Ore Oduba: ‘Strictly Come Dancing Was Like Hollywood To Me’

The 2016 champion recounts his highs (and one particular low) of his time on the Strictly dancefloor for our Back To The Ballroom series.

Of all the winning moments that there have been over the last 18 series on Strictly Come Dancing, Ore Oduba’s triumph during the 2016 final is up there with the best of them.

The former BBC Sport presenter and his partner Joanne Clifton were visibly shaken when Tess Daly announced they had beaten Louise Redknapp and Kevin Clifton and Danny Mac and Oti Mabuse to the coveted Glitterball Trophy.

“That was such a whirlwind that particular moment,” Ore tells HuffPost UK. “All I knew was, ‘This is mental, beyond my wildest dreams to be here as the last person standing on a show that I adore so much.’”

He continues: “I knew that I wanted to keep this feeling going. I wasn’t sure what that would mean, but I knew I couldn’t give up performing and dancing and expressing myself on stage.”

From there, Ore’s life took a whole new direction, going on to launch a successful stage career, with roles in a touring production of Grease and Curtains The Musical and The Rocky Horror Show in the West End.

“The fact five years later that’s what I’ve been able to do is pretty staggering,” he says. “We can all dream, but it takes a lot to turn that into reality.”

In the latest instalment of our Back To The Ballroom series, Ore recounts his his time on the Strictly dance floor, and reveals how his win might not have been a reality if he’d had to perform a certain dance...

Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton lifted the Glitterball Trophy in 2016
Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton lifted the Glitterball Trophy in 2016

Strictly felt like Hollywood to me…

From the size of the production, going down to Elstree on the George Lucas Stage, these cars coming and taking you – for me and where I was coming from, it was like Hollywood. I was like, “What am I doing here?” and it took me a few weeks to figure it out and really feel comfortable with it because of how colossal it is.

Dancing the Jive was one of the best moments ever…

It was off the back of the Singing In The Rain American Smooth that we’d done the week before, and it was a surprise that the Jive took things up another level. It was really hard to know why, but I just know it was one of the best moments ever.

When you know there’s a lot of people trying to replicate the dance at home, you know it’s accessible.

In the entirety of my Strictly run, there was only one day I didn’t enjoy…

It was the week of the quarter final and Jo and I were dancing a Foxtrot to Pure Imagination from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory for Musicals Week. I had had a work conference booked in for two full days on the Monday and Tuesday of that week, so I had an hour with Joanne in the morning on the Monday and I didn’t train again until the Wednesday, so we had a day and a half essentially to try to get the dance together.

At that point, because we’d been making steady improvement, you want to get in and have the routine in your head by Wednesday so that you can then put your stamp on it. But there was no stamp – it was all steps and getting it wrong. I got to Friday, which is the studio camera blocking day, and I hadn’t done the same dance twice.

We were so overwhelmingly stressed about the situation, we didn’t speak for about an hour on that day. And then we were like, “We’re in this together, what will be will be, we’ll just have to train and use the time we have left as best we can and get through it.” It even got to Saturday, and the terrifying thing was I didn’t know what was going to happen and what was going to be put out to the nation.

I have no regrets about having to take that corporate job though, because it was actually paid very well! But the timing wasn’t ideal.

I was quite happy not to have learned the Samba if I’m honest…

I dodged that one. That could have been a very different outcome if it had happened at the time.

Witnessing Ed Balls’ Gangnam Style was hilarious…

I think that was one of the events that was like a firework on the night and people were so staggered about the former chancellor thrusting and crabbing on the Strictly dancefloor, they were just so in shock. And then when the night finished and you go on your phone and you chat to friends on the Sunday and Monday, you realise that was a moment!

Something happened that the show had never seen before in 14 series, and we were there to witness it. It was hilarious.

Ed came to watch Rocky Horror last week as one of my guests and I love him dearly.

I turned off social media in the lead up to the final…

I didn’t want the best week of this entire thing, one of the best weeks of my life, to be tainted by one comment. So I was like, “Nah, I don’t need it”, because it’s happening 24/7 and you realise how much people are involved in it at that stage.

