SO high is the standard achieved by Strictly Come Dancing champions, it’s surprising that more of them don’t put their best foot forward and start hoofing for a living. But last year’s victor Bill Bailey is still a comedian and Stacey Dooley (2018) remains a TV reporter. Since lifting the Glitterball with professional partner Joanne Clifton five years ago, however, former BBC Breakfast sports presenter Ore Oduba hasn’t been able to get the glitz, glitter and sheer razzamatazz of showbiz out of his system.
He made his professional musical theatre debut playing Teen Angel in Grease in 2019 and is currently treading the boards in theatres as Brad Majors in the touring production of iconic musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“Winning Strictly really was a lightbulb moment for me,” he reveals. “It kind of unlocked this part of me I’d kept hidden away. The voice inside me kept saying, ‘You love this! You’ve got to do this now! Don’t know how but you’ve got to’.
“Once I’d won, I knew I’d have to pursue it. I didn’t quite know how this would manifest itself but I needed to try and hopefully make this total passion my job.”
It’s a passion Ore kept under wraps since his school days, when he discovered the thrill of performing in student productions. But he never allowed himself to consider it as a career.
“I more or less parked it when I left school and went to university to study sports science and social sciences,” he recalls. “Being an entertainer didn’t seem like a real-life job to me at the time. A real job was becoming a lawyer like my dad, or a doctor or accountant.”
BY WORKING in the media after he graduated, Ore met his secret ambition half-way. “Appearing onTV was wonderful,” he admits, “but I didn’t ever think I’d get to sing, dance and act in a professional stage production.
“Now look at me. I am prancing around in women’s underwear every night! How mad is that? And, ultimately, it’s all down to Strictly. It was the bridge that allowed me to make that leap, engage my passion for performing and completely change my world.”
But it’s not just about tripping the light fantastic on stage. Ore says the Strictly experience taught him a number of valuable life lessons too. “I learnt how to channel all my energies into the task in hand – in that instance, dancing,” he says.
“It taught me how to really focus, to put away distractions and shut everything else out. I learnt that while I couldn’t control what was going to happen, I could control my own actions.
“So, I put the training in and tried to stay as calm as possible as I trusted in the process. When you’re competing in it, Strictly really does take over your life – and this becomes more intense the closer you get to the final.
“It goes beyond being a glittering dance contest and becomes a psychological thing. “Although I’m usually on stage when Strictly airs, I have a screen in my dressing room so I can watch it inbetween my scenes. I’m a huge fan.”
However, Ore won’t be drawn on who he thinks will follow in his footsteps and lift the Glitterball come December 18.
“I thought you’d ask me that,” he laughs. “I’m not saying, though. I love them all. Look, lots of those professional dancers are friends of mine and I’m not going to show any preferences. It’s the British public who decide.
“The leaderboard is so changeable with couples being top one week and bottom the next. Look at AJ and Kai from a few weeks back. Those two are incredible, though. And like everyone else, I was stunned by Rose and Giovanni’s Couple’s Choice dance when they danced without music for some of their routine.
“There had never been a Strictly moment like it in 19 series and that demonstrates the reach of the show when it is able to change people’s perception of deafness through dance. That was astonishing.”
While Ore is definitely a glass half-full kind of guy, he has his darker moments. Only last week, he suffered what he says is the first panic attack he’s experienced.
“It came out of the blue,” he explains. “I was speaking to my agent and suddenly became overwhelmed by all the stuff that was in my diary – stuff I can usually handle without a second thought.
“My wife, Portia, gave birth to our second child – baby Genie – only six weeks ago, and five days after that, I went back on tour with the show. I get home as often as I can but sometimes it’s just not possible.
“Anyway, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I had this rising sense of panic and stress. Then I burst into tears. I recovered, but I think we men need to talk about things like this.” Ore is performing in the Rocky Horror Show until February, visiting towns and cities including Brighton, Guildford and Glasgow.
“It’s like appearing in a rock concert every night,” he laughs. “I am astounded by just how much love people have for the Rocky Horror Show. We’re in Guildford over Christmas but have the evening of the 24th, Christmas Day and Boxing Day off. I’ll need it.”
Wife Portia, who’s been looking after Genie and her threeyear-old brother Roman, will be glad of the help. “Portia is an angel,” says Ore emphatically. “She’s my hero and is holding it all together.
“We also have an amazing family support network. Roman absolutely adores his baby sister, which is just what you want, isn’t it? It only seems like yesterday that he was that small. He starts proper school in September. That just doesn’t seem feasible.”
IT IS the prospect of his little boy starting big school that has prompted Ore to become involved with the campaign Engineering Kids’ Futures, launched by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to urge the Government to embed basic engineering into primary school learning.
“Primary school children learn about science and maths, but the connection to engineering is not made and it should be.
“There is currently a shortfall of over 173,000 workers in the sector,” Ore says. “If we get children interested at a formative stage, we’re far more likely to build a generation of people who study engineering to a high level and carve out successful careers while benefiting the country and the rest of us. It’s a win-win situation.”