HELLO! DIGITAL COVER STORY

Exclusive: Johannes Radebe reveals dream to start a family as he finally feels comfortable in his own skin

The Strictly Come Dancing star is ready for love

Pride Month celebrations are in full swing with London Pride just days away, and if all goes to plan, Johannes Radebe is hoping to take the celebrations by storm "on a float somewhere in heels and a big feather boa".

EXCLUSIVE: Johannes Radebe reveals what his mother has taught him as she visits him for first time in UK

Johannes exploded onto our screens as part of Strictly Come Dancing in 2018, where he has dazzled with his campy choreography and has unapologetically been himself. He's won plaudits for performances in heels, drag, and even touching same-sex routines with best friend and fellow pro, Graziano Di Prima, and last year with his celebrity partner, John Whaite.

Johannes Radebe stars on our Pride Digital Cover

It wasn't always easy for the dancer, who has previously spoken about being bullied and beaten up as a child, and in his most personal interview to date, he opens up about coming out to his mother, who he has a very strong bond with, and exclusively reveals that he is now looking for love.

"I'm still checking out the scene, where are the brothers at? Hit me up, call me up," Johannes, star of our Pride Digital Cover, jokes, before going on to share his dreams of having a big family: "I would love the opportunity to raise a child, or two, or four."

"I would love the opportunity to raise a child, or two, or four," said Johannes

Johannes, what does Pride mean to you?

For me, it's a celebration of the LGBTQI+ community. I think it celebrates our history, where we're going and how far we've come. Most important it's about educating people, it's a place where all those that are uncertain about who they are, it gives them a platform to come out and do something a little bit fun and that's why it's important. I say that because, it's honestly, just an education about our history. I think that's what Pride should always be about, because you can't go anywhere without knowing where you come from.

And how have you been celebrating Pride Month this year?

I plan to hit all the Pride parties around the country, if I have the time. I would really love to sit with my friends and reflect on how far we've come as a community. I will be the first one in the streets, on a float somewhere in heels and a big feather boa.

How do you feel about the government releasing a 50p Pride coin? Do you approve or would it have been better for Pride month for something more substantial to be done?

Anything that moves or brings a witness to our community, I'm all for it, and the fact that the government is involved in something that's us, and that progresses us is good, but I do think there are more pressing issues within our community units that they could attend to, because we're not free until we are all free.

Johannes wears a suit by Gant and jewelled shawl by Goldsmith Village

Everyone loves a bit of a love story, how's your own search for love going?

Due to internalised homophobia for the longest time, I thought that I did not deserve love. And it's a journey and the fact that I'm here at a place of acceptance and abundance, I feel like I'm ready and we'll see. I'll go on a couple of dates, I'm still checking out the scene, where are the brothers at? Hit me up, call me up. That's where I am.

What sort of things are you looking for in a partner?

The one thing that I really aspire for in a relationship is loyalty. And most importantly, somebody who's kind, kindness goes a long way because the day that we don't love each other, as long as we are kind to each other, it will carry us.

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"The one thing that I really aspire for in a relationship is loyalty," said Johannes

And if you found Mr. Right, do you think you'd be open to starting a family with them?

I feel like that is a vast responsibility. I would have to have lots and lots of money in my bank account, so I can be a stay-at-home dad. I would hate raising my kids when I don't know where they are. Children are a big responsibility, it's a lifetime investment. If I do find the right person, I would love the opportunity to raise a child or two or four.

Would you like your children to follow in your footsteps and join the dancing world?

I would love them to follow their heart and do and be who they want to be, that's the greatest gift you can give a child. You bring a child into this world, but you can never dictate their lives, they need to live it out and you as a parent just need to be there to love and support, that's your duty.

Johannes wears a dress by Tran Hung and heels by Asos

When it came to your own journey for exploring your sexuality, what was the moment that made you realize that you were LGBT?

I came out of my mother's womb [laughs]. I've always been the person that I am and I'm grateful for my family because they've always nurtured that. They've always handled it very sensitively because they saw the wrath that came with me being the person that I am. I was bullied and was singled out but I was also loved by my family and I got that reassurance from them.

Of course, as a young boy, you question who you are and I know most of us have denied ourselves who we are because we thought there was something wrong with us. If that's not your case, then good for you, but I know that we've lived in shame for the longest of times.

