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I TALK TO Strictly Come Dancing Finalists 2018

After 13 amazing weeks of glitter, glamour and sensational performances, the time has come to crown this year's Strictly champions.

Fifteen celebrities entered the ballroom but now only four finalists remain. In tonight's final, Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovalev, Faye Tozer and Giovanni Pernice, Joe Sugg and Dianne Buswell and Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton, will each perform two routines. One chosen by the judges and the other by the couple themselves.

With the judge's scores counting for nothing other than guidance, it really is down to the public, and the public alone, as to who lifts that glitterball trophy!

What's quickly become one of my favourite mornings of the year, I was once again invited down to BBC Broadcasting House to hear from this year's finalists as they look ahead to the final and back at their Strictly experience.

Here's what they had to say...

Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovalev

"We did have to battle it out to get to the final but I'm so grateful to be here."

Ashley Roberts

On the most surprising thing about doing Strictly...

Ashley: The emotional rollercoaster ride. It is such a process throughout the week of what you go through. You start doubting yourself about how this is all going to come together on Saturday and somehow it does.

I thought it would be physically challenging, but there's also the emotional and mental strain that happens. It's all worth it when you go out there and you look back at how much amazing work we've all done.

On staying motivated...

Ashley: I think the motivation comes natural. When I first got the call to do this show I was so excited and so grateful to be a part of this amazing show. The motivation is there. That's not the issue.

The first two times in the dance-off I was like, "OK, that's a bit of a bummer" but Monday hits and it's a new week, a fresh start and you get in there and get focussed. By the third time I just looked at Pasha and went "Right honey, shall we just give them a little show. 'Cos we're here!"

We did have to battle it out to get to the final but I'm so grateful to be here. I can't wait to go out there with these fabulous people and just enjoy it!

Pasha: Every year people talk about someone having more advantage over someone, but from my point of view, it's a completely different ball game. You still have to put so much work in to master the ballroom and latin dances.

Looking at Ashley coming back every week after being knocked down, I take my hat off to her because she's coming back not only motivated but more positive.

On their favourite dances of the series...

Ashley: They're all your little babies. I love them all. But if I have to choose, I loved the Jive, that was so much fun. Contemporary I thought was so beautiful. And then American Smooth would be my top three.

Pasha: Definitely our contemporary because it was so emotional and so real. We really felt connect to one another. And our American Smooth because that got us to the final!

On what they'd like to do after Strictly...

Ashley: I have to say that the show has lit a fire in me again to perform. I forgot how much I love doing it. So something in the performance world would be nice.

Faye Tozer and Giovanni Pernice

"Strictly has just been a massive platform and shown people more of what I can do outside of Steps."

Faye Tozer

On the most surprising thing about doing Strictly...

Faye: I had preconceived ideas being a fan of the show. You just don't realise how much work goes into it. The graft, how much your body goes through to get those performance at the end of the week. The emotional ride as well. You put yourself under so much pressure for the live show, but also because you don't want to be nominated. The results show is horrendous!

I've not done lifts or partner work before and I've spoken about this before but my latin shoes don't like my feet. I'm covered in cuts and bruises but I think that's because I put full commitment in. And because I do that, I just shred my body... and I'm not getting any younger!

On their favourite dances of the series...

Faye: I think mine would be Movies Week when we did our Quickstep as Danny and Sandy which was really good fun. Then we did our couple's choice, Theatre Jazz, which was a Strictly first. That was really exciting to do. And then the 40 for our Charleston! I've had some really amazing routines.

Giovanni: I think every single week we're delivering great dances. There is not one particular favourite. Most of them have been brilliant!

On the success of Strictly...

Giovanni: I think it's because it's a show for everybody. It's a show for kids. It's a show for middle-aged. Everybody. It really is a joy to watch.

We try really hard every single week to make some routines funny, some routines emotional, so I think the reason why it's still successful, first of all, is because it's a big machine. Everybody on this show works so hard. And also I think it just give a lot of joy to people.

On what they'd like to do after Strictly...

Faye: I'm really lucky, outside of Steps, I do a lot of musical theatre. So for me, Strictly has just been a massive platform and shown people more of what I can do outside of Steps. That's been really exciting. So more of the above please!

Joe Sugg and Diane Buswell

"I was convinced that Lee Ryan would be in the final."

Joe Sugg

On reaching the final...

Joe: I never thought I'd be sat here now. The other day, someone said "Do you realise that for the last 14 weeks you've not taken a single hour off, let alone a day off."

