Lisa Riley is walking on air. She spends all week learning different and complicated dance routines with a hunky dancer, and then when it gets to Saturday nights she gets glammed up and shimmies in front of millions of people.
The Emmerdale and Waterloo Road soap star can’t believe her luck as she sails through Strictly Come Dancing. And she’s also heading to Southsea this Christmas in the pantomime Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs at the Kings Theatre.
Lisa, who will play Queen Malevola and is a patron of the Kings, says: ‘I always say I come down Albert Road and I feel like it’s a home from home for me. I’ve worked in so many theatres and I just always find myself drawn back here.
‘The Kings is so familiar and it’s like a family, you don’t get that anywhere else. I want to spend time here because they run the theatre so brilliantly and a lot of it is done by volunteers.
She adds: ‘It’s a real community spirit which doesn’t exist so much any more. You don’t just say hello to each other, they’ll offer to cook you spag bol!’
Lisa first fell in love with the stage when she went to a show as a child. A year later she saw her first pantomime. She was hooked.
‘I love it because I can’t stand our culture sometimes,’ explains Lisa, ‘and pantomime is a fantastic way to introduce children to the theatre.
‘You need to get them into live theatre because it does affect them. The first time I went to the theatre I was three and I haven’t looked back since. It’s where I first fell in love with acting.’
Playing the evil queen means northerner Lisa gets a lot of boos from the audience, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lisa says: ‘I was always known for playing the nice queen or the fairy godmother, but a producer convinced me otherwise once so I stopped playing to type.
‘Now I’m playing the evil character and I wouldn’t go back! I just love it when they boo me. The kids know who the baddie is straight away and they get so involved.’
She will star alongside a host of names, including Gosport-born Marcus Patrick, Any Dream Will Do contestant Rob McVeigh and Milkshake star Jenni Pringle.
But it’s not just the pantomime that is keeping Lisa busy, as countless hours of her weeks are taken up with practising for Strictly Come Dancing.
She caused a storm of interest when she performed the cha cha cha in week one, and has since shot up the leader board.
Now in the final six, this weekend she will perform a fusion of the cha cha cha and the tango or, as she calls it, ‘the chango.’
And part of the reason she’s loved it so much is her dance partner, Robin Windsor.
Lisa says: ‘If I had someone like Anton, I mean he’s phenomenal ,but he’s very Russian and mysterious, whereas me and Robin have a funny relationship. We have a lot of laughs together.’
It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride, but Lisa wouldn’t have it any other way.
She says: ‘I have to watch Robin’s feet so I can learn all the dances. It’s weird going from a dance room with no windows, then 600 people in the Strictly bubble. It’s mad to think there are millions watching at home!
‘I can’t explain it. We both get nervous but you have all different kinds of emotions, like I think I will forget all the steps and the hard work.’
This week the pair took to the floor to perform the quickstep.
Lisa adds: ‘I did make two massive faux pas near the end in the corner. I’m the first to criticise myself, but the people at home didn’t notice because they don’t know Robin’s choreography.
‘We’re through to the final six and we’re elated. Robin’s never got past week nine before so I’ve broken his jinx.’
Just before the series started, Lisa’s mum sadly passed away after losing her battle with cancer, but the star bravely carried on with preparing for the show.
While she and Robin got ready, Lisa had an added strain as she was filming in Scotland for the new series of Waterloo Road and tried to fit training around it.
Lisa says: ‘When I did the evening sessions I was thinking about my dialogue for the next day and trying to remember steps. I was getting the camera crew to run through my lines with me.
‘How actors have done it in the past, I will never know!’
As she gets further in the competition, she can give her whole attention to the series instead of other acting commitments.
The actress first got involved with the show because she has always loved dancing.
Lisa says: ‘I’ve always watched the show and my good friend Linda Bellingham was on it and she was fantastic. I just never thought I’d do it, purely because I’m not that stereotypical type. But I can dance and I want to learn, that’s why I’m different.’
And that’s exactly why Lisa has become the poster girl for the show – because she’s not what many people would expect a good dancer to look like. On her first week she became the first celebrity woman to pick up her partner, and when they performed at Wembley Arena she even managed a showstopper by doing the splits. And the nation has fallen in love with her because of it.
There are countless stories in the national papers about her dancing and gradual weight loss, and the media interest in her staying in the competition is at an all-time high.
Lisa adds: ‘I just want to entertain people and make them smile.’
The video on this story shows Lisa talking about the Kings panto at the launch event