Strictlys male pros on their love lives, babies and the pressure of the show

Strutting across our London studio in their sharpest suits to Kylie Minogue’s Padam Padam, Strictly Come Dancing stars Johannes Radebe, Carlos Gu and Kai Widdrington impress us as they’re coming up with new choreography on the spot.

Neil Jones has emerged from the dressing room after a quick outfit change, ready for the first group shot of the day, while Vito Coppola – looking suave in a double breasted jacket – cheers on his friends from behind the camera as they show off their moves.

The ballroom boys are back for another series of BBC’s Strictly and ready for the next few months of relentless rehearsals, dreaded dance-offs and fake tan top-ups. Still waiting to hear whether they’ll be paired with one of this year’s 15 celebrities, the five professionals are preparing for that big launch show.

Speaking to OK! in an exclusive interview ahead of the show’s 21st series, Johannes, 36, Carlos, 29, Kai, 28, Neil, 41, and Vito, 30, reveal their hopes for this year, their thoughts on the line-up and how they balance their home lives with the gruelling schedule…

How do you feel about this year?

Johannes: My excitement is coupled with a bit of nerves because you don’t know who you’re going to be paired up with. As for the pro dances, we’ve come up with world class routines. It’ll be phenomenal.

Carlos: This is my second year and I feel like I’m more excited this time. Last year, I knew nothing about Strictly – I didn’t even know there was a dance-off. I’m still a newbie but now I know what’s going on.

How do you prepare?

Neil: I have some go-to movements to put in routines so it saves time. But the best way to prep is making sure you’re fit and healthy because once it starts, it doesn’t finish.

Johannes: I did absolutely nothing for two months to be in my best shape for Strictly. I went on holiday for the first time in many years and I tried to stop controlling so much because I’m very competitive. As long as your body is rested, it means you can take on whatever is thrown at you.

Vito: This year, I want to understand more about English culture so I’ve been watching a lot of movies and TV. I went home to Italy for one day to see my family, take my grandparents to the beach and to say hello to my dog, but the rest of the time I’ve been in the UK preparing for Strictly.

What do you think of the celeb line-up?

Kai: They’re all fantastic – there’s some rhythm there. There’s definitely potential!

Johannes: From Angela Rippon and Annabel Croft to Les Dennis, it’s such a diverse and different line-up. They are a very excited bunch and I think you are all in for a surprise.

Carlos: I’m really excited because I do meditation and I know Nigel Harman spent a few years learning meditation skills. There’s such great vibes with this year’s line-up.

Vito: After half an hour, we felt like we’d known each other for months – although I didn’t know who any of them were. I’m very Italian and I don’t even have a TV over there.

Who do you want to be paired with?

Neil: I honestly don’t mind. There are so many different personalities and challenges. It’s quite nice just getting a partner!

Kai: If I can get someone that’s willing to work hard, wants to learn and wants to have a laugh at the same time, that’s all I care about.

Do you ever get starstruck?

Kai: I was starstruck by Amanda Abbington because I was a massive Sherlock fan. I got obsessed with that show. I don’t usually tell people but I said to her, “I’m a really big fan.

Neil: I don’t think so but I do love football players. I’m just so intrigued by what people are doing and how they find stepping into our world.

How do you prepare your celebrity partner for the show?

Neil: I say, “Just enjoy the process.” People think it' all about Saturday night, but it’s not. Enjoy your Sunday. Enjoy the process. If you get knocked out first, you want to be able to say, “I had the best time.”

Johannes: The most important thing as a pro is to make your partner walk away from this having fallen in love with your art form. My partner last year, Ellie Taylor, said that Strictly gave her a confidence that she never had. And that’s what you hope for.

Carlos: Last year, I didn’t tell my partner Molly Rainford anything because I didn’t know anything, but I think not telling them what’s ahead of them is a good thing.

Vito: I tell them that I’m the kind of teacher that likes to have fun, joke, prank – but I’m also very tough. In Italian, we have a saying which is, “First you do what you need to do and then after you get the pleasure.”

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

Kai: In the boys’ dressing room, we play music and have a laugh. Do silly dances or TikToks. Sometimes I blow on my fingers – that’s what Greg Rutherford would do before he did the long jump. Sometimes you get sweaty hands and it helps to make sure my partner doesn’t slip!

Vito: I go with the flow. If I’m too anxious, I think about my grandparents because they always make me calm. Or I think about my Labrador Aaron.

Who is your favourite ever celebrity contestant?

