Strictly Come Dancing professionals face ‘immense pressure’ as show bosses initially ‘turned down’ idea of same-sex couples, reveals Robin Windsor.
The former professional dancer previously appeared on the show for three seasons, before bowing out in 2012. Now, over ten years after taking to the ballroom floor, Robin has opened up to Betway about his own Strictly journey ahead of this weekend’s final, as well as his thoughts on this year’s stars.
In an exclusive chat, Robin lifts the lid on life after the BBC One show, who he believes should be crowned Strictly winner, and the huge change he would make to Shirley Ballas’ position as head judge in the dreaded dance off.
What are your thoughts on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing?
I’m still an avid fan, even though it’s been ten years since I’ve been on the show. It was a tough one for me this year because last year was the most iconic year of Strictly they’ve ever had. The standard of dancing was at the highest it’s ever been and you had the first male same-sex couple and the first deaf contestant. Last year was incredible, so they had an awful lot to live up to.
Hamza was my finalist from day one, but not before he danced I have to admit. His first dance was incredible and on that first show, I said: ‘He’s going to be straight in the final.’
Helen started off a little rough and I wasn’t such a huge fan at the beginning. But for me, she is what Strictly is all about. The cabaret dance that she did for her Couple’s Choice was the dance of the series. It was a big two fingers up to anyone who had hurt her. She didn’t do too well in the semi-final, but she’s a well deserving finalist. I’m annoyed that there’s only one ballroom dance in the final. There’s three Couple’s Choices, which are almost show dances for me. I feel that they should have had a bigger variation of dances in the final.
Who do you think will be the overall winner?
The winner is clearly between Hamza and Helen, unless Fleur or Molly pull something incredible out of the bag for the final. I think it’s a race of two. The judges will be making their comments and scores, but they don’t matter for the final. It’s really down to the public and who they think should be the deserving winner.
It was disappointing that Kym Marsh went out, as Strictly is about growth for me. Kym didn’t start that great, but then she started knocking them out of the park. I would have loved to have seen her in the final.
What is it like backstage on final night?
I’d love to tell you what it’s like to be in the final, but alas, I’ve never been there!
I will say it was really hard for Will [Mellor] and I can understand why Nancy [Xu] was so upset that they didn’t make the final. That’s where I made it with Lisa Riley and you’ve done all this hard work over 12 weeks, so to not make it to the final hurdle is the hardest time to go home.
I really felt for Nancy because she’d clearly worked so hard with Will. Backstage on the final is excitement, it’s almost like Christmas. Everyone is rooting for everybody. As cliché as this sounds, it’s like a family backstage. You’re there from 7am right through until very late at night. You’re all really tired but there’s an adrenaline rush that comes through because all the returning celebs come back to do the group dance. It’s like you’re getting the whole family together again.
Is there a pressure to produce a good show?
It’s like that every week, especially for the Strictly professionals. Nobody realises what we have to go through. It’s not tough on our bodies, but it’s very difficult mentally. You’ve really got to take on board your celebrity. You’ve got so much pressure to make sure they do a good job every single week and their reputation is in your hands, which is quite strenuous – especially when it’s your first year. Jowita, Carlos and Vito have all made the final. They’ve brought fresh blood into Strictly, new ideas with new routines and they have completely excelled. It’s great to see all three of those have made the final, especially Jowita.
They don’t give you much advice when you join the show about how much pressure you’re going to receive. Dancing has always been my saviour and for a lot of contestants that come on to Strictly, it’s such a great tool for making people feel good.
Do you think Strictly needs a revamp or does the original format work?
It’s worked for years, but I don’t know how I feel about the dance off, particularly when Shirley has the deciding vote, if it goes down to a split. If it’s a split decision between the judges, then it should go to the public vote. I feel like they can perhaps control who stays in the competition. It’s really hard because we all have a clear favourite. I sit at home and judge every week. There’s always somebody that touches us because dancing touches us emotionally. I don’t think there’s any bias [with the judges], I just think it’s a personal feeling. We can’t help but have our own favourite.
Anton [Du Beke] was born to be in that judging chair. He’s definitely done his dues on the show and he’s had such tough partners, as we all know. He’s always had his eye on the judging panel and I cannot think of anybody more perfect to be sat in that chair. Not only has he been absolutely fabulous, but he also won the NTA for Best Judge and quite rightly so. He’s got a little hint of Len [Goodman] in him, he’s a traditional ballroom dancer and I’m so thrilled that he’s sat on that seat.
How do you think the show has developed since you were there?
It’s been amazing and the inclusivity has been great. Everybody can dance and everybody should have the opportunity, no matter what their background is. Strictly is paving the way for that. Ellie [Simmonds] went on there this year and proved that to everybody. The same-sex couple really hit me last year. I wished when I was growing up to see two men dancing like that on television. It would have made my coming out process a lot easier and made me understand who I was.