I remember getting a couple of pictures from fans with their support and tweeting a picture to say thank you, but apart from that, I didn’t look at a single message. I didn’t tweet anything, I didn’t Instagram anything.

It really felt like that week of the final was a national event. Everywhere you went – you went into a coffee shop, or the supermarket, or friends texting you. It felt supersized.

It’s about harnessing it, because it is a lot – it can run away with you – and it takes a lot out of you physically and emotionally. But you take yourself out of the bubble for a second, because having downtime with your partner or family is really important.

My life has changed immensely since Strictly...

After a crazy five months of Strictly in my life, I went on holiday to Malaysia with my wife. While she was enjoying the sun and lying back and chilling out, I was like, “I just want to dance”. It took me that period of reflection after that to go, “Well it’s hard to replicate Strictly without a ballroom,” so I actually went dancing with Joanne at Pineapple Dance Studios and I took up vocal coaching – I wanted to work on myself. Walking in those circles, it became clear fairly quickly that musical theatre would probably be the avenue. So I started motoring along to try and make that happen and I got a theatre agent.

I’ve now just finished a West End run of The Rocky Horror Show. A lot of people, though they aspire to, it’s difficult to make something you enjoy doing your job, so standing there on stage in a heel, dressed in a corset singing Time Warp, I’m like, “This is actually my job?”.

Ore on stage as Brad in The Rocky Horror Show at the Peacock Theatre
Ore on stage as Brad in The Rocky Horror Show at the Peacock Theatre
Dave J Hogan via Getty Images

I caught up with my absolute brother [and fellow 2017 Strictly finalist] Danny Mac and had a drink after we’d both finished our West End shows – I was at the Peacock Theatre, he was at the Savoy Theatre, less than half a mile apart – and we were like, in five years we’ve become dads, both married, both own our homes and now both starring in West End. That’s mad! That just doesn’t happen.

If I could have danced with anyone else, it would have been…

I danced with Karen [Hauer] on the tour and had an amazing time. I also remember dancing with Oti [Mabuse] at the Adelphi Theatre for a charity event – the gala for Grenfell that Arlene Phillips curated – and we had a week of learning this Jive with her and had an absolute blast. So I’d probably say those two.

Oti Mabuse and Karen Hauer
Oti Mabuse and Karen Hauer
Karwai Tang via Getty Images

The weirdest place I’ve busted out my Strictly moves is…

A jewellery store in Manchester. I designed the engagement ring for my wife and at the time I was working in breakfast television, so I had all day to hang with these ladies at the jewellery store and talk about designing rings and drinking champagne. I had an amazing bond with them and they followed the whole Strictly process and were so supportive.

After the final, I went back just to check in and say hi, and I did the Jive for them. One of the girls, Hayley, is a ballroom dancer and she and I did a little side-by-side and it was brilliant. Going in the store and dancing after three or four glasses of champagne was one of the things I remember fondly.

My favourite ever Strictly routine is…

Jay McGuiness and Aliona Vilani’s Pulp Fiction Jive left me floored. But the one that actually made me fall in love with Strictly was Jill Halfpenny’s Jive in series two. It made me go, “This show, this is for me.”

My dream Strictly celeb is…

I know that Holly Willoughby could do it, but she never would. So I would love to think that one day her hands would be so tied that she’d have to.

Holly Willoughby
Holly Willoughby
David M. Benett via Getty Images

There’s so many incredible couples this year that I wouldn’t like to pick a winner...

In the words of Brucie, they’re all my favourites. I love all of them and I think there’s so much going on this year that means there’s even more of an attachment [to them].

I text Giovanni [Pernice] after the first week because I couldn’t believe how well Rose [Ayling-Ellis] had done. After the second or third dance, she was explaining how she can’t hear the music of course and that the only way she can do it is that she has to feel the dance with Giovanni, and that broke me into a million pieces, because I know what dance is all about and what it can do for you.

Dance is feeling movement through music – so the fact that she can’t hear but we’re watching them totally feeling it, is dance at its purest form. It makes my heart swell.

Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday at 6.45pm on BBC One. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


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