Strictly Come Dancing was live at the NIA this weekend. We went behind the scenes of rehearsals to see how the stars were whipped back into shape.
I’m finally going to be able to experience what Pete has been doing all these years,” says the impossibly gorgeous Abbey Clancy, aka Mrs Peter Crouch, curled up on one of the wooden benches in the rehearsal room. “Travelling around the country, performing in front of live crowds of thousands of people, I’m really excited.
“Mainly though I’m loving the tour because it keeps Strictly going. It’s such a great bunch of people and Alijaz is both a great teacher and a lovely person and I don’t want any of it to end.
“I don’t know what I’ll do when the new series starts, I want to do it all over again. In fact, I might tell all the celebrities out there that it’s awful so no one will sign up for it and the producers will have to get me back.
“At least I’ve got the trophy to keep me company though when everything does goes back to normal and I have to go back to the real world.”
Abbey has been in training for the live tour for a fortnight along with fellow stars Natalie Gumede, Susanna Reid, Mark Benton, Ben Cohen and Deborah Meaden. Aside from the Class of 2013, Lisa Riley and Nicky Byrne are also on board.
Rehearsals are taking place in Camden, London, under the watchful eye of show director Craig Revel Horwood.
Nah, not really, Craig is actually one of the nicest men in showbiz and welcomes Weekend into the room with a shower of “daaarlings” and tales of his new-and-improved hip.
All of the stars are dancing on tour with their professional partners from the show and, thankfully, the lovely Natalie Lowe is back from injury.
The day starts off with a spot of Toxic by Britney, before blasts of Gaga, JLo and, erm, John Denver. Everything is looking good but there are a few little slips along the way: Abbey accidentally knocks into Kristina during a waltz; Artem and Natalie get a bit tangled up; Kristina and Ben mistakenly end up front and centre at the end of one of the routines.
“What’s this? The Ben and Kristina show?” laughs choreographer Jason Gilkison.
“Why not?” Kristina purrs in her awesome Russian accent. “Let’s give the people what they want.”
During the session, the celebs are in their jogging bottoms and T-shirts. There’s not a sequin in sight, not a glimpse of glitter or peek of pink.
“The costumes on the show and the tour are incredible aren’t they,” Abbey says during a quick break. “Dress designer Vicky is amazing. I have no idea how she whips up so many amazing pieces in such a short space of time.
“I’ve worn a lot of clothes in my time as a model but I’ve never worn anything as amazing as these dresses. Strictly’s even helped me get over my obsession with black – I’m trying a bit more colour now.”
Mother-of-one Abbey took home the glitterball trophy in December at the end of the much-hyped all-female grand final. But how competitive did it really get between her, Natalie, Susanna and Sophie Ellis-Bextor?
“Y’know, there was none of that at all,” she explains. “Really, we all got on so well and it’s just not in my nature to be that competitive. We are all friends and we all wanted each other to do their absolute best.”
“It’s true,” adds Natalie, who, quite possibly, has the best hair we’ve ever seen. “And I never really bought into that whole ‘all-girl final’ thing. What about the four men who got us there?! I’m all about equality and this was definitely a team effort.
“I just feel so lucky about the whole experience. I’ve loved it. I’ve had a few incredible years now with Corrie and Strictly and I feel so lucky to have been given these chances.
“I can’t wait to get out on the road now though because Artem and I will finally get to perform our jive [Natalie was forced to miss week seven because of illness]. It was so disappointing when that happened so I can’t wait for everyone to see it finally.”
There’s no doubt that life inside the Strictly bubble is hectic for all concerned, but one woman seemed almost superhuman in her efforts last series. Step forward Susanna Reid, the only person who can look good on 4.30am starts and 8.30pm finishes.
Weekend are keen to know her secret. “Well, I love my job on BBC Breakfast, I love my dancing on Strictly and, obviously, I love my family so when it’s all so enjoyable, it doesn’t feel like work. And dancing doesn’t exhaust me, it gives me more energy, makes me feel alive, I just love it.
“When they first asked me to do Strictly, they didn’t even need to finish the sentence before I said yes. I’ve watched it from the very first series with Natasha Kaplinsky and I know a few people who’ve done it and loved it and I’m glad I got to experience it too. Strictly’s in my heart now and I’m so glad to be on the tour.”
But surely, Susanna, you won’t still be doing Breakfast too for those three weeks on the road?
“Of course I will!” she laughs, sipping on a very large cup of coffee. Hmm, maybe that’s her secret?
While on the road, the mischief will definitely come from the boys. There’s Westlifer Nicky, who shocks us with his tales of bras, boobs and boyfriends from his boyband days; lovable actor Mark; and rugby Adonis Ben, who’s more interested in talking to us about rugby-tastic Castlecroft in Wolverhampton than his dancing.
“Yeah, I spent a lot of time there in my early days, it was great,” he says, in between ripping apart a lunch of spare ribs.
He and Kristina will be performing their American smooth and salsa on tour, while Mark and Iveta will be doing their infamous MC Hammer routine.
“Hammertime!”, proclaims Mark. “How could I not do it? My knees are still aching but that won’t stop me from putting on a good show. The standard of my dancing has definitely improved since I first started. Oh my God, it’s about 10 times better actually and I can remember a lot more too. But to be honest, I just can’t wait to spend more time with Iveta. She’s a genuine friend. When I was first talking to the producers, I was like ‘please don’t put me with anyone miserable, I need someone I can have a laugh with’. Then I saw Iveta, this very glamorous Eastern European woman and I thought ‘oh no’. But she’s so silly and funny and patient with me. Meeting her was one of the best things about Strictly.”
We’re just about to dive in for more questions when Craig shouts up “Right, back to work”.
The professionals disperse into one room to practise their moves while the celebs stay put to work on theirs
“Come on daaarlings, break’s over. The show must go on.”
Indeed it must. See you at the NIA...
By Elizabeth Joyce