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I TALK TO The 2018 Strictly Celebs

As this year's celebs prepare to take to the dancefloor for the very first time, I caught up with them to find out how they were feeling.

Fewer shows on television are bigger than Strictly Come Dancing, with last year's series averaging over 11m per episode, making it the most-watched series yet and the second highest rating show on television in 2017, beaten only by Blue Planet II.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of last year's winner Joe McFadden are pop stars Lee Ryan, Faye Tozer and Ashley Roberts, presenters Vick Hope, Kate Silverton and Susannah Constantine, documentary-makers Stacey Dooley and Katie Piper, actors Charles Venn and Danny John Jules, comedian Seann Walsh, television doctor Dr Ranj, paratriathlete Lauren Steadman, cricketer Graeme Swann and YouTube vlogger Joe Sugg.

Tonight, (Saturday 8th September) Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman will welcome the celebrity class of 2018 as they prepare to begin their Strictly adventure and discover which professional dancer they will be paired with.

Once the pairings have been announced the celebrities and professionals will take to the dancefloor for the very first time for what promises to be, an entertaining group performance, launching the new series in Strictly style.

Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood, Dame Darcey Bussell and Shirley Ballas all return to the panel and will be casting their expert judgement every week.

The day before the launch show was recorded, I sat down with this year's celebs (unfortunately Katie Piper was unavailable) with other journalists to find out why they said yes and how they were feeling about being part of Strictly.

"I've been asked previously!"

Kate Silverton

On why they said yes...

Vick Hope: I love dancing. I’m the first one on a dancefloor when we go clubbing. When we play songs on the radio, as soon as the mic comes down, I’ll be dancing!

I’ve always said of all the shows I could be a part of, Strictly is just the dream because you're able to dance every day.

Joe Sugg: My grandparents are huge fans, they love the show, they know all the dancers they know everything about it so I thought it would be such a nice surprise for them. I also wanted to do it as a bit of a confidence builder.

All of my friends are getting married, so it’ll be cool to rock up to their wedding, still be the single one and the one everyone wants to dance with!

"I’ve been knocking on their door for years!"

Faye Tozer

Seann Walsh: I just thought, you know what, it’s such a fun show, I’ve watched it and I’d just love to know how to dance. There’s no way other way, to be honest with you, that I would learn how to dance. I’m not someone who’s proactive, I’m not gonna get up off my sofa and go *claps hands together* I’m gonna learn a dance.

So after this I’m hoping to do other shows, Strictly Come Cooking, Strictly Come Making the Bed, Strictly Come Spanish, Strictly Come Guitar, Strictly Come Driving. Yeah, hopefully after all of this I’ll be a functioning adult.

Faye Tozer: I would never have said no. Never. I’ve been knocking on their door for years! Going “Please! Pleeeaaassseee!”

Kate Silverton: I’ve been asked previously! Way back when, and I was off to Iraq, and then Afghanistan, then I was pregnant, and then I was raising my... being a mummy and concentrating on that. So it just felt like my children are now 4 (and) nearly 7, and it really felt like, absolutely, why not?! You know, it’s just the right time.

Danny John-Jules: It was always a thing with Red Dwarf fans because they all think that you just decide your fate in showbiz and decide what shows you go on. And so basically it was one of those things I used to laugh about a lot. Now they’ll all shut up!

"I was worried about being on the show"

Lee Ryan

Graeme Swann: For me it was my kids. My little boy last year asked to go to bed early on a Friday so he could stay up to watch Strictly on a Saturday. As soon as he did that, I knew. My wife said, "You’ve got to go on it".

Charles Venn: For myself I’d say it was about learning a new skill. As far as I’m concerned it’s all about challenges and really testing yourself and seeing what you’re made of when you’re put in an uncomfortable situation so for me, here I am, I’m doing it.

Susannah Constantine: I want to learn to dance. I want to learn one dance. Just one dance so I can not be laughed at by my children. That would be a great result.