Neil: Ed Balls was so entertaining. I loved Rose Ayling-Ellis – she was incredible. Even the really good ones like Hamza Yassin, he was fantastic because no one was expecting it. Each year, I make a joke with the guys like, “It’s good to see some gingers in here,” because the moment you see someone on screen that looks like you, that gets you excited. My mum is a taxi driver and she was driving a little boy who’d had his leg amputated when Jonnie Peacock was on the show. He was so excited to see him on TV.

Johannes: The one that sticks out in my memory is John Waite. I never thought a same-sex partnership would be possible
in my lifetime so I will always consider that to be something iconic that I’ve been a part of.

Neil, you’re expecting your first baby withLove Island’s Chyna Mills. What will you do if she goes into labour duringStrictly?

Neil: I’m going to tell her to hold on as long as she can! We don’t know what’s going to happen but if it happens during a live show, we’re ready for that. Strictly is really supportive. People say, “Are you ready for not sleeping?” And I’m like, “I’m a dancer, I’m used to it.” We’ve had so many new Strictly babies – both Janette Manrara and Gorka Márquez have just had babies. When they’re older, we should do a competition with all the babies!

How do you balanceStrictlywith your personal lives?

Kai: During the show, myself and my girlfriend [fellow professional Nadiya Bychkova] try to spend as much time together as we can but it’s difficult because of rehearsals. We don’t actually get a day off because you’re rehearsing Monday to Saturday and on Sunday you’re choreographing for the following week. Strictly is work and you’ve got to get the job done.

Carlos: If you’ve got one day off, you’re choreographing. You can’t rest because you want to make it to next week and you want your partner to have the best experience. I don’t have a personal life during Strictly – I donate all my time to this show.

Why does the public loveStrictlyso much?

Neil: Saturday night TV is a major thing in the UK. Strictly is one of those shows where your nan, your mum and your dad will watch – although the dads always pretend that they don’t watch. But they’re the first ones who notice you when you’re walking down the street. Life can be really hard sometimes so it’s nice to have something to smile about and that’s what Strictly is.

Kai: I remember watching Strictly as a seven-year-old kid and it inspired me to dance. My parents sent me to dance classes, which I didn’t want to do. But then Strictly started and I saw Darren Bennett and Brendan Cole and I thought, “Oh, they actually look quite cool when they do the samba.”

Carlos: The UK is the heart of ballroom dancing. Dancers from all over the world come here. Strictly has diversity and they’re always trying to better themselves each year.

Would you like to be in a same-sex partnership this year?

Neil: My sister used to dance with a girl so that’s normal, I’ve been brought up with that. I think it’s fantastic and I love to get creative so anything that I’ve not done before gets me thinking a lot. Bring it on!

Kai: I’d be totally up for it. Let’s see what happens.

Johannes: Listen, I opened that door for people to walk in when I danced with John Waite. I’m sitting on the other side and welcoming all of them in.

Carlos: I would love to.

Vito: I’m open to everything. I’ve watched a lot of same-sex dances from previous Strictly series and I met Layton Williams. He’s so good and funny – I wouldn’t mind dancing with him.

Who would be your dream celeb partner?

Johannes: Roman Kemp. He said in the press that if he were to do Strictly, he would dance with me and when I heard that, I was like, “Strictly, do something about this!” I think he’s a lovely guy. I’ve never seen him dance but I know I would laugh and that’s one of the most important things. Him or Andrew Garfield.

Neil: Queen Camilla! She loves the dancing, I think it will happen one year. Also, after the women’s football, England goalkeeper Mary Earps.

Kai: Miriam Margolyes. I think I would die from laughing. She’s absolutely hilarious.

Carlos: Lucy Liu. She’s my dream girl.

Vito: I would like to dance with Adele. I can see she’s a very sensitive person.

How long do you want to stay onStrictlyfor?

Neil: When I joined Strictly, Anton Du Beke was the oldest of the group but I’m the new Anton – myself and Karen Hauer [41] are the oldest pros in the group. Everything I do in life I do because I enjoy it and Strictly is something I really enjoy. As long as they want me here, I’ll be here.

Kai: I want to stay on Strictly for as long as these legs keep working.

Johannes: For as long as my bones allow. I think I’d have FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] if I had to leave Strictly Come Dancing.

Carlos: As long as I have a passion for dancing, I’ll be on Strictly.

Vito: I hope to stay here for as long as I can.

Strictly Come Dancing starts on Saturday 23rd September on BBC One.

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