When taking to the floor with partner Oksana Platero for the first time, not only were viewers impressed with his surprisingly good moves, but he instantly had them talking when he revealed the rippling six pack he’d been hiding under his court robes all that time.
However, it turns out his first dance wasn’t originally meant to play out like that at all.
“It was a bit of a wardrobe malfunction, actually,” he says of his robe-ripping moment. “I wasn’t supposed to do that. They were supposed to sew me in, but I hadn’t spent all that time…
“I was up for a bit of fun. It was joyous,” he laughs.
That was just one of the many fabulous memories TV’s favourite legal eagle shared with us to celebrate the return of Strictly to our screens for HuffPost UK’s new interview series Back To The Ballroom.
Each week throughout the BBC show’s 19th season, a Strictly All Star will be dishing on their dance floor experience, as we take a peek behind the show’s sequinned curtain.
First up, Judge Rinder reveals his ballroom bromance and shares why Strictly made him tell his first ever lie on TV.
Strictly changed some people’s perceptions of me
“Often people would come up tentatively in a mildly-intimidated, apprehensive way for a selfie thinking if they got it wrong thought they would end up in prison. But now they see that I’m capable of escapist, glittery joy, they see that I’m more gentle and inclusive.
“You get immersed in this overwhelming good will – people want to talk to you and always ask about dancing. And what a nice thing.”
The most surprising thing about Strictly was...
“How completely involved you become. You become so swept up in it.
“I used to work on cases that had real international consequence or cases involving issues of life and death from time to time, and if you told me 10 years ago that I would feel the same degree of intensity about not being able to get my jazz step in...
“It also has the power to feel really inauthentic. It’s the only time on television that I have ever said anything that I didn’t believe to be true. On the first day, I was so overwhelmed by it all and I was looking down the barrel lens of a glittery camera with this woman saying things that I was repeating back at her – which I would never normally do – saying that all I’ve wanted to do in my whole entire life is to get to Blackpool! Who says that?!”
But Blackpool was everything I hoped it would be and then some
“It also had the best party ever, ever.
“There was this hotel that is in the middle of a rollercoaster of some description and there was Rick Astley leading a conga singing Never Gonna Give You Up, doing karaoke to his own tune whilst I was delightedly drunk. It was glorious.”
I was mindful I was having a different experience from a number of the women on the show
“What I realised was something that was an important personal moment for me, is that the women on the show – all of the speculation, all of the noise – was on them. Were they having sex with their partner? What were they wearing? Commenting on their bodies in a wholly different way. They were forced into being infinitely more mindful and circumspect about the things that they said.
“Whereas if you were a bloke, you can say, ‘Yeah I want to win etc’, and you realise – at least back then in 2016 – the way in which the media, and especially social media, has a different standard towards the genders.”
I know Russian, so I thought I’d be able to speak Russian with my partner
“Only Oksana didn’t want to talk it because she was worried the BBC would translate all the nasty words I was saying, especially the swearing.
“On the first day, I drove from Elstree to Islington past Highgate cemetery, and said, right this is my moment, because you know who is buried there? Karl Marx. So she looked at me and said, ‘He is a singer?’ That was the end of our discussion. I had thought at least if I’m shit at [dancing], we can discuss Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and it will be heaven. But not a fucking bit of it.
“Oksana was amazing. She was very dance focussed, but she didn’t find my humour as funny as I did. When I dropped her on her head, in that very British way, I said: ‘Don’t worry dear, you only need to count to eight.’ She wasn’t in the least bit amused by it... No, she loved me!”
If I could have danced with any other pro, it would have been...
“Oti Mabuse, girl wise. She and I kept a friendship going, in fact we had dinner not long ago. She’s just unbelievably creative. The quality of her artistry and the depth and range of her personality, and also her intelligence. People will be aware that she speaks three or four languages, she has a degree in chemical engineering, she’s just an extraordinary person. And she’s gorgeous. She’s brilliant, joyous and sort of like happiness in woman form.
“Boy wise, I also would have danced with Giovanni Pernice. Not because of the look actually, but he had the type of personality I could put up with, like a slightly angry Tigger. Or Kevin [Clifton], because he is a master choreographer.”
I made friendships that have lasted
“I love Greg Rutherford and still speak to him all the time, we had this bromance. And Will Young, the three of us are still friends. We’ve really kept up.
“Louise Redknapp and I are still super close. It’s been five years and we’ve made that friendship last. In fact, I’m going to do dance fitness today with Daisy Lowe.”
The biggest life lesson Strictly taught me is...
“We talk about the noise of people being in the moment, but remember this is a gift of an experience.
“Because of all the stress around it – and it is nerve wracking and they deliberately make it so on your behalf (‘How does it feel to go out in front of 10m people?’, ‘Splendid, now piss off’) – it’s difficult to delight in it because you’re so terrified.
“I’m thinking about it now and watching it back, which I have only done a couple of times, and I don’t remember being there at all, which is a pity.”
My favourite ever Strictly routines are...
Early days, Jill Halfpenny and Darren Bennett – if you watch their Jive to I’m Still Standing, she was so good, it still stands up.
In our series, Louise and Kevin’s Argentine Tango, which obviously I watched by the sides and was like ‘wow!’. Just the quality of the choreography was extraordinary. It was musical and beautiful, and I love that.
The celebrity I most want to see do Strictly is...
“My naughty side thinks about politicians I especially want to shame, but let’s not do that...
“Oh, Chris Moyles! He’d be marvellous. Also he’d really care about winning. We’ve been out for dinner a couple of times and he really does make me laugh a lot.
“If the headline of this whole article was ‘Rob Rinder says Chris Moyles should do Strictly’, I would be thrilled.”
The strangest place I’ve busted out my Strictly moves is...
“I was teaching my friend Jilly the cha cha in a car park to the outdoor swimming pool lido in Gospel Oak the other day. The learning to dance doesn’t leave you!”
My advice for this year’s contestants is...
“If you go and delight in the moment and go and have the best fucking time you possibly can, it’s 90 seconds and no-one died. If you look like you’re having a good time and you mean it with all the enthusiasm you can conceivably muster, it rubs off.
“Conversely, if you look like you don’t acknowledge and recognise the privilege it is to be there – it’s free dance lessons! – then the public won’t respond to you and you won’t enjoy it. When else do you get free dance lessons? Heaven!”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.