Lee Ryan: There were reasons I wanted to do it and didn’t want to do it in equal measure. I was worried about being on the show because it’s a massive thing and quite exposing. I’m quite a private person.

I’m always with my kids or at work. I don’t go to the opening of an envelope. You won’t find me at many celeb parties. I’ve done all that. I’m a dad now. Coming onto a show like this you’re back in the bigger limelight. It’s the biggest show on TV.

Dr Ranj Singh: It’s been my dream show. I’ve been a fan of the show for ages, whenever anyone ever asked me "What would be the one show that would be your dream to do?" I say, "It’s this one".

I couldn’t quite believe when the call came through that it was actually happening. I was not ready. I was not prepared for it. But I’m so super glad I’m here. I’m a proper fan boy inside most of the time.

Stacey: Typically work is quite straight for me, and it has to be because of the topics I cover. But I am just a young woman... well not that young anymore! A 31 year-old woman who enjoys dancing and has that side, so it’s nice to explore that. And be at home. I’m at home for 2 months and I haven’t been at home for 2 months for 10 years!

"I feel like I’ve won a raffle to be surrounded by all these beautiful people in a room"

Graeme Swann

On how they're feeling about joining the show...

Joe: To start with pure nerves, but as it’s gone on and as soon as we started rehearsing it’s become all excitement. It’s so exciting that I never want to leave at the end of the day. I just try and stay! Free food, free spray tans, cool outfits. Loving it!

Graeme: Surreal. Absolutely surreal. I feel like I’ve won a raffle to be surrounded by all these beautiful people in a room. Everyone says the first live show is what they dread but I’ve missed it, since I stopped playing cricket that performance pressure of having to go out and do it.

Every day of my career was on live TV so I’m kind of used to it, just pretending there’s no camera there, that’s quite easy to do once you’re used to it. But yeah, it’ll be different because I knew what I was doing then. I was expected to do well and I knew I’d do well if I just stayed true to myself. But in this, nobody thinks I’m going to be any good so I’m going to have a right laugh.

Lauren Steadman: I think maybe once my World Championships are over I’ll start to feel that live show pressure because obviously there’s one thing rehearsing and learning and pre-recording but live is a different ball game.

Lee: I go in waves of shitting myself, and feeling all right. I wear my heart on my sleeve and sometimes that’s not this industry. This industry is fake. It’s not real. People put a persona out there and it’s not real. I’m not good at that sometimes.

It’s worrying. It’s a worrying thing. The other reason why I wanted to do it is to step up on that horse and get some newfound confidence in myself and learn something I’ve never learned before, in front of 12 million people and judges that are going to rip me apart… Yeah! That’s great!

"I don’t want to allow the nerves to ruin it"

Stacey Dooley

Stacey: It’s weird, my first day of training, I wasn’t nervous at all. I left on a high, it’s a really strange feeling. And then last week I was fine, but towards the end of the week I was quite nervous, I was really riddled with nerves. Today I feel fine.

It’s weird, I’m quite apprehensive going into work, hostile environments and whatever, but I can’t explain how nerve racking Strictly is. I think it’s because you know millions of people are watching every single week. It’s live and you want to do your best, people have tried really hard to teach you. So it’s a different type of nerves.

I don’t want to allow the nerves to ruin it, because it’s so exciting, it’s once in a lifetime. How many people get to do it?

Ashley: It’s a skill and a new style that I have never done before so I am excited to learn it and then hopefully apply some of the performing background I have had into this and see how that little potion works. I’m really grateful to be here and I’m really excited about the challenge and the journey.

I’m quite apprehensive going into work, hostile environments and whatever, but I can’t explain how nerve racking strictly is. I think it’s because you know millions of people are watching every single week. It’s live and you want to do your best, people have tried really hard to teach you. So it’s a different type of nerves.

Kate: There’s a lovely element of liberation about it and having done the launch night I think we feel now, we’re kind of over that hump. But then, the next hump is going to be the first dance. I just would like to get into training now, I think.

Danny: At the end of the day it’s a train that’s been running down the track for 16 years. It’s a well-oiled machine. We have no say in how it goes, we just go along for the ride. Hopefully we get to the last stage!

