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Janette Manrara reveals 'bittersweet' decision to start presenting, her dream job and the Strictly cast who supported her

The It Takes Two presenter spoke exclusively to HELLO! for International Women's Day

Janette Manrara may insist she's still only a "baby" in the presenting world, but the It Takes Two co-host has already gained a legion of new fans since taking over from Zoe Ball on the Strictly Come Dancing spin-off last year.

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The professional dancer and choreographer, who was already a popular household name thanks to Strictly, is making waves in the TV industry. She speaks to HELLO! exclusively in honour of our International Women's Day digital issue, admitting that she feels so empowered having made the jump from dancing to presenting.

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WATCH: Janette Manrara admits it was 'bittersweet' to start her presenting role on It Takes Two

"It was definitely a pinch-me moment, and a feeling of so much pride in the hard work and dedication that I've been putting into myself, into my career," Janette said. "Women in television and women like myself, who are Latina, not letting any of those things stop me from really pursuing something as big as hosting It Takes Two… I definitely felt empowered."

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Janette, 38, opens up about her "bittersweet" decision to leave Strictly after eight years, the co-stars who cheered her along the way, and her big dream for her presenting career.

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Janette, the past year has seen a big change for you, going from dancing on Strictly to presenting It Takes Two. How did it feel to make this big career jump?

"A dancer's career is so short. You can only dance at a top level for a certain amount of time. So ever since I got onto Strictly Come Dancing, I've always been thinking about what's next. I've always loved entertaining and making people smile, and I do like interviewing people and sharing their stories.

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"So the change to go into presenting, I think, was a very slow, long process. It just seems like it happened overnight but for me, it's been something I've been thinking about for a really, really long time. When Zoe Ball decided to step down from It Takes Two, the team there knew how much I wanted to go into presenting. Voila, the opportunity came, and I had to take it!

"I wasn't scared at all. I was really, really ready for it. I was really excited for it. I think the hardest part was saying goodbye to dancing on Strictly, because I'm not going to stop dancing, but I'm not going to be dancing on Strictly anymore and it was such a huge part of my life and such a big career move for me when I did get onto Strictly as a dancer.

"It wasn't a hard decision and it wasn't a scary decision. It was more bittersweet because I was so excited to move into that part of my life, but also so sad to say goodbye to dancing on Strictly."

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When you broke the news to your Strictly co-stars, how did they react? Was there anyone who really pushed you to take the presenting job?

"Do you know what? All the girls, funnily enough. All the female pros on Strictly. We are such a tight-knit group of women, and I remember many, many years ago when I first came on the show, it was not that we weren't close back then, but through the years, myself and some of the other female pros have really planted the seed for unity and empowerment and coming together and supporting each other. We do work in a male-dominated industry and Strictly Come Dancing is a space where women feel empowered, where women really look out for each other.

"We hang out when Strictly is not on, we go to each other's houses for dinner, we go shopping, we meet for coffee. They're my proper mates. It could easily have been the opposite. If you think about it, we're dancing and literally competing against each other, but there has never been a sense that we weren't rooting for each other to do well. There was always this sense of coming together and pushing each other up.

"So, when the announcement came for me to do It Takes Two, literally all the girls – the men as well – but especially the girls, were just so proud of me. Even recently, hosting the Strictly live tour, the girls have all mentioned to me at one point or another, how proud they are of me and that's a nice feeling to have. I feel very, very lucky that I work in an environment where we really push for each other's successes because I feel the more we do that as women, the more we will all rise together."

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You've really cemented yourself in the presenting world. How empowered does that make you feel?

"Massively empowered. I'm Latina, my family's Cuban. I was born in Miami. I was the first American-born of my whole family. I learnt English in school and no one in my household really spoke English. My mum was the one who said, 'Janette, my daughter, my Cuban daughter from this small little town in Miami called Hialeah, is now hosting a BBC primetime TV show.'

"It was definitely a pinch-me moment and a feeling of so much pride in the hard work and dedication that I've been putting into myself, into my career, to making sure that I did it how I wanted to do it and in a way that made me feel good about me and who I am as a person. So, there was definitely a sense of empowerment.

"I think also for women in television, and women like myself who are Latina, not letting any of those things stop me from really pursuing something as big as hosting It Takes Two."

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Television has typically been a male-dominated industry and to a certain extent, it still is nowadays when you see reports about gender pay gaps. Were there any female presenters who gave you advice on how to handle this, coming into the presenting world?

"It's interesting because I think having worked on Strictly, we've got two female hosts – Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman – and Zoe co-hosted It Takes Two for ten years. So I never felt that kind of inequality because I was in a space where women were at the forefront of it all. But I've never seen any other TV show in the world really, that's a Saturday night primetime TV show, where it's two female hosts.

"So for me, watching Tess and Claudia smash every Saturday night show the way they did throughout the years, was inspirational enough, and then when it came to me taking over It Takes Two, Zoe was just so brilliant at messaging me, giving me advice, saying: 'You're going to be amazing, just trust how good you are. You love the show and people will appreciate how much support and love you have for everyone involved.' So I felt that I grew up in the TV world in a space where women were actually really, really empowered."

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Looking at female presenters, is there anyone's career who you'd really like to emulate?

"Tess, Claudia, and Zoe, definitely. I'm also a really big fan of Emma Willis and Lorraine Kelly. There are so many women in our industry that I look at and think if I could take a little bit of each of them and apply it to my own career, it would be a recipe for success for my future.

"But I've always been a really big fan of Ellen DeGeneres as well throughout the years. She's done so fantastically for herself and her show is such a feel-good show. You just can't help but laugh and smile with her and she's so positive and happy. And then on an even bigger scale, someone like Oprah, she's such an intelligent woman and has really paved the way for black female presenters worldwide. She is just sensational as a human being so I turn to her a lot for inspiration for what I'd like to do in my life someday."

Would the big dream be something like hosting your own talk show then?

"I mean, my own talk show would be amazing! I think that's a lot of presenters' dreams. But I do love entertainment. I'm really enjoying doing It Takes Two and the Strictly live tour. In my heart, I am an entertainer. I like talking about and celebrating the arts. Watch this space. We'll see!

"I think I'm such a baby in the presenting world. I'm just dipping my feet into it and I'm falling more and more in love with it the more I do it, which I knew I would, because I knew I always wanted to do it. But now that I'm actually doing it, I'm finding my voice in that world of presenting a little more slowly."

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