HELLO! DIGITAL COVER STORY

Giovanni Pernice reveals what girlfriend Maura Higgins thinks of Strictly 'curse' – and his dream royal dance partner

Strictly Come Dancing's 'Italian Stallion' is back for another series

Matthew Moore

After a strange 2021, one thing guaranteed to put a bit more sparkle back into peoples' lives is Strictly Come Dancing, which is about to return to our screens this weekend. Out of a myriad of professional dancers, one fan-favourite is Giovanni Pernice, who joined the show seven years ago.

During his tenure, the 31-year-old has reached the final three times and frequently been romantically linked to his celebrity partners. This year, he went public with his romance with Love Island star Maura Higgins, and explained to us that the so-called 'Strictly Curse' was more of a media sensation rather than something he or Maura were worried about ahead of the upcoming series.

READ: Dan Walker lets slip start date for new Strictly series

Starring on HELLO!'s September Digital Cover, which we shot exclusively at Tylney Hall Hotel, Giovanni opens up about what fans can expect from Strictly Come Dancing 2021, the new lady in his life and whether those romance rumours ever get boring.

Giovanni Pernice stars on our September Digital Cover

How does it feel to be back doing Strictly Come Dancing again this year with the longer run and the bigger cast?

Just wonderful; I love Strictly, I love doing my job and now that we are able to do the full season, it's nice. It was different last year, but not weird. At the end of the day, we managed to do a season and I think it was very successful, everybody waited for it and everybody was happy to have a little sparkle in their life. And Strictly fans can be expecting lots this year! Lots of glitters, lots of fun, and lots of dancing. That's what Strictly fans want to see.

This year, we'll see John Whaite make history in the first male same-sex pairing. Who do you think he's going to be paired with and would you like to be paired with him?

We don't have any idea about who John's going to be paired with, this will happen at the launch show. I've always said, to be dancing in a same-sex couple would be great, like with all the other pros. I think that production will make the right decision. It's brilliant the show is embracing same-sex couples, and it makes it even better.

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Out of all the celebrities this year, who would you like to be partnered with?

I think they're all brilliant, they're fantastic names and I'm really looking forward to seeing who I'm going to have.

Have you got a dream celebrity you'd love to see on the show one day?

The Queen. I think she would be amazing, because she's very popular so she could win the show. Who wouldn't dance with the Queen? If I taught her, there'd be no different approach to teaching another person to dance. We'd start without the music, we'd learn the steps and then we put the music on, it's just a normal process.

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When you were single, you were always linked with the celebrity that you were dancing with. Did that ever get boring to you?

If people think that I'm with my celebrity, it's actually a good thing because we are dancers, which means we are actors. If I'm dancing the Argentine tango with my partner and we get very close, it means that I'm doing a good job and my celebrity is doing a good job. Dancing is chemistry. When you're dancing as a couple, you have to show what the characteristic of the dance is. Can you imagine dancing the rumba with somebody and not looking at their face, it wouldn't look good? It's just what dancing is, for people that are in the industry and all the dancers, we understand this. It's like when you see actors kissing on screen, you wouldn't think, 'Oh it's a curse or whatever it is.' They're just acting and dancing is the same.

GALLERY: Everyone who's been hit by the so-called Strictly curse

READ: Tess Daly stuns with potential Strictly outfits ahead of series return

There's always rumours of the so-called 'Strictly Curse'. What are your thoughts about that?

[Laughs] The curse! I knew you were going to ask me, and I always answer the same thing; you can have a curse anywhere, if you go to the office, you can have a curse with a person that's working with you. It's not a 'Strictly Curse', it's something that if you're single, if your partner's single and you end up liking each other, there is nothing wrong with that.

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And how is your new girlfriend Maura feeling about the so-called curse?

Maura is absolutely fine, in the sense that it's not a curse, I'm going to dance with my celeb, and she will be supporting me all the way. Realistically, if you're happy in your relationship there is no reason for the curse. If you're happy with your wife or with your husband, you wouldn't go on Strictly to cheat.

READ: Giovanni Pernice and Maura Higgins send fans wild with romantic tributes 

What makes Maura the perfect girlfriend?

Maura is beautiful, funny, and she's a very loyal person. We get along very well, we're just enjoying getting to know each other.

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Strictly is welcoming four new pros this year. What do you make of the newcomers?