"I knew there would be a lot of people that aren’t going to have a clue who I am"

Joe Sugg

On the press attention...

Joe: I was definitely expecting it. Obviously I know Strictly attracts an older audience, so I knew there would be a lot of people that aren’t going to have a clue who I am. I thought if they have kids or grandkids or a niece or nephew or stuff, there’s more of a chance – “Ah OK, it’s the guy that you watch on YouTube and stuff”.

One of the things that also made me really want to do this show is the thought of getting the young generation and the old generation on a Saturday night together in front of the TV watching something together as a family. That’s the goal.

Stacey: I think people are going to be slightly more interested in us certainly in the next couple of months, and I’m fine with people having a set of opinions or having something to say, as long as it’s not unnecessarily unkind or not unnecessarily disrespectful. I think that’s when I feel like I want to say my bit, in a calm, rational manner.

I think it’s inevitable, it’s the biggest show on the telly. I just think you have to stand up for what you think is right, talk to people how you want to be spoken to, and then enjoy it. All of that is a sideline because it’s so fun this show, and the pros are wicked, and it’s a nice crowd and my mum’s so excited and I don’t want anything to ruin this for me.

On the reaction from friends and family...

Kate: Katie (Derham) said, "Make sure you get lots of blister pads and knee supports", which sounded a bit ominous!

My husband is totally bemused. He's a military man, so he’s like “What's all the fuss about?” Even, his mates, like hardcore special forces friends, are texting going “Can we have tickets?” I never knew it was this big!

Seann: My friends have just text me going, “I hope you go out in the first round!” Unbelievable! Boys!

Graeme: Oh they (kids) were made up. They didn’t really get it at first. They thought I was joking. I sent a little video message of Janette (Manrara) and they were absolutely buzzing. They cannot wait. It’s going to be awesome!

Ashley: Laura (Whitmore) told me to pee before I go on stage. Because we are literally sewn into our outfits and if you don’t pee first, you are stuffed!

Susannah: I’ve got one friend, Jake Shears. I don’t know how you’re going to print this, but I’ll tell you what it was. He said "Oh my god, you’re so old your c**t is haunted." He nearly wet his pants when I told him I was doing the show. Because he knows how I dance, oh my God. He might be coming on the show to sing because he’s doing a solo tour.

Dr Ranj: She (Ruth) gave me her number and said call me anytime. She’s been super supportive, as has everyone from This Morning. They’ve been so great. But because she went through it all and understands the stresses and strains, especially whilst doing your other jobs as well.

She wasn’t a natural dancer, she was like me, enjoys socially dancing. I mean we all love a good dance, but coming into this and learning it as a skill, a craft is a totally different thing and I’m so glad I can just text her and say, "Ruth, I'm having a panic, what do you think I should do?"

On the reaction from bandmates...

Lee: They’re definitely going to come down and watch. I’ll probably be more nervous when they’re there! They’ll be looking at me saying "Go on then, mug yourself off". I’m not expecting to do as good as him (Simon Webbe) if I’m honest. If I do, then amazing, but if I don’t, I’ve still won, because I’m on the show.

Faye: It got tipped off in the papers before I told them! I was such a good girl to keep it so I had to phone everyone and they were really over the moon. They're going to be coming down to see us on the show. They know how much I've wanted this forever. They're all on board, we're texting daily!

On dancing to your own song...

Faye: I would! No shame. Some of the fans have been saying maybe It's The Way You Make Me Feel, that would be the ideal one to do a waltz to that.

"My tits with every child have got bigger and bigger"

Susannah Constantine

On the costumes...

Joe: When we did the red carpet, that was the first time they’d seen me Strictly-fied as they call it and I could honestly feel my phone buzzing in my pocket. My mates in the group chats were absolutely going in on me already creating memes!

I’ve never had so many compliments about an outfit in my life, so I was like, I can take this. This is good.

