For a dancer, there is no better job than performing in front of 14 million viewers each week on a BBC prime-time television show.
But when professional dancers join the cast of Strictly Come Dancing, it’s not just a dream job, it changes their lives forever, sending them spiralling into the spotlight as one of the best-known dancers in the nation.
A Strictly professional of six series, Vincent Simone can attest to this.
‘Of course it changed my life,’ says the 32-year-old, whose professional partner is Flavia Cacace.
‘We’ve always been stars in our own right in the dance world. But whereas before I was recognised by dancers, now I’m recognised by ordinary people,’ he continues.
Vincent and Flavia left Strictly viewers breathless with their passionate and precise dances on the show.
The pair, who have been dancing together for 14 years, left international competition for Strictly at the height of their success as World Argentine Tango Show Champions. They were also UK ballroom champions for several years.
Now, after six years of living every dancer’s dream on the TV show, they are finally achieving one of their own greatest ambitions and staging their own live show.
After taking part in the Strictly Come Dancing: The Professionals theatre tour (which came to the Southampton Mayflower last year), the pair have gone it alone to take their breathtaking moves on tour in Midnight Tango.
Speaking in a break from five weeks of intensive rehearsals at a studio in Waterloo, Vincent says: ‘Rehearsals are going really, really well.
‘It’s going to be amazing, firstly because I’m involved and secondly because everyone else is so amazing – the singer, band, dancers, director, everything,’ he continues, with his trademark cheek.
Vincent and Flavia have chosen to rehearse in London rather than in Guildford, where they both live, because they needed a studio big enough for a band and props.
These props make up some of the set for the story, but that’s something Vincent doesn’t want to give away.
He says: ‘It’s set in a typical bar in Argentina, run by a husband and wife and different characters turn up though the door.
‘There’s a huge story. I don’t want to say too much about it, but the story on it’s own is something to see,’ he continues, in between sips of Coca Cola.
In person, Vincent is exactly as he is on Strictly, with child-like enthusiasm, bold statements and typical Italian charm.
He says ‘ciao’ and calls me ‘bella’, but his use of English and wide vocabulary is so native-sounding that it’s hard to believe Flavia had to help him learn the language when he first moved to the UK as a teenager.
Vincent was born in southern Italy to Latin and ballroom dancing teacher parents.
A champion dancer from an early age, he moved here to further his dancing career and met Flavia at his Guildford dance school when he was 17.
The dance partners (who both still teach at the same school that they met) were in a relationship until Flavia left Vincent for her celebrity partner, Matt Di Angelo, in 2007. Flavia is rumoured to have left Matt in 2010 for her then dance partner Jimi Mistry.
There was more scandal for Vincent too, who had an affair with Strictly’s Russian star Kristina Rihanoff (now dating her ex-celebrity-dance partner boxer Joe Calzaghe) while Vincent’s girlfriend, Susan Duddy (an ex of Strictly’s Brendan Cole) was pregnant with their first child.
Vincent and former private jet hostess Susan, 38, are now back on track and enjoying life with their one-and-a-half-year-old son, Luca.
Vincent reveals that it is tough trying to juggle being a dad with his dancing commitments.
He says: ‘Combining my life in Strictly and the tour and taking care of my little boy – it’s unbelievable.
‘But Luca is amazing. He’s the happiest boy on the planet and if there was a prize for dad of the year, I’d win it. So, if you hear of an award, will you put me forward please?’ he continues (I think only half joking).
But Vincent admits that he likes a challenge and that’s part of the reason why he enjoys Strictly so much.
With the new stage show, the challenge is acting.
He says: ‘There’s some acting, which we’ve never done before, so that will be a little challenge for us, but we love it.
‘Hopefully it will come across in the right way,’ he continues.
Vin-cent and Flavia are nervous but confident ahead of the opening of their show. It’s something that they have been planning for a long time.
Vincent explains: ‘We have always wanted to do our own show, but we were too busy before with Strictly, teaching and competing.
‘After we got involved with Strictly, everything got amplified. The amount of requests we get to teach and appear and perform is out of this world.
‘We never had a moment to sit down and say “right, let’s organise this” because we always had so much work coming in.
‘But it’s always been our dream to do our own show.
‘By coincidence, we were approached while we were on tour by Adam Spiegel, who is an amazing West End producer.
‘He said “you are the face of the Argentine tango” and he couldn’t believe we hadn’t done a tango show.
‘We explained we didn’t have the chance and we didn’t know where to start, so he set up a meeting to discuss ideas.
‘We wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before in other tango shows. We wanted to do more acting, dancing, more group dancing. Now, because of Adam, we can finally complete our dream,’ continues Vincent.
The show kicks off at the Southampton Mayflower on April 5 and has already sold out at a number of other theatres.
Vincent says: ‘The number of tickets that have sold already is amazing. It makes us feel good that people have faith in us and want to see us perform.
‘Of course there’s lots of pressure – it’s our name on the line, but we’re confident.’
Someone else who is clearly confident in the duo is dance doyenne Arlene Phillips, who has also put her name to the show as co-producer.
As for the pressure, he says it’s not going to be hard to top the routines seen on Strictly.
He says: ‘Every routine we choreograph is related to the music and the story. Me and Flavia and the director, Karen Bruce, picked the songs. Each song is amazing.
‘I like to say that music is the soul of a dance. When you have good music, everything comes easier. Also, on Strictly, every time we do a performance we have a short amount of time to prepare – just Monday to Saturday.
‘Here we have had time to really think about the choreography and the story.’
Midnight Tango continues until the end of July and Vincent hopes he’ll be back for another series of Strictly Come Dancing in the autumn. ‘Usually we find out in the next couple of months,’ he reveals.
As for what he’ll do when he does eventually leave the BBC show, Vincent says: ‘Just dancing, in whatever forms it comes. It’s all I can do.
‘It’s the thing I would miss the most. You know, if someone asks you what would make you most upset if you had to give it up, I say dancing.
‘I have to dance.’
See Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace in Midnight Tango from April 5 to 9 at the Southampton Mayflower. Tickets cost £17.50 to £32.50 from (023) 8071 1811 or mayflower.org.uk.
Vincent’s celebrity dance partners have been Louisa Lytton, Stephanie Beacham, Rachel Stevens, Natalie Cassidy and Felicity Kendal. He was last seen dancing with EastEnder June Brown in the Christmas Special.
Vincent Simone on...
...performing in theatres for the first time last year
It was good experience. Now we know what to expect. The atmosphere in a theatre is unbelievable. You can feel the audience breathing. I love it.
...Strictly’s best ever celeb contestant
The best dancer, in my opinion, was Jill Halfpenny. Although, it’s clear she had a dancing background, so there’s no point comparing her to Ann Widdecombe. Last year, Kara Tointon was quite good. I have to admit she impressed me.
...what he hopes for in a celebrity dance partner
So far, I’ve been lucky, I’ve danced with some amazing inspirational personalities. I’ve learned from them as well and I’ve always enjoyed the experience. But the main thing is passion. I want her to be keen to do well in the show. All the professionals, we all want to win. We’re all competitive and there’s no point hiding it. No matter who we get. No matter what age, what size, all we want is for them to want to do it.
...who he would like to see appear on the show
Because I’m Italian, I’d like to see someone European. Someone I can call my parents and my friends and say ‘you’re never going to guess who I’m dancing with’. Also, I think singers have a lot of potential because they are used to performing and they’ve got musicality. If they can do a bit of acting, even better. Rachel Stevens, (pictured with Vincent) she knew already about the change of phrase in music, about bars, it’s easier if you haven’t got to explain all this.
I’m very flashy and a typical Italian man, so I love last, flash cars. My dream is to own a Ferrari one day and who knows, if I am partnered with a very rich celebrity on Strictly and we win, they might buy me one.