If Dianne is doing pro rehearsal, that's the only other time I have free, if not it is just pure rehearsals.

I have no idea, what I'm going to do when it's over, probably hibernate for a bit and then it's Christmas! I'll keep myself busy.

On their favourite dances of the series...

Dianne: For me it was definitely our Quickstep in Blackpool. Just being in Blackpool! I have always wanted to dance on that floor since I was a little girl. I got to do it last year but not in the competition so that was an absolute highlight.

We got our first THREE tens which was incredible. This one (Joe) got emotional, which made me emotional. It was amazing. Also, this is a weird answer, but our Samba.

Not because it was our best dance, but the struggle that week... he was like "I can't do this." but he went out there and he did it and we worked honestly so so hard to perfect his Samba. It wasn't natural for him. It was the hardest thing he's ever done but he overcame that and did it. So for me it was such an amazing week.

So it was the struggle getting there and then after, I just looked at him and went "See! I told you could do it and you did." And you got a nine!

Joe: I'll go with the lindy-hop-athon then! (Laughs)

On widening his audience...

Joe: It's been different. I feel like what I do online, is kinda big, I have a large online following, but in the grand scheme of things, it's still so unknown. It's big in it own sense, its own pocket of entertainment.

To the more traditional media it's such an unusual thing. So when I was announced it was one of the most controversial reactions from the general public. A lot of "Who?! Never heard of him!" - it's like they have to know every single person.

But anyway, I just thought "Give it a chance. See what happens. It's a whole new audience." and it's just gone down an absolute storm.

Nowadays I think I get stopped more out and about by the older generation that know me from Strictly, But also, on the other side of things I've had so many positive messages from my own audience that have followed me into this.

Especially from younger guys. Even when I was younger at school, you didn't do dance. If you're a boy you just didn't do darts. It was an option, but no one took it. It was all sport or not dance.

I get messages from younger guys saying "We'd never normally think about doing dance but from watching you on Strictly, I can see that you're having so much fun" and I never thought I'd say this but kind of made it cool. I'm not cool, but I've somehow for them, made it more acceptable.

On who they thought would make final...

Joe: I was convinced that Lee Ryan would be in the final. When I saw the line-up I was like "Lee Ryan. 100% in the final." It just goes to show how much of a shock this show could be.

On what they'd like to do after Strictly...

Joe: I went into this in my head thinking "Cool, go and do this and then go back to doing YouTube." The reason why I had this opportunity in the first place is because of my YouTube channel, but I feel like this show has slowly improved my confidence in performing.

So now I'm much more open to doing things performance wise. And it's really weird how that's changed throughout the show because I fully expecting to go back to Instagram or YouTube.

Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton

"I've also got to take into consideration that Strictly are probably going to ask me to be a professional next year!"

Stacey Dooley

On the pre-final nerves...

Stacey: I feel good. I feel calm. I just want to go into this final with no real expectations for what's going to happen. I want it to feel like a massive party. We've all had such a incredible couple of months so I want us to come together collectively and celebrate.

On rivalry...

Stacey: No! I know it's what everybody wants to hear, that we're all tearing chunks out of each other, we're panicking about this that and the other, but it's just not been an issue. We're all genuine pals. Faye and I were training together last night, Ash and I were messaging this morning and Joe's my boy until the end. We're like a big family.

On their favourite dances of the series...

Kevin: I can't even remember what scores we got, but it's to do with the struggle. There was a week where Stacey hurt her ribs and I was thinking "Oh my God, this is going to be a disaster. We're not going to be able to perform at the weekend. What are we going to do?!"

We couldn't start training until Wednesday and I asked her "Are you going to be OK? How's your rib?" and Stacey went "Oh boring! Let's get on with it." She just worked and worked and worked and worked.

We upped our hours and it proved to me how invested she was in the whole thing and how much she wanted to do well. That was the couple's choice when we did a commercial street routine in a sort of Fred Astaire style.

I just loved doing it and she smashed it at the weekend, purely out of how much work she threw into it because she wanted it to work.

Stacey: I've got two... The Paso and the Charleston. The Paso I really felt the part. You know sometimes you watch the videos back and you're like "Eurgh! Embarrassing!" But the Paso, I watch it back and I think "You do you Stace. You look great!"

And the Charleston was just so up my alley, I loved it. I loved everything about it.

On the low points...

Stacey: Week two, Cha Cha, I promise you, I thought "I want the floor to open". "I literally want this floor to open and swallow me whole." Craig give me a four, I was so mortified, my legs were all over the shop, I felt like an idiot because I hadn't done it before.

But what you've got to do is take that and think "Actually, I don't want to feel like that next week" so you work really hard. The next week we doubled it, we got an eight!

On the expectations vs reality...

Stacey: I totally underestimated the workload. I've been asked to do lots of different shows and I've always said that Strictly is the only one I'd do because it's such a classy show. It's the biggest show on telly and there's this really nice feel about Strictly. It's not cheap, it's brilliant.

I thought it'd be great. I'd be in the UK for a couple of months, I'll stop before Christmas, I'll dance four or six hours a day, yeah perfect. You train for like twelve hours a day, everything hurts, you're in bits, you don't know the routine, you're driving yourself loopy - it's a hard gig but it is so worthwhile.

On reaching the final...

Kevin: I've really really enjoyed this series. I was really hoping to get Stacey as my partner from the beginning because I was such a super-fan of her documentaries. As soon as she was announced I was like "Please please!"

I knew she'd be nice but I thought she'd be quite serious because of the way she is in her documentaries but it turned out that in the training room she's really hyper. A massive idiot but in a really lovely way. She's just as daft as I am!

We've just had a great time, I've smiled so much. As if I couldn't love it anymore, I've fallen in love with dance and Strictly all over again. I've really really enjoyed this series.

People come up to us and say "I just wanted to say thank you for all the joy you bring. Strictly is our one thing where we sit down on a Saturday and we all just love it." There's loads of stuff going on in the world that isn't as cool. We never lose sight of that.

That is totally what Strictly is about. It's not the British Championships or the World Championships, it's not life or death. The winning isn't the most important thing in the world. Of course I am speaking as someone who seems to be runner-up every single year!

Of course all of us would love to win. It's not the most important thing to happen in the history of the universe. You've got to keep things in perspective. But of course all of us would really love to win just once.

Stacey: The world's not going to stop spinning if we don't win Strictly. We'll just carry on with our lives.

On the success of Strictly...

Kevin: What Stacey does for a living, she sees some pretty horrific stuff, and they're quite serious. I jokingly said one time, "You do such important eye-opening work and I basically shake my bum in a sparkly shirt for a living."

But then Stacey said to me "Why would you even trivialise that?" With all the horrible stuff that happens and that you see on the news all the time, it's so important to make people smile once in a while. It's actually not trivial. I think things like this are really important.

That people do have the opportunity to sit down and not watch horror on the news. Or watch something other than Brexit for minute. And to just be made to smile for a couple of hours.

That's really the aim of it all and I think that's what we're all mostly proud of and what's in our heads heading into this final. We want it to be the most joyous thing on TV. I think that's what Strictly does so well and why it's lasted so long.

On widening her audience...

Stacey: It's interesting because my BBC Three docs were often repeated on BBC One so the transition was sort of already happening I suppose. The lovely thing about Strictly for me personally, is you're able to have conversations with the general public about lighter, celebratory things.

Sometimes work's so intense and it can be so harrowing, it's very serious, and it has to be. The subjects are very dark a lot of the time.

I've had people stop me in Sainsbury's and go "I loved your Samba when you had feathers coming out of every part of your body. It's really lovely when they say "I danced to that song at my wedding." I've loved it and I really didn't think I would love it so much.

I love dancing, I love ballroom dancing and sometimes Kev walks in and I'm making a tea or whatever and I'm watching ballroom dancing on my phone like a complete lunatic. Or Shirley Ballas in the eighties. She was amazing!

On never being in the dance off...

Stacey: I never wanted to be in a dance-off, absolutely not, because there were so many people that would have thrown us out if we'd have been dancing against them. That's something that's been really lovely actually.

The idea that people at home are on your team and picking up the phone you don't take for granted. It's been a highlight for me actually, that we've not been there. I feel made up!

On what they'd like to do after Strictly...

Stacey: Documentaries are my passion and I'm going to go back to them after Christmas. Got loads going on. One of the reasons I did Strictly was to show my lighter side. I am a documentary maker who makes serious programmes, but also I am just a young girl who enjoy the entertainment side of thing. So I suppose a bit of both, in an ideal.

I've also got to take into consideration that Strictly are probably going to ask me to be a professional next year! (Laughs) So from September until about December, I'll be wrapped up in that.

Strictly Come Dancing: Grand Final airs tonight at 6:30pm on BBC One


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