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Exclusive! Strictly Come Dancing's new pro Graziano Di Prima reveals tragic past

The new professional dancer has joined this year's series

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He is set to dazzle the Strictly Come Dancing dancefloor this year, and ahead of the live shows, new professional dancer Graziano Di Prima has opened up about his tragic past. In an exclusive interview with HELLO! in September 2018, the dancer revealed that he almost died at birth. A Latin champion in his native Italy, Graziano, 24, said he was so lucky to survive that he was named in honour of his premature birth. "I was born prematurely and had a twin brother, who sadly died," he told HELLO!. "I was so weak that it was uncertain whether I would survive. I was lucky, though, and my parents named me Graziano, which means 'thank you'."

The dancer's family plan to visit London for the first time to watch him perform. Joining him for some of the show's special routines will be his girlfriend and fellow dancer, Giada Lini. "She's so excited by this new adventure, too," explained Graziano, who has been dating the 28-year-old Venetian for three years. "We both are." He continued: "And it was so good meeting the judges. Bruno told me how pleased he was to have a fellow Italian on the show."

graziano backstage

Graziano Di Prima nearly died at birth

The 24-year-old Sicilian’s passion for dancing began when he was a small child growing up on a farm at the foot of Mount Etna. He was six when he started dancing to the rousing Cuban beat of tunes such as Mambo No. 5. "I followed my dream and it came true. Now I can’t wait to dance," he shared, before adding: "As soon as my mum turned on the radio and I heard the music, I started to dance. It made me feel incredible." Spotting his raw talent, his mother Giovanna enrolled him at dance classes and by the age of ten he'd become an Italian Latin champion.

Joining Graziano on our shoot are fellow Strictly newcomers Luba Mushtuk and Johannes Radebe. Russian-born Luba, 28, revealed that she is raring to hit the dancefloor, saying: "I was so happy that I cried for hours when I found out. I fell in love with dance before I could even walk. When I was born my brother Andrew used to ballroom dance and my mother took me to watch his lessons and competitions. I was a bit of a troublemaker as a kid and the only thing to make me sit down quietly was the chance to watch anything to do with dance."

MORE: Everything you need to know about Strictly's new hunkGraziano Di Prima

"After his classes, Andrew would teach me the different moves. He went on to become a policeman – but dancing became my life," she confessed. Luba was only four when she entered her first competition. "I was dancing with an older boy of seven because I was so advanced," she explained. "He was embarrassed when he realised how young I was, but I had this huge hairdo and heels to make me look taller." She got her chance to appear on Strictly when she met Jason Gilkison, the show's creative director of choreography, who offered her the opportunity to choreograph in 2016, which led to her new on-screen role. However, Luba insisted that there will be no time for a social life in the Strictly schedule. "When I take something on board, I give it 150%," she revealed. "As for romance, you have to be joking. I'm very happy being single."

The new Strictly Come Dancing stars chat to HELLO!

Also joining the show is Latin champion Johannes Radebe, who was a finalist in two series of the South African Strictly Come Dancing. Looking suave in a velvet jacket, the 31-year-old, who grew up in a township near Johannesburg, told HELLO! how he overcame hardship and bullying to fulfil his dream. "When I was little, the other boys used to play football, but all I wanted was to dance," he said. "I'd listen to a song by African singer Miriam Makeba and would go into a trance. I took dance classes and at the age of nine entered my first dance competition." He added: "It was a difficult time, though. Because I was different I was called names and bullied. My older sister Jabulile would step in and defend me – and I had wonderful parents. When I told them I wanted to dance, Mum said that as long as I did my homework and came home by 6pm, they didn’t have a problem with it. Dance was my love and became my refuge. I couldn't wait to get to my classes, where I could shake my tail feathers and be myself."

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With glitzy new dance outfits too expensive, Johannes's mum Jacobeth made do. "She would polish my shoes until they shone and make my white school shirt look pristine," he explained. "We didn't have enough money for her to travel to watch me perform, but she made sure I looked immaculate." After four years at a dance academy, where he honed his skills in ballroom, Latin, ballet, African and contemporary dance, Johannes joined a cabaret on a luxury cruise liner before his first Strictly dream came true. "Mum and I were at home watching Strictly South Africa when I told her how much I longed to be part of the show," he noted. "Then the universe conspired to make it happen. I received a phone call inviting me to be one of the professional dancers and I took my partners to the finals two years on the trot."

In another twist of fate, Johannes was chosen to perform in the world tour of Burn the Floor, where he met his new Strictly co-star, Graziano. "We bonded so well," the dancer revealed. "When I discovered we would be working together again, I was over the moon." His Strictly UK big break came after reaching the semi-finals of this year's Dancing with the Stars in South Africa. "I'd been dreaming of this moment for so long," he recalled. "When I was told I got the job, I cried tears of joy. So did my mum."

strictly come dancing new dancers© Photo: BBC

The new Strictly Come Dancing professionals

MORE: What you need to know about new Strictly professional Johannes Radebe

He continued: "I love Craig [Revel Horwood]; he's hilarious. Bruno [Tonioli] is fabulous, exactly the same as he is on TV, and I've been in awe of head judge Shirley [Ballas] since watching her dance. As for the beautiful Darcey [Bussell], she's the epitome of elegance – class personified." Also a big fan of the Duchess of Sussex, Johannes says he would love to sweep her off her feet around the dancefloor for a paso doble. "I would be intrigued to see how she’d look in a Latin dress, and her feet in those heels," he said. "Another favourite leading lady would be Beyoncé. But I'd also like to dance with Tess Daly. I was looking at her twirling the other day and thought: 'Okay, girl, you've got moves.'"

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