Ben Cohen wowed a new audience of admiring fans dancing in BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing and now the ex-rugby star from Northampton is brushing up his salsa to perform in a live tour.
He spoke to Image Editor Ruth Supple about being underscored and not wanting to make a twit of himself in front of millions . . .
Rugby legend Ben Cohen is looking forward to putting his sequins and fake tan back on for the forthcoming Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour 2014 even though he felt like he could have been marked higher in the TV show.
The former Saints and England star, who was booted off the massively popular live TV series after his Charleston routine, is going to be appearing with his dance partner, Kristina Rihanoff, in the multi-million pound tour, which opens at the Birmingham NIA on January 17, 2014.
Ben, 35, says it’s going to be fun performing without any pressure this time round.
“I’m delighted to be doing the tour and really looking forward to it,” said Ben, who lives with his wife, Abi, and their five-year-old twin daughters, Harriette and Isabelle, in Northamptonshire.
“I think it will be good to do it without any of the pressure of the live TV show. I think it’s two dances we have to perform - one Latin and one Ballroom - and we’re doing the American smooth and salsa.
“It’ll be good fun.”
Ben, who was nicknamed “Big Ben” during his time on Strictly by the judges, added he hasn’t even considered the possibility of winning one of the live tour shows, which also go to London, Liverpool, Leed, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
“I’ve never even thought about winning,” he said. “I never went into the TV series thinking I could win it though I’m really proud by what I achieved and had such a good time.
“It was good fun and such an amazing experience to be involved with Strictly.”
Ben was part of the rugby union World cup winning team in 2003 and awarded the MBE in 2004 for his services to the game. But - unsurprisingly - he’d never danced before donning his glittery. skintight outfits which won him a new legion of fans.
“I surprised myself with my dancing,” he admitted. “I’d never done anything like this before in my life so to get as far as I did was a real achievement.”
He wasn’t happy with the 27 points he scored in his final dance - the Charleston - which saw him leave the show after a dance-off against fellow contestant, actor Mark Benton.
“I wasn’t disappointed to leave the show, but I had thought we’d have scored more than 27 points for that Charleston,” he said. “I thought it should have got 37 because out of all the dances we did, it was the only one we got a standing ovation for.
“I never expected to win the show but I do feel most of my marks were underscored a bit. It’s what it is though - a game show and I had a good time being in it.”
Ben is now looking forward to having a couple of weeks off from dancing to spend a “chilled” Christmas at home in Northamptonshire with his family before getting back into the training room with professional dancer Kristina.
“We did put a lot into it and were training for seven to nine hours a day up to the show. It’s a different kind of training to rugby because you’re working different muscles. Kristina and I have the same good work ethic but it was never a competition for me because it was never fair in my eyes because everyone comes into it at a different start point.
“I just didn’t want to make a complete twit of myself on national TV so worked hard to give everything to it.”
The celebrities have just a week between each show to learn a new dance and Ben says his least favourite was the quickstep.
“I didn’t like the Friends theme and we got pretty much the butt of everyone’s props. We don’t have any say in it at all and have to make the most of what we get given.
“My favourite dance would have to be the salsa or the rumba or the Charleston,” he added.
Ben agreed to take part in the show mainly to help promote the anti-bullying and homophobia charity, The Ben Cohen Stand-Up Foundation, he set up after retiring from rugby from 2011. He established it in memory of his late father, Peter Cohen, who was assaulted and murdered in Northampton in 2000 after stepping in to protect someone at a brawl in a nightclub owned by Ben’s brother, Justin.
“I did enjoy being in Strictly; it’s a massive show and the most watched thing on telly so to be able to boost the foundation like this has been great. It’s a monster of a production and the biggest selling franchise in the world so I’m glad to have done it.”
He’s got some of this year’s Strictly stars involved in an event he’s staging next May in aid of his charity.
“Alan Carr is involved and it’s in a Chatty Man style with Strictly people dancing and Hairy Biker Dave Myers putting the menu together for the event.
“It’s going to be a big night with lots happening. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I can’t at the moment I’m afraid.”
His charity work, Strictly commitments and family life means Ben’s too busy to go to Saints games any more but he still has a keen interest in the club and its fortunes.
“I don’t watch rugby any more or go to any of the Saints games since I retired,” he said. “I think they can deliver though and it would be great to see Northampton coming out with some silverware this season.”
It’s highly unlikely you’ll see Ben putting the sequins and skintight tops on again for the dance floor though as he doubts very much he’ll continue with his Latin and Ballroom moves.
“I probably won’t continue dancing,” he said. “It’s hard to do this every day and when would you ever use it apart from when you go out for a dance?
“I can’t imagine carrying on.”
He will be watching this Saturday’s final on BBC1 and gave me his prediction of who he thinks will lift the famous glitterball trophy.
“Susanna,” he said. “I think she will win because I reckon she has the public vote behind her.”
Time will tell if Big Ben is accurate or not.
Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour 2014 runs from January 17 to February 9 at various venue across the UK, beginning in Birmingham. Tickets are priced from £25.
To book tickets contact the venue or call 0844 875 8758
For online bookings visit www.ticketzone.co.uk or for more information visit strictlycomedancinglive.com