It’s a busy time for the boys from Strictly.
It’s a busy time for the boys from Strictly. There’s been the nationwide arena tour in which seven of the 2018 TV show’s leading celebrities – Stacey Dooley, Joe Sugg, Ashley Roberts and Faye Tozer among them – criss-crossed the UK partnered by their professional dancers.
Then there are various spin-off tours for individual dancers and a second 35-date tour featuring the professionals, both male and female, which was here just last month.
Now Aljaž Škorjanec, Giovanni Pernice and Gorka Marquez pool their collective talents and hit the road in a new 38-date show, Here Come The Boys. It officially (high) kicks-off in Carlisle on June 15
But before then, there is an open dress rehearsal being held here in Portsmouth.
The setting is a club and the challenge is to judge who’s the best as they go head-to-head, squaring up to each other every night in Latin, ballroom, commercial and contemporary routines to tracks from the likes of JLo, Bruno Mars and Gloria Estefan as well as to a slew of dance club anthems. Then it’s up to the audience to decide who’s the champion.
Also on stage will be a percussionist and a flamenco guitarist with live vocals provided by Elizabeth Troy (formerly with Clean Bandit).
The fast-moving show, from the producers of Rip it Up and Remembering Fred, will be directed and choreographed by Gareth Walker with the assistance of Janette Manrara aka Mrs Aljaz.
‘Technically,’ says Giovanni, 28, ‘she’s your boss on this one.’
Aljaz disagrees. ‘No, she’s always my boss!’ Seriously, though, is it difficult taking instruction from your own wife.
‘Never,’ he insists. ‘We’re so used to working together on Strictly, choreographing together. She’s really good with concepts and ideas; I’m good with making the steps work. Truly, it’s always felt like being in harmony, never like doing battle.’
What about the demands of touring?
‘Well, we’re all fit,’ says Gorka, 28. ‘And this is our job. Yes, you can wake up each morning and then remember you’ve got to travel however many miles to get to the next venue. But it’s the show, the audience that gives you the impetus. We simply love performing in front of the people who watch the TV show. There’s such a buzz about a live audience.’
And if you like what you do, says Alajz, 29, it doesn’t feel like a job.
‘Seeing happy faces out there for two hours at every show makes it worth it. When we’re performing on Strictly, you don’t see the much smaller studio crowd in quite the same way. But a tour puts you directly in touch with the fans.’
For that, they each have their experience on Strictly to thank. How did it change their lives?
Gorka explains: ‘I was 10 years old when I started dancing so I had a lot of experience. But being chosen to dance on Strictly opened all the doors.’
‘I’ve been in the final more than either of these two,’ says Giovanni, ‘and it means you get recognised in the supermarket.’
Aljaz can’t resist: ‘Yes, but you’ve never won,’ he points out. (Aljaz and Abbey Clancy carried off the coveted Glitterball in 2013.) Never let it be said that these boys – for all the joshing – aren’t fiercely competitive.
The world of dance in general – and Strictly in particular – has also delivered a number of romances. Giovanni’s 2015 partner, former Coronation Street actress, Georgia May Foote, became his off-screen girlfriend in a relationship that lasted until the autumn of 2016.
Most recently, his name has been linked to Ashley Roberts, a subject that the otherwise talkative Sicilian is clearly reluctant to discuss.
When it comes to matters of the heart, Gorka, by contrast, can’t say enough. In the 2017 series of Strictly, actress Gemma Atkinson (Hollyoaks, Casualty, Emmerdale) was partnered by Aljaz; Gorka’s partner was singer Alexandra Burke. Both couples reached the final (won by Joe McFadden and Katya Jones). But romance flared between Gorka and Gemma.
Nor was it a fleeting affair. A year later, the two have moved into a flat together in Manchester where Gemma co-presents the breakfast show on Hits Radio. And they’re expecting their first baby this summer.
‘I was first attracted to her because she’s friendly and normal and easy to talk to. My English is improving all the time.’ Big smile. ‘I now know what “chuffed” means.’
What about her Spanish? ‘She was taking lessons but she’s been a bit busy. She managed to say a few Spanish phrases, though, to my mum and dad over Christmas. They love her already.’
Nor does it take much cajoling to get Aljaz to sing the praises of Janette. How did the two of them meet?
‘We met in London at somewhere called Dance Attic in Fulham where I also trained. One day, I walked into a back room – there were 20 people in there, 10 boys, 10 girls – and Janette immediately caught my eye. But it took me a year to convince her to go on a date with me. And then, we never looked back.’
They spend all their time together. ‘We live together. We go to work together. We come home together.’
Does it get too much? ‘No,’ insists Aljaz. ‘We’re best friends and we never get competitive with each other. We rarely fight. We’re ridiculously happy.’
He’s nothing if not a traditionalist to the point where he asked her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage before he asked Janette herself.
‘I was petrified. But, thank goodness, he said yes. Then, without consulting her, I helped design her diamond engagement ring.’
So, where did he pop the question? ‘I went back to Dance Attic and asked the man in charge to get ready with a beautiful song, You and I, by Michael Buble which was playing when I first set eyes on Janette.
‘Then I invented a story. I told her that my friend, Alesha Dixon, was going to be doing a showcase ahead of a tour and she wanted us to go there to see and hear it. Well, she wasn’t keen but reluctantly she agreed.
‘When we arrived, of course, there was no one around. “So now we’re the first,” she complained. But I led her to the back room and, as we entered, You and I started playing through the speakers. She turned around and I was on one knee with the ring in my hand.
‘I never normally get emotional but I had tears streaming down my face and then she started crying, too. We slow-danced, just the two of us, for about an hour. It was beautiful.’
That was just before the beginning of Strictly 2016. They married the following summer on July 15 in London. Then there was a reception in Slovenia and another in Miami.
‘Sometimes,’ says Aljaz, ‘life seems almost too good to be true.’
Because this is an open dress rehearsal, tickets are at the reduced price of £15+fees.
HERE COME THE BOYS
Thursday, June 13