The diversity that the show has got now is really important. If you go right back to the beginning, there was none and it’s grown. When I was dancing with Lisa Riley, I was a massive advocate for same-sex dancing. I mentioned it so many times and it was always a flat out no. I realise now that it wasn’t the right time. There needed to be a right time and the world is changing, it’s changed and it’s still changing. I think they’re getting it right now.
Do you think the show needs to bring in bigger celebrities?
You know what, unless you’ve got time to sit at home and watch TV for 12 hours a day, you are not going to know who everybody is. Not even when there’s bigger profile people on the show. One of the most beautiful things about Strictly is that you get to know somebody. For example, I’d never heard of Hamza and I’d never seen him. As the series has grown, we have got to learn about that person and it’s nice to have a big mix.
I remember when Joe Sugg went on the show everybody was kicking off, but he was brilliant. Everyone got to know him as the series went on. I don’t think they have to try and fill it with A-listers. We’ve had some amazing people over the years, but they’ve got it right this year. I would love to see Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley on the show. They would be absolutely fabulous!
Several professional dancers have left the show in recent years – do you think they’re missed by the public?
When anyone leaves the show you always think they’re never going to be replaced. You think the show won’t survive without the old dancers, but Strictly is a machine. It’s going to keep going. Strictly is the formula and everybody fits in around that. As much as it’s sad to say goodbye to pros, you always have new blood coming in. Like anything, you need new blood otherwise it will get boring. As a professional, we do tend to rely on similar bits of choreography and steps. It’s nice to have the new blood come in, like Jowita, who has done choreography that’s not been done before. Every so often you need that.
I absolutely would love to return. It’s the happiest place on earth – it’s like Disneyland! I was at my happiest while I was on the show. I have mentioned going back, but it’s not been right for them, which I completely understand. I’m 43 now and I consider myself a bit old to be on the show.
Did you find it difficult leaving Strictly?
Leaving Strictly wasn’t my choice. I had a horrible back operation and they decided that they didn’t want to ask me back the next year.
It was probably for health and safety reasons, in case something happened, but I was physically fit. One of my best friends, Trent Whiddon, replaced me to dance with Pixie Lott. I wanted to watch and support him, but it broke my heart.
I was with Marcus Collins from the X Factor, who was my partner at the time, and said to him: ‘I’m really struggling to watch the show.’ He told me the best thing to do was to really get behind and support everybody. He said it was hard for him to watch the success of Little Mix, who beat him on X Factor. He was spot on! From that day forward I made sure I supported everybody on the show. Being bitter about not being asked back was not going to help any situation. I learnt that was the right thing to do and I thank Marcus for that.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from Strictly?
I speak to Lisa quite regularly. I probably see Deborah more than anybody else, which is odd because when I was first partnered with her, I thought we would have nothing in common. We’re from completely different worlds. I’ve been very lucky that I had four very wonderful partners on the show. It would have been horrible if I didn’t get on with them. If you don’t get on, it’s going to be really awkward. It’s down to personality clashes and ego. Some celebrities and professionals have quite big egos, so if there’s two big egos they’re going to clash. That can make life really difficult. Everybody should experience Strictly at its best. Occasionally the producers get it wrong, but they got it spot on with me.
Do you have fond memories of your own Strictly experience?
I loved it more than anyone else did. I feel like it was made for me. I got to meet some wonderful people and celebrities I never thought I would ever meet. I don’t usually get starstruck, but the moment that Jason Donovan was announced to be on the show, I almost wet myself! I was a huge Neighbours fan growing up. I was in love with Jason and when I first met him, I think I actually squealed a little bit. I’ve met some huge stars over the years, but Jason was the one who got me.
I think having a public profile was hard. I wasn’t prepared to lose the life I had. I had to change my life to fit around that. I lost that feeling of freedom a little bit. Especially when I danced with Lisa Riley, just going out to dinner somewhere and people were whispering about you. It used to drive me crazy. It started to make me paranoid that they were saying bad things. I almost lost my privacy.
Did you have to put your normal life on hold during Strictly?
Not really! It’s just a job like any other at the end of the day. The hours are incredibly long and I think they have it a little easier now – not that they would agree. All the professional numbers are now filmed and rehearsed in August, so it’s done before the show starts. They have longer with their celebrity each week, whereas when I danced, we would have to do the professional number on Monday morning until midday at Elstree. Then you would have to go where your celebrity lived because they didn’t come to us. Deborah Meaden was my last partner, so I had to travel to Somerset. I’d be exhausted because I’d been up so early, but Deborah wanted to keep going. Now they have that full day on Monday, so they have longer with their celebs. I think they have an easier job nowadays.