One of them is my flatmate, Kai [Widdrington], he's a very good friend of mine. I think Nikita [Kuzmin] is a wonderful dancer, Jowita [Przystal] and Cameron [Lombard] the same. It's very nice to see new faces as well, they're very young, so I'm excited for them and I think they're gonna do very, very well.

When these new young pros come in, do you feel as one of the Strictly veterans you've got a little bit of extra pressure to keep performing?

No, nothing, I'm still young, beautiful and fresh, ha! We are all fantastic in what we do and I always say there are always about 16 or 18 dancers in the show and everybody's different and on the show for different reasons.

Can Strictly fans expect you to be staying around for the long run?

I think it's a fantastic job, an amazing opportunity as a dancer. I will be here as long as I can.

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Other than Kai, is there anyone else in the Strictly gang you hang out with in your free time?

When we can, we hang out. I'm close to Gorka [Marquez], Aljaz [Skorjanec], all the other pros like Oti [Mabuse], Karen [Hauer]. When we can see each other, we definitely spend time together because we enjoy spending time together. We're all at the hotel at the moment to form a bubble and it's nice seeing everyone again and dancing together again.

READ: Janette Manrara shares feelings on returning to Strictly set for first time since exit

We've got Janette going to It Takes Two and Anton heading to the judging panel, they always made such a big impact when they were on the show. Are you sad that they won't be dancing this year?

Janette has gone to It Takes Two but she's still going to be around Strictly; it doesn't mean that she's not part of the Strictly family anymore. Presenting is something that she's always wanted to do, everything happens for a reason. I think Anton did a fantastic job last year as a judge, so I'm really pleased and happy for him, he's going to do a fantastic job this year as well.

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Do you think you could see yourself as a judge on Strictly in the future?

My friend, who knows? We're looking too far ahead. Let's focus on this year's show, see what happens in 25 or 30 years.

READ: Former Strictly star rules out return to the show

What are you hoping for from this year?

I'm hoping to get a nice celebrity and make it all the way to the final and maybe win, everybody wants to win, so that will be the cherry on the cake. Realistically what you want from the show is just to have a nice time, teach a person how to dance.

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Would you describe yourself as a taskmaster, or are you more of a fun-loving teacher?

I can be both, it depends which day of the week it is. If it's Friday or Saturday, and we haven't finished the routine, we have to push a little bit more. But in general, I just go with the pace of my celebrity partner.

Have you got a favourite moment or routine from the show?

My favourite moment was my first ever show because it was the first time, so it's always going to be my favourite moment. I've done a lot of good stuff in my seven years on the show. I wouldn't say there's a specific routine that I love, but every celebrity had very special moments on the dance floor. For instance, Couple's Choice with Faye was great when we did Fever, Memories with Debbie McGee, Vogue with Michelle Visage.

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Can you give us any insight into what the pro dance numbers will be like this year?

The pro numbers are going to look absolutely fantastic. We have Jason Gilkinson, who is the top choreographer in the world. So just get ready, because this is going to look phenomenal.

What is a usual day in the life for you, fitness-wise?

When you dance 12 hours a day, I don't think you need to have a specific diet or anything. Obviously, just look after yourself, eat as many calories as you can. And let's celebrate, just look after yourself, like everybody else does.

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You recently did your first Hollywood movie, how was that experience?

That was phenomenal, one of the most beautiful things I've ever done in my life, it's something different and I really enjoyed the process of learning new things. It's something that I love and I always said since I was a kid that acting is something that I already do and the reason is because I'm a dancer. As I said before, dancing is acting, so I'm still acting when I dance.

READ: Will there be a live Strictly studio audience this year?

Have you been able to see your family at all during the pandemic?

I didn't go to Italy, but it will be the first thing I do when I finish Strictly. We were not allowed to quarantine and my mum and dad are getting a little bit older, so I wanted to protect them. If I get COVID, I don't know if I will be fine, but I am double-vaccinated. The situation over there was very slow, and I just want to protect everybody, especially my mum and dad. My sister is due in October so I will go to meet my first ever nephew, I'm very happy for my sister, my brother-in-law, so I'm very excited to go home and meet him.

What is your life motto?

Never give up. Everything is achievable, it just takes time sometimes, but everything is achievable.

Photography by James Robinson. Hair and make-up by Sandra Rodrigues. Styling by Jodie Nellist.

Location: Tylney Hall Hotel & Gardens.

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