Susannah: I went in for my fitting and I had my usual two bras on. They just looked at me like I was completely mad. And anyway, thank God they got someone to come and fit me properly. I should know better than anyone about wearing the right bra!

But my tits with every child have got bigger and bigger and then the menopause they got bigger again. So I’m fucked.

"It felt amazing to be done up and Strictly-fied"

Lauren Steadman

Charles: Listen, I’ve been working in the business for 20 years as an actor. If I’m not used to playing different roles and acting as what that character is and how he dresses, then I’m in the wrong business. No, no, no. That’s all fine. I’m looking forward to it.

Lauren: I’m used to all the skimpy stuff with all the sport I do but purple is my favourite colour and the other day I had this purple, handmade, skimpy dress. I put it on and I actually felt a bit like a princess. Nobody’s ever spent that long on my hair. And the make-up, I barely put any on compared to this. It felt amazing to be done up and Strictly-fied. I felt like such a girl.

Graeme: The hair, especially. I’ve always had a weird thing for hair. I love hair. And the amount of unbelievable hair in that world "This is amazing, I’ve died and gone to heaven here".

"I’ve already punched Lee Ryan in the face - by accident!"

Vick Hope

On training and rehearsals...

Faye: We’ve had two days proper training so far. So not that much because there’s so much that goes in to Strictly. Behind-the-scenes and filming, getting your dresses ready – sequins and sparkles! It’s really hard work. We’ve never sweated so much in our lives. But really exciting!

Vick: I’m very clumsy. I’ve already punched Lee Ryan in the face – by accident! He didn’t deserve it. He just made the mistake of standing next to me in rehearsals.

Graeme: I haven’t been looking at anyone else during those rehearsals because I’m desperately concentrating on my own feet. I keep watching the video and thinking "How did I remember to do it just now? Because it’s gone out of my head already!’. I guess it’ll come back to me on the night.

There will be good dancers and bad dancers, that’s life.

"On the red carpet Stacey already stole the show"

Danny John-Jules

On the other celebs...

Faye: Everyone here's a massive character. Stacey just took over the room the first day "C'mon everyone, 2, 3, 4" - She's so passionate, she's a live wire, she's just amazing to watch. She fills up the room, she's brilliant.

Everyone's going to really enjoy finding out who these people are. There are some amazing movers in this group. I can't wait for you all to see them. think it's going to be a really great competition.

Danny: On the red carpet Stacey already stole the show with that drop thing. She's a big character!

"There aren’t many shows on TV that will showcase this amount of diversity."

Dr Ranj

Graeme: Put it this way: if it was just pop routines, we’d be screwed. There’s Lee from Blue, and Ashley, and Faye. By the way, Lee from Blue, I was a massive Blue fan growing up. I’m made up he’s here. I keep making the most terrible jokes like, "All Rise, Lee!" He keeps shaking his head going, "Oh what have I landed myself with here?".

Dr Ranj: We are a really diverse bunch. There aren’t many shows on TV that will showcase this amount of diversity. And I think that’s really important to recognise. You’ve got different backgrounds, you’ve got men, women, you’ve got people of colour, you’ve got LGBT+ people. It’s great. That’s something we should celebrate.

On the dances...

Ashley: The whole ballroom world in general is a different way of carrying yourself. I’m interested to see how my body reacts to that. But the salsa/tango vibe really interests me. When they dance like that I think, "I wanna look like that!". I wanna go to the clubs and be like, ‘YES’ and have that be my call.

Charles: Put me in some lycra and ask me to move my hips and I’m that guy. The ballroom? Foxtrot? No, no, no. That’s foreign waters to me.

Graeme: I can’t wait to do the waltz!

"We’re going to learn, honey!"

Ashley Roberts

On the professional dancers...

Vick: I’m one of the taller girls so there’s only really two guys that I could be with. Look, I will try and be lifted by someone much smaller than me, but I might crush them. And if that happens you’ll have something else to write about! I hope I get one of the tall guys because it will be embarrassing for me if I don’t.

