Day in, day out, week after week, six hours at a time, Peter Andre comes to a discreet facility a short drive from his Sussex home. There are slides and lifts, pivots and pirouettes to learn. There are stretches and crunches, warm-ups and warm-downs. And this particular week there is the foxtrot.
“The hardest dance to learn?” Strictly Come Dancing favourite Andre ponders while munching on a flapjack supplied by Janette Manrara, his pint-sized American dance partner with the dazzling smile. “They’re all hard!” exclaims the singer-turned-reality-show-star-turned-hoofer. “But the only one I found electric was the first one, the cha-cha-cha. That’s because we had three whole weeks to learn it. And I finally realised what John Travolta was doing in Grease – a lot of his moves were the cha-cha-cha. How cool is that?
“But mate, it’s harder than I thought,” the 42-year-old admits with a grin. And Andre doesn’t mean just the physical exertion. The emotional rollercoaster that is every weekend’s dance-off is taking its toll, too. “I could go any week now.”
The British-born, Australian-raised entertainer knows better than anyone the punishing nature of trial by reality TV. As a 90s pop star he took panic attack-induced retirement at 27 and bounced back in 2004 via I’m a Celebrity… He met his first wife, Katie Price, in the jungle. He then made nine fly-on-the-wall series about said marriage… then a couple more about the end of said marriage. He’s reality show catnip, which is presumably why the Strictly producers tried to enlist him on three previous occasions (he says).
This summer Andre married for a second time, and he’s clearly besotted. Emily MacDonagh, 26, is a doctor, and the daughter of the surgeon who treated him for kidney stones. They didn’t quite see one another across a crowded operating table, but their romance does suggest the plot of a scripted reality show.
“She’s actually doing psychiatry now,” he says with loving pride. “Where was she 15 years ago when I had the breakdown?” he laughs. “She’d have been amazing!”
She was at primary school.
“That’s very true,” he acknowledges, smiling.
So, new wife and new baby too – Amelia was born in January 2014. Plus, Andre shares custody of his and Price’s children, Junior, ten, and Princess, eight. Given all that, was he wary about committing to Strictly? It’s an intensely demanding show. It also has a track record of partners tangoing off the dancefloor together…
“I don’t believe in the Curse of Strictly,” Andre scoffs. “If you wanna go off with someone, you’re gonna do it. [Calling it] that is stirring the pot.”
Still, he admits that starring in the most popular show on TV can be all-consuming. “You could live in that bubble if you wanted to. And I love it, and I appreciate it, I really do,” he states with laser-beam-intense sincerity – a quality that runs through almost everything he says. “And everyone in there is great. But I made a deal with my wife that I’d go straight home after every show, and that’s what I’m doing.”
If Andre demonstrates dauntless ambition and dedication, you should meet his dad. According to the youngest of Savvas Andrea’s six children, he didn’t have the easiest of starts. “It’s very interesting with my dad because at 11 years old in Cyprus, he was sold as a slave.”
What year was this? “Well, Dad’s 82 now, and he was 11, so when are we talking?”
During the Second World War. “Yeah… There were 13 kids. And they had no food, no money. So some of the kids had to be sold to earn money for the family. And then Dad came back after years. I didn’t know this until recently. And I said, ‘Dad, are you serious?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but son, that was our life.’
“So Dad’s determination, what Dad’s achieved in life, is incredible. He came to London not being able to speak a word of English, learnt a trade – he became a barber – and he still owns a barber’s shop in Paddington.”
After 30 years in the UK the family upped sticks for Australia. “I was six years old, I’ll never forget it. I was so excited. I thought we were going on holiday. But we were actually moving, for the rest of our lives.
Growing up on the Gold Coast, Andre was a lonely kid. He sounded different (English) and looked different (Greek). And his parents were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. Young Peter’s enthusiasm for becoming a singer like his hero Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly in sympathy with Witness teachings.
“I think the saying is: ‘You can’t sit at the table of the Lord and sit at the table of the devil at the same time.’” In his mid-teens Peter left the faith and embraced the church of the TV talent show, winning a record contract on New Faces.
“Now I know you can do both [music and the church], but I didn’t then. There are certain things you’re not allowed to do. And I was…doing them,” he says, squirming slightly. Does he mean girls?
“Well, yeah. It’s all a bit ‘you’ve got to be married’. Trust me, it’s really amazing to have that upbringing,” he insists, ever-respectful of the parents he evidently adores. “But we live in a world that’s not as cut-and-dried. It’s like seeing a chocolate cake. You know it’s bad for you. But you’re still gonna have it!” he beams lasciviously.
Which brings us neatly – after some 90s pop success in the UK (1996’s Mysterious Girl, above, was his big hit) and then a period of burnout time in Oz – to Katie Price.
Does he look back on how publicly they carried out their relationship and wonder at the cost to his personal life? He stutters slightly: “To be honest… I mean, I don’t really talk much about that part of my life. But what I will say is, we had some great times filming the show. Great memories. Great home videos for the kids. No regrets.”
On paper, I suggest, it might seem that he wanted to be famous at any cost.
“I’ll tell you the truth, I’m 42, and honestly at 50 I’m gonna rethink everything. If I’ve built up enough of a business for the kids, for the family… I’ve got a coffee business that’s expanding rapidly,” he explains.
New York Coffee Club, despite its name, offers “proper New Zealand-style coffee”. There’s a shop in East Grinstead in Sussex, and, after a successful summer selling flat whites at music festivals, he has his eyes on expanding his mobile coffee fleet from two. “My plan is that by the time I’m 50, I want to have 15 or 20 big carts running around the country.”
Underestimate Andre – a likeable, endearingly needy man (“You will be kind?” he beseeches, twice) at your peril. He has forged, and reforged, a career in music. He has a new major-label record deal and has just released Come Fly with Me, a Rat Pack-channelling collection of covers, with a UK tour next year.
Strictly has made him Mr Saturday Night, and he has the sequins to prove it. Does he think he can win?
“Honestly? No. If it comes to technical ability, there’s no way. I’ll never get my foot that way, my shoulder this way… If they based it on performance, I could go really far. But I know my limits. I’m not the best singer, I’m not the best dancer…”
Celebrity-savvy trouper, methinks you doth protest too much. Don’t bet against Andre. He could definitely go all the way.
Strictly Come Dancing continues on BBC1 today (Saturday 21st November) at 6:50pm