Saffron Barker On Strictly Surprises: 'I Couldn't Get My Head Round How Small The Dance Floor Really Is'

The 2019 contestant lifts the lid on her Strictly experience for our Back To The Ballroom series.
Saffron Barker competed on Strictly Come Dancing in 2019
Saffron Barker competed on Strictly Come Dancing in 2019
Dave J Hogan via Getty Images

“Dream. Come. True,” is how Saffron Barker replies when we ask her to sum up her Strictly Come Dancing experience, and it’s not hard to see why.

Despite being known to millions online thanks to her YouTube following , the vlogger and influencer wasn’t a household name when she signed up to the BBC ballroom show in 2019, though the show would go on to change her life.

“It was my first time ever going on TV,” she admits, which – despite her humility about it – is a pretty impressive feat, with Saffron able to say that her first telly gig was on the biggest, glitziest show on primetime BBC One at the age of just 19.

“It’s opened up a lot of doors, and led to a lot of other opportunities,” she says, but it’s not just career-wise that she’s thankful to Strictly.

“Putting myself in that position where you’re performing in front of millions of people live, I’d never done anything like that, so it definitely has made me a more confident person,” she explains.

In the latest of our Back To The Ballroom series, Saffron looks back at her time on that famous Strictly dance floor, and reveals why it’s actually not as big as you might think…

Saffron says her life has changed since finishing sixth on the show
Saffron says her life has changed since finishing sixth on the show
Nicky Johnston

My life became like something you see on TV while I was on Strictly…

I’m used to getting stopped in the street a lot but I guess I wasn’t used to press or getting papped outside hotels and stuff. That was definitely a whole new experience for me. That was surreal and weird – it was like the things you actually see on TV, but it was actually my life.

The most surprising thing about the experience was how small the dance floor actually is…

Genuinely, I could never get my head around it. On TV, it looks absolutely massive, but you see it in real life and it just isn’t! It’s so much smaller than you expect it to be.

I felt like everything looked different in real life compared to what it looked like on TV, and that’s obviously cameras and stuff making it look bigger.

It’s also one of those things too that it doesn’t feel real when you’re [in the ballroom]. I can’t really explain it.

Saffron on the Strictly floor with dance partner AJ Pritchard
Saffron on the Strictly floor with dance partner AJ Pritchard

AJ became my best friend…

I know there’s this whole thing about the “Strictly curse” but it wasn’t like that for us. We just became so close. We’re so alike because we both like to laugh, but we both like to work hard.

He’s very organised, unlike me. And credit to him, because he was so patient – I don’t think I could be that patient. It’s so frustrating watching someone do something 20 to 30 times and they can’t do it, but he’d just sit there and watch me do it again and again and again. I’d be thinking, “How are you doing that?!”

If I’d have had to dance with anyone else, it would have been…

Neil [Jones]. When I auditioned for the show, I was asked who I wanted to be with and I said Neil or AJ. I also had to narrow out some people because I knew there would be no chance I’d be with someone who is really tall, as I am so short.

It was Neil’s first year [with a celebrity partner] and I’ve always been obsessed with his choreography, he’s so talented.

Neil Jones
Neil Jones
SOPA Images via Getty Images

My defining Strictly moment was…

My Foxtrot to New York, New York by Frank Sinatra and my Waltz, which I did to Elton John. They were my highest-scoring dances and they were also the ones I enjoyed the most. I absolutely fell in love with ballroom dancing, I was absolutely obsessed.

We also got a lot of say as to what songs we could do on those two dances, so they were ones we got to pick.

My lowest moment was when I was told I was doing the Samba…

It was also the dance I ended up going home on.

I was pretty terrified of it. Samba is the hardest dance for the girls to do and I knew I couldn’t isolate certain parts of my body, so it wasn’t for me. Me and AJ didn’t want to do it, so that was definitely the moment where I was like, “Oh crap, what am I going to do now?”. Until that point, I’d been up, up, up, up.

I still tried and gave it my best shot, and it was still so much fun, but it was the hardest week and the hardest part of the whole thing.

My favourite ever Strictly star is…

Ashley Roberts, she was amazing. The Charleston she and Pasha did was amazing, that has to be up there. And she did Dirty Dancing, and did the lift! I don’t know how she did it.

My dream Strictly celeb is...

I would love to see Justin Bieber. Probably not going to happen. Cameron Diaz would be amazing, but the person I’d love to see most is Julia Roberts. I’m obsessed with her.

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

I was in a pub up the road the other day. It’s the local but I don’t normally go there, but there was a jazz singer and one of the songs that came on was from the Strictly tour and I swear I was absolutely doing ballroom with an old lady that I’d never met. Every opportunity that I can get some ballroom dancing in, I do it.

I’m rooting for Tilly Ramsay the most this year...

Tilly Ramsay
Tilly Ramsay
Ray Burmiston/BBC

I know what it’s like to be a young girl on that show and the pressure you feel. I think she’s improved so much as well. She’s had a lot of stick, but I think she’s amazing and she’s the nicest girl. I love her relationship with her partner, so I’m hoping they do well.

I didn’t get too much stick so I can’t imagine what it’s like. There’s the pressure of the show anyway, and then having that on top, just credit to her for dealing with that and cracking on and working hard.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Strictly Come Dancing airs on Saturday nights on BBC One.


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