Dr Ranj: So I’m only 5 foot 6 so I have to be partnered with one of the shorter girls, and I’ve eyed them all up, all of the little ones, and they’re all amazing. And of them would be amazing! They’re really welcoming, they’re a really inviting bunch. As much as we’ve been there for each other, they’ve been there for us. All of the dancers have been super supportive.

Ashley: They’re all pretty amazing. We were just watching their rehearsal and your jaw goes on the floor. We’re going to learn, honey! They’re great, man. They’re pros for a reason. They really understand how to work with you and communicate with you and talk you through things.

Charles: Honestly, they’re so graceful but so dramatic as well. Unreal. The shapes they throw you think, "I’d love to be able to do that". They’re so generous and so giving. Their attention to detail is so specific, honestly, we’re in such good hands.

Lauren: Inspiring. The things they do, the way they move, what they can remember, is phenomenal.

Stacey: When you see the girls, like when we first met the pros, Katie (Piper) and I were stood there and we had balloons in front of our faces and then I just saw these amazing sculptured talented women and I was like, "Hi, girls!" But they’re so inclusive.

Faye: I've already been told by my male partners that I need to let them lead me because I'm off before they've even got over that side. Anyone who's taller than me in heels is good. There are quite a few tall girls so we've all got our eyes on a couple of them already.

"I’ll take criticism as constructive"

Charles Venn

On dealing with the judge's comments...

Ashley: Shirley’s pretty much… she’s on it. But we have to impress all of them, that’s what we’re there to do. You know, Craig (Revel Horwood) is kind of a dude. If he says stuff, I kind of have to listen, you know what I mean?

Charles: I’ll just listen. My ego doesn’t work that way. I’ll take criticism as constructive and it’s about applying that. Fingers crossed I get through to the next week and I’ll apply that criticism. I’ll work on my weakness and come back stronger. That’s my attitude.

On Strictly taking over your life...

Seann: I was walking through town, a couple of days ago and it almost felt like I was in a musical, I was walking down the street and people are going “Hello Seann!” “Good luck, mate!” I almost wanna, you know, dance around the lamppost!

Kate: I love my job and I love what I have achieved professionally. I’m looking at it as a little bubble on it’s own. I actually want to use it as to talk more about children’s mental health which is another serious topic. So I’m doing a lot more on mental health next year and brain science working with a lot of psychiatrists and doing some documentaries. So this is like this lovely joyful interlude.

But the other day, I watched The Greatest Showman with my daughter and at the end there’s a quote from Barnum and I love the narrative of the film as well, there’s a quote from Barnum “There is no more noble art than making others happy.” And I thought, that is what Strictly does. And it makes me happy when I watch it, so it’s just so nice to be part of it just for this period, just to immerse myself and really genuinely have that gleeful joy.

"Graziano is what I think I look like when I’ve had a drink"

Seann Walsh

On the possibility of same-sex couples in the future...

Vick: This year we’re all mixed-sex couples which is I guess the norm in ballroom dancing. That’s how it has been, but everything develops and we should move with the times. So we’ll see what happens. I would love to see that if I'm honest.

Graeme: I’m absolutely fine with it. It’s 2018, not 1918, isn’t it? But I don’t think they’re going down that road. I can understand why they’re sticking to the dance rules but surely some time in the future it’ll happen. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest.

I tell you what. If they did do it, I’d want Johannes. Wait until you see Johannes dancing! My God. This man is the greatest dancer that ever walked the planet. I swear to God, he’s made of rubber, that boy. I love him to pieces. He is amazing. I cannot stop staring at him dance. It’s hypnotic.

Kate: Can I just have Oti? She’s so much fun! I mean, she’s seriously so much fun!

Seann: Me and Graziano (Di Prima). The new guy. Graziano is what I think I look like when I’ve had a drink! You know when you catch yourself in the mirror when you come out of the toilet?!

Faye: I think it's an exciting question for the future. Definitely!

Strictly Come Dancing: The Launch Show airs tonight (Saturday 8th September) at 7:35pm on BBC One and continues Saturday 22nd September


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