Brendan Cole: ‘I certainly had some tough days - but they make you stronger’

Strictly star Brendan Cole, centre
Strictly star Brendan Cole, centre
Picture: Shutterstock

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Strictly Come Dancing mainstay Brendan Cole brings his new show to Portsmouth next week. He talked with Chris Broom about his life in and out of the spotlight.

One thing you can say about champion ballroom dancer Brendan Cole is that he doesn’t run short on self-belief.

Brendan Cole PNL-150113-104021001

Brendan Cole PNL-150113-104021001

Having relocated from his native New Zealand to the UK as an 18-year-old, he has made his way to the top of the dancing world’s tree.

He won the first series of Strictly Come Dancing with newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, and is one of only two dancers to have appeared in every series since – the other being Anton du Beke.

And he is bringing his new show, A Night to Remember, to the city next week.

When The Guide caught up with him he was deep in rehearsal for the final show, where all the stars return for one last group dance.

Programme Name: Strictly Come Dancing - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Embargoed for publication until: n/a - Picture Shows: (L-R) Sir Bruce Forsyth, Sophie Ellis-Bexter, Brendan Cole - (C) BBC - Photographer: Ray Burmiston ENGPPP00720130917123115

Programme Name: Strictly Come Dancing - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Embargoed for publication until: n/a - Picture Shows: (L-R) Sir Bruce Forsyth, Sophie Ellis-Bexter, Brendan Cole - (C) BBC - Photographer: Ray Burmiston ENGPPP00720130917123115

He made it to the 10th week of the last series with Casualty star Sunetra Sarker, before being voted off.

‘We’re really pleased with the result,’ he explains. ‘We both went further than we expected, which is always good. We were doing well and having fun when we got voted out. I think it’s one of the first times when anyone’s gone and they’ve said: “We’ve had a good run, we’re comfortable with that”.’

But it’s pot luck when it comes to your partner. When asked about his partnerships over the years, he explains: ‘The main thing for me is that you want to get on with your partner and have a good relationship with them because you spend so much time with them and you hang out all the time.

‘You want it to be someone you have a lovely rapport with. If you don’t get that it makes the job a little more tricky and at the same time, you’ve got to get on with it.’

Brendan Cole A night to rememebr show coming to Granthjam Feb 6 EMN-140915-110844001

Brendan Cole A night to rememebr show coming to Granthjam Feb 6 EMN-140915-110844001

Ever the pro, he wouldn’t name names, but adds: ‘It’s been an interesting run. There have definitely been ones I’ve not enjoyed the time with, and ones I’ve had an amazing time with.’

Although he’s not won since, he’s made it to the final on another two occasions, with Lisa Snowdon and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. And of all his partners on the show, it’s the latter whom he feels he clicked with the best overall.

‘We had a phenomenal series last year’ says Cole. ‘We clicked and we made the final, which is a bonus, and she’s an absolute delight to spend time with. We had that rapport right from the start.’

Brendan first started dancing as a child in Christchurch, New Zealand – and it wasn’t exactly through choice: ‘Nothing made me want to start dancing, my mum made me do it.

‘At the age of six or seven you don’t decide you want to start ballroom dancing – you do what your mum tells you.

‘Mum wanted us to dance, myself and my brother, and eventually my sister, but I loved all sports. I was very active, but with dancing I never hung up the shoes like I did at the end of the rugby season, the football season or the cricket season, when you hung up your boots and for whatever reason didn’t pick them up the next year.’

While he was starting to make waves as a dancer, Brendan left school at 17 to go into the building trade, and he soon started looking further afield for inspiration.

‘Back in the day, when I was a teenager, the home of dance, as such, was south London. There was a big contingent of the best teachers, and people training to be the best in the world, and I was at that level.

‘I came over to take part in the world youth championships in Ukraine, stopped off in London and walked into the place, and said: “Oh my goodness, I want a piece of this,” and I made a decision to be back within the year.

‘It was a case of I knew what I wanted to do and I knew it was a tough road, but I’m a very determined person and I strived to succeed.

‘I certainly had some tough days where I was broke and couldn’t afford the electricity and had a lot of bills, but at the same time those tough days make you stronger.

‘There were moments where I thought I should just go home to New Zealand and have a nice life and build houses, but I thought ‘‘I’m going to fight for this’’.

‘And then I got a break and you turn it around. I managed to make it to the top bracket in the world, then Strictly came along and my world changed again.’

After a successful screen test, Cole and his then partner, Camilla Dallerup, were both signed up for the first series of Strictly in 2004.

‘No-one at the time knew how big it was going to be,’ he recalls. ‘It was more: “Here’s an opportunity, let’s see what happens”.

‘But there was a magic about it right from the start.

‘It wasn’t a slow-grower, it was like: “Boom! Here’s the big new hit show”. It was nice to be on a show that gripped the nation right from the start.’

In his new show, Cole brings along French Dancing With The Stars champion Fauve Hautot, Germany’s Patrick Helm who was assistant to the artistic director on Strictly, as well as professional ballroom and Latin dance instructor Crystal Main. Explaining what to expect from A Night... Cole says: ‘I cover everything, there’s a good mix of Latin and ballroom in there.

‘I’m very proud of the show. It’s not something where a production company puts the show together and then I come on and headline.

‘I’m involved from the outset with the choreography, the dances, the music, and the costumes, down to the props.

‘It’s my show, it’s driven by me. We’ve got some huge names in there. And when you’ve got dancers of that calibre in there it’s immensely exciting to see what you can produce. The whole process becomes this incredible thing that you can take to the people. I want people to come along and have a good time from start to finish.’

Brendan on...

...any rivalry with ITV’s Saturday night show, X Factor.

I think you’ve got two really good shows on there in a similar time slot –but not the same, and I don’t really see it as competition to Strictly.

...his performing arts academy.

It’s run by Activate Sports, who are well versed in running these sorts of things. I’m proud of it, it’s grown. It’s great to see kids experiencing something a bit different that they might not otherwise do, and keeping them active.

...returning to Portsmouth Guildhall.

Last year with the Licence to Thrill tour was my first time at the venue and we had a great time, I’m really looking forward to coming back.

Where & when...

Brendan Cole’s A Night To Remember is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Wednesday, February 11, doors 7pm. Tickets cost from £0.80 to £38.50. Call 0844 847 2362 or go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk