This is Strictly Come Dancing’s 20th series, how does it feel to return to the judging panel for such a momentous series?
I am, again, honoured and humbled to have been asked back – particularly for its 20th series, with so many new and exciting things happening. We’ve got the BBC 100 week which I’m so excited about, the show is going to be absolutely outstanding. There will be lots of twists and turns and surprises – so everybody had better tune in and not miss out.
Strictly has captivated audiences for 20 series, why do you think it has lasted so long?
I think people keep tuning in because it’s a family affair. It’s something to look forward to on those cold winter nights where the family can sit together, with some nice food and drinks, talk about the people they love and debate. It’s a bit of Vegas, Hollywood glitz & glamour, glitterballs, bangles & beads. It’s just a thrilling show. It’s light hearted, warm and everybody can rely on it being exciting television.
What’s your absolute favourite thing about working on the show?
Seeing the contestants come down those stairs at the beginning, learning about their journey and watching them improve.
And of course one needs their fellow adjudicators. I love having Anton Du Beke to my left, who this season I will be able to have a little waltz with. I have Motsi to my right who has more energy than the rest of us put together, and Craig on the end who I adore.
Do you remember your first day on the show? What was it like?
I will go to my grave remembering that first day! The zip on my dress broke and I was perspiring profusely. I was more nervous for that than any World Championship I’ve ever danced in, because when you dance in a World Championship you are familiar with your audience. When you go on Strictly, you are in front of a fifteen million person audience and you don’t know what people are going to think about you! Fortunately I was accepted and welcomed so warmly by the British public, which I will forever be grateful for, but it was terrifying. It has changed my life and I’m beyond grateful to be here, I just love it!
What’s your favourite style of dance and why?
I love Latin and Ballroom of course, but my favourite style to dance myself is the American Smooth. I hope I get that chance and opportunity to do it with Anton Du Beke this series. I love it because it’s a mix between Latin choreography and Ballroom choreography, it’s in close hold, it’s in open hold and it’s got free room for expression – I just love that style.
I love all styles of dance on all people, as everybody brings something unique to each dance.
Who would be your dream celebrity to dance with and why?
Donny Osmond, because he won Dancing with The Stars in America, and I think it would be fabulous to be able to have a dance with Donny. Or Tom Cruise, who I taught.
Do you ever wish you danced on Strictly as a professional dancer?
Yes, I would’ve loved that!
Do you have one stand out dance or celebrity dancer from a previous series?
Ann Widdecombe with her Samba, it was just iconic. I also loved Ed Balls when he did Gangnam Style. I want people to understand that it’s not always the best dancer that delivers the entertainment factor, which is extremely important in this show. Yes it’s great to have talent and be coordinated, but I love the journey for those who cannot dance. I loved Ann and Ed for their banter, and they gave it their full one hundred percent even when they were scoring low scores. Sometimes the journey can be found in the not so gifted and not so experienced.
Any stand out moments or greatest memories over all of the series’?
My greatest memory would be the time I danced the Samba in the first series that I was on. I didn’t want to wear a Latin dress at 57 and I didn’t want to put on a pair of shoes, which I hadn’t worn in fifteen years. I was persuaded to do it and it was the best decision, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
Out of the judges, who would win in a dance off?
Motsi, without a doubt. She would shake it, bake it, deliver it and then some. Absolute spice of life that girl.
Strictly is returning to Blackpool this year after a two year absence. Why is Blackpool so special?
Because it’s home for me. It’s where my first event was when I was seven years old. The only year I’ve ever missed is when I gave birth to my son. I love everything about Blackpool, including the lights and the walks along the beach, the people and the nightlife. The best dancers from all over the world come to Blackpool – It’s their ambition and their dream.
We have 20 pros for this series, the most ever! What do you think that will bring to the series and what do you think the four new pros bring to the show?
They will bring excitement to the show, they will also bring new ideas, which is great as it keeps everybody on their toes. The 20 professionals will make the show feel much more full, especially with the audience coming back.