The day I really fully embraced who I was, it's funny, because it took me 32 years to actually be comfortable in my skin, and that was on a platform, like Strictly Come Dancing. I remember having to put on those heels in 2019 and dancing in front of the world and I knew that was my coming out party. I call it that now to celebrate it, but I did have something in the back of my head to say to my uncles who have always asked me when am I bringing a wife and a child home, they would definitely know what the deal is. I still consider 2019 one of the moments in years that I've fully embraced who I am and not felt shame.

Was it a very conscious decision for you because you did explode out onto the scene loud and proud?

As you can imagine it was years dealing with that, lots of therapy. I'm very proud to say that I don't think without therapy, I would have come to my own and that was the interesting thing. It's funny, I actually watched Pose and I remember watching this story and obviously seeing people that look like me, identify with their stories, and since then I was like, 'This is it. This is who I'm meant to be, and the world will adjust.'

Johannes wears a kimono set by Niluu and crop top by Fam Irvoll

Do you think your life has transformed since you've come out?

My relationship with my family is much, much better, there's no more shame attached to who I am. I do walk a little bit with my head held high, there was always a shame and now that is no longer there, I feel like I can live my best authentic life. I hated living in secret and me and my mumma are in a better position now because we can openly talk about my sexuality.

Did you have any worries when you were coming out to your Mum?

Yes, definitely, and she's learning. I say that she's learning because she's always been lovely, but we've always never ever spoken about it and that's just any parent for that matter, they try and protect their children.

She didn't say anything to me all those years, because she waited for me to come to her and talk to her about it and when it did happen, I remember just breaking down and crying and she said to me, 'Do not, because nothing changes my love for you, who you are is who you are, but you are my son.' And aren't those the words that you always wish to hear from your parent, especially when you drop something like that on them?

I'm an African boy, and I'm the only boy in the family with a surname that needs to be carried over, the pressure that comes with that. I was named after my grandfather, so all of that is things that I really had to push aside and focus on what makes Johannes happy.

When I realised that I'm only thinking that I'm alone in this whole thing this entire time and I didn't need to, because it didn't change how the people that I really hold dear to my heart see me and that is my family. I am arriving and loving life at the moment.

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READ: Strictly's Johannes Radebe reveals how pairing with John Whaite affected relationship with his mother

The TV star feels he can talk openly about his sexuality with his family now

And during your Freedom tour, at one point you came out and you were draped in the Progress Pride flag and the audience went wild, how did it feel to get a reaction like that?

I created Freedom for that particular reason only, a production that can accommodate anybody, regardless of who they are and their sexuality or how they look or how they identify. If you look around, there's not many of those to aspire to.

What was great for me for Freedom, it was obviously working with a diverse cast of people that gave me the confidence to step out there boldly and to say, 'This is who I am,' but I have been blown away by the love and support in this country because it has been immense. When you feel seen like that, the sky's the limit. That's what I'm grateful for the United Kingdom because for the first time I feel like I'm not scared.

There are places in the world where you cannot visit as somebody who wears a cut-out top and you're a little bit flamboyant and happy, because you will get killed, that's the reality. There were no nerves, I was not scared stepping out on that stage, doing what I love and understanding that the people that are there are there to support me and enjoy this process with me. That was liberating.

Johannes wears a jacket by Soboye and leggings by Stradivarius

When it comes to Strictly, who do you most want to dance with?

I trust Strictly when it comes to pairing. Since I've arrived here, they never get it wrong. Whoever is going to be sent my way, I will take it and turn them into a dancer which is very difficult.

I do have my eyes on somebody, I don't want to exclude everyone else, but her name is Suzi Ruffell. I think that girl will shock the world if she had an opportunity to hit that Strictly floor.

Are you and John still in touch with each other?

I just spoke to him this morning, it's gonna be a lifelong relationship. It was beautiful because I always say for the first time, I've danced with somebody that I feel like there was chemistry. Let's start there, not to take anything away from the beautiful women that I've danced with, but this one felt real. Every look, every touch, the way he carried me, that was amazing. I've never been lifted in my life.

When somebody identifies with your pain, and it's sad that we say pain, but, we've got similar life experiences, even though he's from Wigan, and I'm from Zamdela in South Africa, it was nice because something connected us. It was very evident on the dance floor and it was also nice to dance with somebody who matched me in strength, I've never had that.

