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Exclusive: Strictly stars reveal how the show has changed them as we join them at tour rehearsals

Champion Ellie Leach has become a more 'positive' person

Strictly Come Dancing live tour rehearsals
Emily Horan
Entertainment Editor
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Gracefully gliding across the room, Strictly Come Dancing champion Ellie Leach is glowing with a new-found confidence when she reunites with her professional dance partner Vito Coppola – and with good reason. 

"Strictly has changed my life," the former Coronation Street star tells HELLO!, as we join her at rehearsals for the Strictly Come Dancing: Live Tour. "I'm not scared any more. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has done me the world of good. I'm really proud of myself for that." 

The change in 22-year-old Ellie hasn't gone unnoticed by her family and friends, she adds. "My mum likes to use the word 'blossomed'. They can see I've become a more positive person." 

Behind the scenes at Strictly tour rehearsals:

Having gained so much from being on Strictly, Ellie jumped at the chance to take part in the 30-show tour, alongside fellow 2023 celebrity contestants Annabel Croft, Layton Williams, Bobby Brazier, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Angela Scanlon and Angela Rippon and dancers Graziano Di Prima, Nikita Kuzmin, Dianne Buswell, Jowita Przystal, Carlos Gu, Kai Widdrington, Nadiya Bychkova, Karen Hauer, Katya Jones, Neil Jones, Robbie Kmetoni, Jake Leigh and Nancy Xu.

Ellie wasn't the only one quick to say yes: tennis player turned TV presenter Annabel is relishing being back on the dancefloor. "I understand why dancers do what they do, because it's so joyful," she says. "I had to decide between doing the Australian Open and this, but I've done that for many years and I can do it again in the future. What an opportunity to dance in these amazing venues and see everybody again – it's like one big family." 

Strictly Come Dancing live tour rehearsals© Dave Hogan
"Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has done me the world of good. I'm really proud of myself for that," said Ellie

Annabel, 57, made the semifinals with Johannes Radebe, but will be teaming up with Graziano as Johannes's own touring commitments means he's unable to join them this time. 

Signing up for Strictly after the death of her husband Mel Coleman from cancer last May was a brave step. But the joy of the show – and the close connection she formed with Johannes – showed her a way through her grief, she says. "It was a perfect time [to do it]. It's not to say that the grieving process was halted, but it helped. To have your brain focusing on something as positive as dancing is very helpful. And now, rehearsing with Graziano takes my brain away from it, otherwise, you're focusing on somebody that's not there every day, all day."

"Of course, it is still there," she adds. "But this is a very positive, joyful experience which helps."

Strictly Come Dancing live tour rehearsals© Dave Hogan
Annabel Croft, 57, made the semifinals with Johannes Radebe last year

There's certainly plenty of joy in store for audiences around the country, as the tour – which opens at Birmingham's Utilita Arena on Friday 19 January and visits venues from Glasgow to Liverpool– promises roof-raising routines, group dances and live music. Judges Shirley Ballas, Anton Du Beke and Craig Revel Horwood will take their place on the panel, while Strictly: It Takes Two presenter Janette Manrara resumes tour hosting duties. 

Joining Annabel in feeling a ream of benefits from his time on Strictly is Channel 4 News lead presenter Krishnan, who says the show not only gave him a "new perspective" on life at 53, it also brought his son a taste of fame. Jay, 16, who had originally begged Krishnan not to do the show out of embarrassment, became an unlikely star after supporting his dad in the studio audience every week. "He's very modest about it all," says the journalist. "He's in a band, so we're always saying: 'You should use your new-found fame to promote the band.' But he's like: 'No, no, that's your thing.'"

Meanwhile, 20-year-old EastEnders star Bobby has a renewed sense of excitement about his future and is looking forward to "great opportunities to be around some great people who I can learn from", he says. "I feel like my dreams are starting to come true." 

Strictly Come Dancing live tour rehearsals© Dave Hogan
Bobby Brazier said the post-Strictly comedown resembled a break-up

Bobby and his partner Dianne are clearly delighted to be back together after the festive break, when they both jetted off to soak up some sun with loved ones. Dianne visited her family in Australia with boyfriend Joe Sugg and Bobby enjoyed an exotic family holiday to Mauritius, where he was able to flex his dancing muscles at salsa classes. It no doubt helped him through the post-Strictly comedown, which, he says, resembled a break-up. "I was shocked with how I responded – there was a lot of ice cream!" 

Dianne's trip was an emotional one as she was reunited with her dad Mark, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy amid a health battle. "He's doing really well," she says. "I went to his treatment with him and he's told everyone so much about [Strictly]. I was worried because there were so many nurses around him at one point. I was like: 'What's going on? Is he all right?' And they said: 'Oh yes. We just came to say hi to you.'"

Also enjoying the break, Nikita squeezed in not one but three holidays, travelling to Dubai, Rome and Egypt and enjoying quality time with his family and model girlfriend Lauren Jaine. And Ellie and Vito – who insist they are just good friends, despite rumours of romance – didn't get a chance to miss each other during their time apart. 

"I've been annoying her every day, she'll never get rid of me," says Vito, laughing. Ellie adds: "Some mornings, I'd hear my phone ring and think: 'I'm not answering that – I'm still half-asleep.' But I'd always ring him back!" 

Strictly Come Dancing live tour rehearsals© Dave Hogan
Of her decision to join the tour, Angela Rippon said: "I shall be 80 in October. I'm going to fit in as many adventures as I can."

Annabel, who rang in the New Year in the Swiss Alps, spent her break fuelling up with good food after losing a lot of weight during her time on Strictly. "My children were getting worried about me because I have never been that light. I've never felt so supple and agile, but by the end of the series, I couldn't stop the weight falling off. My clothes were dropping off my arms." 

Having formed an incredible close bond with Johannes, she will miss the South African dancer on tour. "It was a magical experience with him. We just clicked. I can't put my finger on what it was." She speaks to her friend "most days", but says she and Graziano have "slotted together effortlessly". Graziano, who started on Strictly in 2018, the same year as Johannes, tells us: "Me and Johannes are good friends so I had the chance to get to know Annabel [during the series]. "When they asked me to the arena tour, I was so happy because I knew Annabel was such a beautiful person."

Although the pressure of the main competition is off, there are sure to be a few nerves ahead of performing in front of tens of thousands of people at vast arenas, including London's iconic O2 – not that West End star Layton is fazed. "I was born ready for this moment," says the actor, who made the final. "Arenas are a bucket-list venue for any performer." His partner on the show Nikita adds: "The tour always feels like a celebration," while Kai says he is looking forward to hearing the roar of the crowd when he and 79-yearold former newsreader Angela once more perform her high-kick. "

I can't wait for Angela to have that moment in the spotlight," he says. Of her decision to join the tour, Angela says: "I thought: 'Why the hell not?' I shall be 80 in October. I'm going to fit in as many adventures as I can." As you might imagine, the tour bus will be rather lively – but who is the biggest troublemaker? "Neil – he's known for his pranks," says Jowita with a laugh. "If you want to have a quiet time, you sit far away from him on the bus!" 

The tour will herald the start of an exciting 2024 for the cast. "You do get surprising opportunities coming your way after Strictly," Krishnan says. "The surprising one was musical theatre – I never thought I'd be approached to do that, but I have!" But above all, each of them will be cherishing the bonds they've formed. "After dancing together every single day for three months and going on tour, it would be hard to not find a friend for life," says Ellie.

The Strictly Come Dancing: Live Tour is on from 19 January to 11 February. For info, visit

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