Former BBC Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer Robin Windsor will be shimmying his way to Royal & Derngate next month to judge this year’s Strictly Northampton charity dance-off.
In an exclusive interview ahead of the show sponsored by Aspers Casino, the 36-year-old told Image magazine editor Ruth Supple what he will be looking for from the contestants, how he felt being dropped from Strictly Come Dancing, his worry he would never be able to dance again after a slipped disc and new challenges ahead . . .
You are going to be one of the judges for this year’s Strictly Northampton. How did that come about?
I came up to Step by Step studio last year as I was supposed to be running a dance class for Andrzej Mialkowski there, but my back operation meant I couldn’t dance, so ended up socialising with everyone who came instead.
He rang and asked could I be a judge for Strictly Northampton and I think it is wonderful. There are lots of these charity Strictlies taking place all over the country and they raise fantastic amounts of money for lots of good causes.
What will you be looking for when you are judging and what words of encouragement can you give to those people who have never danced before and are putting themselves in the spotlight?
One of the main things I will be judging is the performance. My advice to those people taking part is imagine you are on that Strictly ballroom on a Saturday night (which it is) and pretend there are 12 million people watching you . . . sell it, that’s one of the most important things to do. Yes, technique is important too, but it is about putting on a show.
Have fun and practise as much as you can beforehand. Remember it is only for night and you will only be dancing for about a minute and a half, so it will be over before you know it.
Just enjoy it as you will never get to do it again. That’s what we always tell the celebrities on Strictly and that their dance will be there forever on YouTube.
You were partnered with Deborah Meadon and Lisa Riley among your celebrity partners and always seemed to get on with whoever you had. What do you think makes a good dance partnership?
Respect for each other. I was very fortunate and had great celebrity partners, which was great, as you are spending up to 12 hours a day with them rehearsing.
Lisa Riley became my best friend through Strictly and she still is. She’s like a bad smell stuck with me (he jokes). No, she and I will be best friends forever, whatever happens.
What was it which made you and Lisa click so much and do you still dance together?
She is like the female version of me. She has lost a lot of weight recently and gone from a size 28 to a size 18.
Is that through dancing?
Not all of it. It is about having a healthy eating lifestyle, not all about exercise. We don’t dance together any more, except round the handbag in the club and the odd appearance here and there on charity shows. And we’ve got some plans for next year, but I can’t talk about that . . .
How did being in BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing change your life and how did you feel about not taking part again this year?
I was really disappointed not to be asked again. I had quite a crippling back operation which meant I couldn’t take part last year, but I was hoping they might ask me back this year to do one more series. But I had an incredible five years on Strictly and it has opening up so many great platforms for me.
You are doing some presenting on the spin-off BBC week night show, It Takes Two though. What is that like?
Yes, I am doing It Takes Two and the Christmas Strictly special, so it’s all good. I have pre-recorded all the bits for It Takes Two so far, but I am going to be on the sofa discussing the choreography from now on. It will be great to be on the other side and I can be a bit more critical rather than extra-nice, so they need to watch out!
Who do you think will win this year’s Strictly?
I honestly don’t know. Everyone thought Pixie Lott was the surefire winner last year and look what happened there. Anything can happen and if you have a bad week, you can suddenly end up in the dance off which is a game-changer.
I thought Helen George was phenomenal in the first episode, but who knows what will happen?
Doesn’t she, like some of the other celebrities, have an advantage with dancing ballet as a child though?
No, it is a hindrance. We have had people on the show who were dance trained before, like Denise Van Outen, Caroline Flack and Pixie Lott, but though they may have lovely arms, they have to undo everything because Ballroom dancing is so different. It is not as straightforward as people think for them.
I believe the winner of Strictly shouldn’t be the best dancer though, but the celebrity who has improved the most over the series. It is all about the journey.
Today’s Strictly seems as much about the dancers as it is about the celebrities as the dancers are sometimes better known than their celebrity partners. Do you think that is right?
The thing is, the celebrities only do one series of Strictly, but the dancers usually do four or five series and are on television seven nights a week. People become accustomed to you and that builds up your profile. Anton Du Beck, in particular, is more popular than some of the celebrities in the show.
What about the high-profile romances which often emerge from the show? Is that the nature of dance?
People joke about the Strictly curse, but there is no Strictly curse. Most people have broken up before the show with their partner, but the press don’t show that.
You’re in a room up close and personal for up to 12 hours so you are going to get close to that person. And sometimes relationships do happen.
Do you have a favourite dance and, if so, why?
My favourite dances are the samba and jive. I love the fast-paced, high energy side of them both.
How have you been since your back operation and were you worried about dancing again?
At first I was a bit concerned when I found out I needed an operation, because I have never had an op before and this is an area full of nerve endings. I was worried I could end up paralysed or never able to dance again.
But my recovery time was really quick and I was back dancing two months after the operation, which everyone thought was a miracle as normal recovery time is four to five months.
I think being so fit as a dancer helped and my fitness is actually better than it has ever been since the op.
My partner, Marcus (Collins) was an absolute legend and at my bedside all the way through. If he hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have been able to carry on; I gained my strength from his support.
Do you and Marcus dance together?
No. He is currently in the West End show Kinky Boots and dances extremely well in six inch high heels. He is brilliant in it and I was blown away by how well he dances in those heels. But I don’t teach him how to dance. We leave our own professions to each other.
There is a lot of controversy in the Ballroom and Latin dance world about same-sex dance partnerships. Do you think they will ever make it on to Strictly?
I think it is great and ballroom and Latin dancing are all about leading and following, no matter who is doing the leading or the following. I would love to see same-sex dance partnerships on Strictly, but it is not necessarily the right time.
If they were, would you go back to dance in Strictly?
I would love to go back, but it is funny because everyone assumes that because I am gay, I would be the dancer with a celebrity in a same-sex partnership, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.
Tell us about your new One Evening with Me show.
It is a really exciting evening of dancing where I have special guests taking part. Because my dance partner, Kristina Rihanoff, is in Strictly, I am dancing with former Strictly Come Dancing pro dancer Anya Garnis. Of course I have to be impartial and diplomatic, but I want Kristina to go all the way on the show and will absolutely be supporting her of course!
How would you describe your dance partnership with Kristina?
Dancing with Kristina is magical. We have such a special chemistry between us and have done since day one when we were paired together. She is a like a sister to me . . . actually, that’s not true because we never argue! We have never had a single argument.
We have huge respect for each other and work extremely well together . . . when she says ‘jump’, I say ‘how high?’ (he jokes).
What else have you got coming up?
I am doing pantomime this Christmas and it will be my first acting role. I am in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and will be playing the man in the mirror. So I am going to be learning lines and acting.
How are you feeling about that new foray and can you act?
I will find out at the beginning of December! I have my script and we’ll have to see if it comes off or not. The main reason they have booked me is because of my dancing and there was talk of me singing, but I don’t want to push it . . . though you never know, I could end up on The X-Factor next year!
If you hadn’t become a dancer, what career would you have followed?
I was asked this same question the other week. When I was young I wanted to be on a checkout counter at Tesco. Now I get the best of both worlds as I can be a dancer and live my dream of working on the checkout scanning barcodes since they introduced self-service checkouts!
Strictly Northampton is at Derngate, Northampton, on Saturday, November 21, in aid of Cynthia Spencer Hospice. Tickets from the box office on 01604 624811 or www.royalandderngate.co.uk