Have you got one endearing memory from your time together on the dance floor?

Every time we went onto the dance floor, we would reassure each other that everything was fine. It's the way he would always take my hands off of my head and just squeeze them to let me know that he's gonna give it his all.

I'll forever cherish that for the rest of my life, when somebody just tells you that we're in this thing together and it matters to the both of us because we knew how much we put into it. It was nice to know that it was a partnership and whether we were voted out that evening, or whether we made it through, that we had fun.

"It took me 32 years to actually be comfortable in my skin," Johannes admits

You and John won the Media Moment of the Year Award at the British LGBT Awards, what does this mean to you?

Winning this award with John brings me great joy and pride for merely being recognised by our own community, family, and friends. I'm proud of Strictly for continuously educating and shaping minds through an entertainment show and to all the viewers that support the show, thank you. This award is for all of you. 

You will shortly be appearing on Celebrity Gogglebox's Pride special with John, how are you feeling about this?

I can't wait to be on the first Celebrity Gogglebox Pride Special. It's going to be fun watching TV together. Last time we were on Gogglebox, we were being watched by the nation as pirates!

Will you be going to John's wedding? Are you going to help choreograph some of the dances?

When is the wedding? [laughs] I definitely would be there when it happens, but as a guest. Sit down, enjoy the wedding, not have to worry about anything, but obviously, their dance will be absolutely gorgeous.

Johannes wears a kimono by Tom, Dick and Harry

Do you think there are any other ways that Strictly could diversify more, like with a trans or non-binary celeb competing?

We all start somewhere, and that's the thing with moving forward. Would you and I be having this conversation four years ago? No. So, let's applaud how far we've come, that's what everybody should do, wait and see what happens because we have all these women that are in those executive positions, making those moves, I call them trailblazers, it's lovely to know that we've got allies like that.

Have you ever felt conscious on the dance floor when you're doing these big pieces?

Dance has always been my refuge, whenever I needed to hide from the world, I would go to the dance floor and on the dance floor, I felt invincible, I could dance to the beat of my own drum. Nothing can touch me when I'm there, it's my sacred place, that place is holy. That is why I've stuck to it and that's why I love it because it has protected me from a lot of things as a young boy, as a young man and has taught me discipline and poise that I carry into my life. That is when I'm at my most authentic and I feel larger than life.

Is there anything that you haven't done on Strictly yet that you'd love to?

I just feel like I was given an opportunity and good on me for embracing it, because I could have easily just also hid and said, 'No, not this time around.' But also realising the importance of my community that needs to be represented. When you have a platform like that, you should use it for the good to change and educate. I've always had that in the back of my head to say if I do live my life authentically, I will be definitely inspiring others that are watching.

Johannes wears a blazer by Madseventies, a gold jacket, cummerbund and trousers by Goldsmiths Village, and heels by Asos

What do you think of Bruno leaving the panel and Anton permanently taking over?

Sad to see Bruno leave, I think we will all miss Bruno, as the British public nobody has brought so much laughter to our screens for the longest time. I have known Bruno since I was back home in South Africa watching the show with my mother and we've always found him hilarious.

Anton, on the other hand, rightfully so that he's in that position now. He has done it, he knows what it's all about and there's no one more deserving of that position. It's a bittersweet moment where I wouldn't have liked to see Bruno leave, but also Anton is just as capable and deserving of that position, I couldn't think of anybody else better.

EXCLUSIVE: Strictly stars John Whaite and Johannes Radebe on the 'impact' of their partnership

EXCLUSIVE: John Whaite reveals big future plans with Johannes after Strictly

Where do you see yourself in five years on the show?

When it comes to Strictly Come Dancing, I will do it for as long as my body allows me to do it. If I could stay part of the family in that regard to move on to do other things within the show, that would be absolutely incredible because it is a sparkling world which I have fallen in love with. There's other things, other prospects, I feel like for the first time in my life, I could dream and I'm gonna go for every little thing that's out there to pursue what I have always dreamt of.

Photography by Liz McAulay. 

Videography by Archie Thomas.

Styling by Kate Barbour.

Hair and makeup by Summer Dyason.

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