But for now, Neil and Katya are busy stuck into rehearsing for their brand new show, Somnium. Currently they’re performing a one-off date at the Lichfield Festival, but both of them are keen to take it on the road.

Neil Jones and Katya Jones - Strictly Come Dancing
Neil Jones and Katya Jones (Getty)

“There’s a lot of preparations going on,” explains Katya. “I’m on the costume side of it – drawing, getting all the looks together. We want to do it well, even though it’s only a one-off this time. Hopefully it will then grow, maybe into a tour next year.”

“I think at the moment, especially with Strictly coming up, the main thing is that we do this one show,” adds Neil. “Hopefully if it all goes well, we could do a tour in early 2019.”

Katya adds that Somnium “tells our story, of how we met and how we went through a competitive career over 10 years. It’s like a celebration for us, and of that decade of being together.”

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Neil and Katya Jones will debut their new live show Somnium: A Dancer’s Dream at the Lichfield Festival on Thursday 5th July. Click here for tickets and more information.


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