BIG INTERVIEW Joanne Clifton: 'I want to burn the jacket and the bike as soon as this finishes'

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After winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2016 with news presenter Ore Oduba, Joanne Clifton already knew what her next step was going to be.

It had only been her second series on the BBC's ratings juggernaut, but the professional dancer had already been building herself a profile in musicals.

Following roles in a couple of low-key productions, she had won the lead in a new touring production of Thoroughly Modern Millie while still performing on Strictly. With barely a pause for breath after lifting the show's Glitterball trophy, Joanne embarked on her first national musical tour.

And as soon as that was done she was all ready to start on her current endeavour – playing Alex Owens in the musical adaptation of the hit '80s film, Flashdance. And even when she was supposed to be resting, this workaholic performer couldn't help herself.

'We opened in August last year,' she explains, 'but over Christmas I did another show. We had a Christmas break, but I feel guilty if I stop, so for five weeks I joined the Top Hat cast.'

How on earth does she find the time to rehearse for these shows?

'It overlapped, to be honest. The Thoroughly Modern Millie rehearsals overlapped with the end of Strictly. Then when I started Flashdance, they overlapped with the end of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

'I was doing Millie shows in the evening and rehearsing in the daytime. Then for Top Hat it was the same. One of the last weeks for Flashdance last year we were in Birmingham, so I was travelling down by train, doing two-three hours of rehearsal for Top Hat and then it was back up again.'

The show follows Alex, a welder by day and ‘flashdancer’ by night, who dreams of going to the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and becoming a professional dancer.

But it represented quite a departure for Joanne.

Joanne Clifton in Flashdance, The Musical.

Joanne Clifton in Flashdance, The Musical.

'It is a very different show for me and I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I took it obviously, because it’s a good opportunity. It's another leading role – and a dance role.

'But I was a bit unsure, because I’ve never done a serious role – I’ve always done quirky-ish, or funny-ish – that type of role, a bit more of a character role. But I got the script for Flashdance and Alex is not funny at all, she’s super-serious. But I actually really love it. I love that she gets angry – I can have a good shout!'

And for someone who's been ballroom dancing practically as long as she's been walking, the style of dancing was all new to her – and very nearly disastrously so.

'The closest I’ve done to this was a little bit of disco when I was a kid in my mum and dad’s dance school, and a bit of rock’n’roll, like a lot of kids do, but that’s about as close as it got.

'The second show in when we opened I popped my calf muscle, and I think it’s because I’m not used to that style of dance. I’m used to dancing in heels for ballroom and latin. I’ve danced in heels since I was four, so my calf muscles and tendons at the back are quite short. I was dancing in flat trainers and I think that pulled it – it just popped.'

In true showbiz style though, the show did go on.

'I didn’t go off - I limped my way through the first  two weeks of shows, and danced on my toes because my understudies weren’t ready yet.'

Much as she has come to love the show, she won't miss one of its most famous scenes. At the climactic dance audition, Alex dunks herself in water.

'It’s not my favourite part of the show, let’s put it that way.

'When I finish this in October there's three things in the show that I won’t miss. That’s one of them, because it’s freezing cold and it has to be activated at a certain time from the front desk, and if it’s warm, for some reason, it doesn’t activate.

'The second thing, I have to wear this horrible denim jacket with the puffed shoulders. The costume department keep telling me I have to keep it on, but as soon as I’m on stage, I take it off and hang it somewhere because I just don’t like it.

'Then there’s my bike, I just can’t ride a bike. They didn’t know that at first, but I guess I should have known as it’s the same sequence as in the film. I’ve been having bike lessons and everything, and I actually thought I got quite good until about four days ago, I fell off it completely, slammed down, the whole cast in stitches.

'I couldn’t look at anyone in the cast, I couldn’t look at the audience, I was so embarrassed.

'I want to burn the denim jacket and the bike as soon as this finishes.'

Joanne's love-interest in the show is played by Ben Adams, of boy-turned-man-band A1, who is making his musical theatre debut as Nick Hurley. And Joanne admits, neither of them was overly familiar with the other before the show.

'I knew [A1's chart-topping cover of A-ha's] Take On Me, but I liked Westlife, me, and Hanson. When they told me it was Ben Adams, they didn’t mention he was from A1, so when I Googled him, I thought, ooh, heck, I’ll have him!'

And the two have become fast friends.

'I think we have the same personality – we’re the same person basically. We laugh all the time about stupid things. We’re a little bit older than a lot of the rest of the cast, so we laugh about things they don’t find funny at all, but we think are hilarious.'

Obviously Joanne left Strictly on a high but did she have time to miss it?

'I saw it on catch-up because I was performing when it was on live. I live with [2017's professional winner] Katya Jones as well, so we’ve got two Glitterballs in our house now - we call it The Shiny House!

'I don’t think I had the time to miss it, I guess I missed it a little bit. When I went back at the start of the series to do the winner’s dance with Ore, that’s when  I went: "Did I make the right decision?" Because I really enjoyed it and being around the team again, but as soon as I got back into Flashdance I realised I’m really happy on stage and I made the right decision.'

As to beyond October, when her run in the show finishes?
'I’ve not got anything concrete. There’s a couple of things I’m in talks for, but I can’t say what they are yet.'

Flashdance - The Musical is at The Kings Theatre, Southsea from May 14-19. Adult tickets from £30-38. Go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk.