Natalie Lowe had been planning to hang up her dancing shoes for a bit, and focus on her upcoming wedding, after quitting Strictly Come Dancing. But there was one offer that was impossible to resist - the chance to star alongside former Strictly champions Louis Smith and Jay McGuiness in the 1950s-themed show Rip it Up. "I was brought up on that music," Natalie told HELLO! in July 2017. "My mum and dad used to play it when we’d be in the car for 12 hours at a time travelling to dance competitions in Australia."
Natalie, Louis and Jay's 42-date tour saw them swinging, jiving and jitterbugging to a host of familiar hits from the 1950s. And while Natalie has left Strictly, it still feels very much part of her. "Leaving was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make," she said. "It's been the best 14 years of my life. Nothing will take away from my time on the show. I'm 37 this year and I'm competing against time. I wanted to do other things and while I will love Strictly forever, it does take up all your time. You have to eat, breathe and sleep it."
Natalie Lowe, Louis Smith and Jay McGuiness will star in a new musical together
Gymnast Louis Smith adored his time on the show in 2012, when he won the Glitterball trophy, and can't wait to take to the dancefloor again. "Doing a show is terrifying, but really good fun," he told us. "I like being outside my comfort zone." Four-times Olympic medallist Louis will return to training once the tour finishes in October. "I'll start doing competitions in 2018 and hopefully build up to the 2020 Olympic Games," he said. "Each Olympics has been harder to qualify for – the young guys now are incredible. I'm like an old man and will be 31 in 2020. But if I qualify I qualify and if I don't, I'll have no regrets as I will have gone for it."
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"As I get older in gymnastics, I think it's more important to do things like this," he added. "I want to learn more about theatre, dancing and acting. I'm not going to be the next Fred Astaire, but it's a new avenue." It’s a passion he shares with Natalie and Jay. "I pinch myself every day," remarked Natalie. "Dance brings so much joy into people's lives, it brings them together. It's a wonderful thing."
Natalie Lowe left Strictly in 2016
Jay's career has gone "better than I could have expected" since winning Strictly with Aliona Vilani in 2015. "With The Wanted, we were running around singing our heads off, but we didn't really dance," said Jay, who spent three years singing, dancing and acting at the Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama before joining the chart- topping band. "After I did Strictly, I thought, 'I used to do this,' so it was really nice to explore that work again. But I've never really had a masterplan. I've just been flying by the seat of my pants. When the band first split, I wanted to disappear. I didn't want any pressure, so I moved to LA and thought, 'I'm just going to do nothing.' It was fun for a couple of years..."
Natalie will also be leaving the UK later this year, heading back home to Australia, where her family lives, to organise her wedding to company director James Knibbs. She says that the couple, who got engaged in 2015, want to get married at a waterside venue in Sydney. "We're going home at Christmas to plan," explained Natalie. "As I live here now, my mum and dad wanted me to get married in Australia, and Dad hasn't been very well. When I was on Strictly, we only had a small window in which to do it." Natalie's other plans include the expansion of Fitsteps, the dance fitness programme she devised with fellow former Strictly dancer Ian Waite, which is being expanded across the world and online.
As well as dancing in Rip It Up, Jay is looking forward to singing, with BBC Radio 2’s Leo Green and his band providing the music. "It's been great, we've been able to handpick every song," he revealed. "I can't wait to work with the cast. You get to that point where you egg each other on. I love that feeling." Does he miss his Wanted days? "It's really good to do that when you're young and get all that mad energy out of your system," he said. "It was like winning the lottery, I had one of the best times of my life. And I'm still really close to the team who worked with us and I speak to the boys when I want to."
He recently watched his former bandmate Tom Parker starring in the tour of the stage version of the musical Grease. "I had no idea what his American accent would be like as he's got such a strong Bolton accent," he teased. "But I was blown away. I forgot I was watching him, it was such a feel-good night." He was also reunited with bandmate Siva Kaneswaran when they filmed a special edition of The Hunted, in which they went on the run, for the next Stand Up to Cancer. "It was so much fun," he shared. "We'd sleep in a tent or a fisherman's hut or someone’s back garden."