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Strictly Come Dancing winner Oti Mabuse, 30, on her new role on The Masked Dancer, her dancing injuries, cockapoo puppy, and why you’ll never see her on Broadway.
What was your reaction when you got the call to be a judge on The Masked Dancer?
I was under the impression that I was doing it as a contestant. I was just yacking away to them about how I would spice it up and they were like, ‘Well, let’s just have another chat and then we can talk about the jury.’ I was like, ‘What?’
With Bill Bailey, you showed how to make the most of someone’s dancing skills. Could you transform fellow judge Jonathan Ross into a Strictly champion?
The thing with Jonathan is he can move. The number one thing about Strictly is that what you really want is somebody who wants to be there. If Jonathan says he’s going to do this, I’m going to dedicate everything to him. The question isn’t whether I could turn him into a dancer, it’s whether he wants to do Strictly. I realise a lot of people are shy when it comes to dancing.
Davina McCall is also on the judging panel. Had you met her before?
No. The best thing is that the person you see on screen is the person you meet backstage — but even better! The first thing Davina said to me was, ‘If you ever, ever need any help, just come to my room and we’ll have a chat. I’ve got your back.’ I was like, ‘Wow! This is incredible!’
Do you ever have a kitchen disco with your husband, Marius?
All the time. I play everything. South African house music, I love Anne-Marie, I’m obsessed with Dua Lipa. I also love gospel music. That’s like my thing. And salsa. It’s usually me coming home excited and dancing up and down the kitchen. He’s just clapping and going, ‘Go, baby! Go, baby!’
How important is dancing for mental health?
Dance has saved me. Because of dance I was able to see the world. I was able to move from South Africa to England, I met my husband, I met my best friends. So for my mental health, it’s given me everything. It’s given me a whole new world to explore, a whole new culture and a whole new country of people to get to know.
It says one of the characters on The Masked Dancer is dressed up as a car wash. What does that look like?
You know when you go into a car wash and you have those machines that turn so they clean your car? That’s what Car Wash is wearing. Unlike the other characters, where you can see their bodies, whether they’ve got long legs, short legs, small feet, with Car Wash you can’t see anything. But Car Wash is an absolutely brilliant dancer. The Squirrel is also amazing.
Dancers never complain about their injuries. What have been your worst?
We have them all the time. You’re being lifted by someone who has never lifted another human being before so sometimes you fall. I’ve dislocated my shoulder and I’ve dislocated my knee but I don’t let an injury hold me back.
You are also building another career as a presenter. Who are the TV presenters you most admire?
I work a lot with Steph McGovern, doing Steph’s Packed Lunch live. After every show, the whole crew stay for 15 minutes so I can run the show as Steph. She gives me cues — how to read certain things, how I speak, how to pronounce and enunciate words. Also, Gethin Jones on Morning Live. Those two are the people that have motivated and actually helped me. I look up to Holly Willoughby and Davina because she’s so natural. And Zoe Ball.
Has anyone ever left you star-struck?
Ant and Dec. I was doing BGT Extra and Dec said, ‘Hi, how are you? Thank you for being on the show.’ I was just like, ‘Wow! The legends are in!’
How is your gorgeous dog, Leo?
Aw, Leo is good. He’s with my husband. He’s a puppy, he’s seven months old. He’s amazing. He’s taught me a lot about responsibility and caring. It’s literally waking up and making sure that Leo has eaten, that he’s been walked. It’s all very, very new. I love it. He’s a cockapoo. He’s got a lot of energy. They do a lot of digging. They dig on your couch, not the ground. They dig the couch and the pillows!
Have you got any hidden talents?
I sing all the time to [fourth judge] Mo Gilligan. I sing in his ear and he says, ‘Oti, this is not your talent.’
That’s a shame. You could have been heading to The Masked Singer series three…
If I could sing I would be a West End star. I’d be on Broadway. Oh gosh, you would never hear me speak. I would only be singing.
The Masked Dancer starts on May 29 on ITV
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