With bags of personality and some impressive “mum moves” under her belt, we’ve seen Judi Love being whipped into shape over the past few weeks by her Strictly pro partner Graziano Di Prima, 27, and sharing plenty of laughs with him too.
Here, the comedian and Loose Women panellist reveals just how things are going. Plus, we talk about how the 41-year-old single mum is balancing family life with training and rehearsals, and what her beloved late parents would have thought of her being on the show…
Hi, Judi! How’s training going?
I feel I’m a bit more used to the dancing but every single move I learnt for the American Smooth is nothing like this weekend’s Samba. That first dance pushed my stamina – there is no time to recover between moves. You’ve got to have the posture up at the top, but the rhythm and the bounce down below.
How exactly did you find that initial live show?
When they said “Judi Love”, I felt like I went into full performance mode and thought, “Wow, this is really happening!” Graziano was saying to focus on him and that’s what I did, I just tried to zone out and really concentrate.
How have you been feeling since pairing up with the gorgeous Graziano?
Really good. He’s an absolute champ. I’m very happy he’s my partner. When it was revealed, it was sheer delight and lots of screaming.
Were you able to take in the judges’ comments on the night, or was it just more a relief to finish the dance?
It was just a relief to get the dance over without any mistakes! I was so overwhelmed.
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How do you chill out afterwards?
You’re on a bit of a high, then your body starts to hurt and all you can think is, “I need to bath, I need to soak my body, I need someone to rub my body, and I need food”.
I feel too nervous to eat beforehand, so I’ll go and get food after. You just want to eat and get home! Then in 24 hours you start again. You have Sunday off to recover but not go anywhere as you’re in a bubble. Then you’re back on Monday – there’s hardly any down time.
You’ve said you’ve lost some weight – has your body changed?
Yeah, definitely I can feel it under my boobs, in my belly area and under my arms.
Were you looking to shape up or was it a happy accident?
Definitely, why not use the opportunity? I’m with a professional athlete, I’m sweating every day, why not enjoy it? Also, I’ve found I can’t eat anything heavy at lunch at the moment, as I feel like it slows me down with the training.
How is everyone feeling about Tom Fletcher and pro partner Amy Dowden coming down with Covid?
Everyone is gutted for them and it’s a shame they had to miss a show. Strictly are doing everything they are supposed to with regards to keeping us safe, they’re amazing. It’s just a shame for Tom and Amy. Covid is one of those things. We’ll look forward to having them back. We’re all really getting on so well.
Have there been any rule changes since they tested positive?
Strictly keeps a very high regime with testing, social distancing, disinfecting and so on anyway. I feel comfortable and safe. When I’m on site, I’m with my partner and he is the only one I can stand next to. Everyone else is socially distanced. I’ve kept my circle close – not just because of Strictly but because of life. It’s just my kids, the babysitter and that’s it really. I saw all my friends before I started the show, so I haven’t seen them or my wider family for a good couple of weeks. When I’ve needed extra help, I’ve made sure everyone has tested beforehand.
There are reports of a romance brewing between Tilly Ramsay and pro partner Nikita Kuzmin. Can you see it happening?
I think everyone is just really good friends, we’re doing something so amazing together and that’s just what we’re focused on. I just want everyone to be happy and have the most amazing experience they can.
You’ve said before that you’d love to dance to reggae and bashment on the show. How important is it to you to bring Black culture to the dance floor?
I’m Black British, so there are going to be bits of both cultures I mix and blend. Black culture is here in the UK. We know about reggae, we know some of the food and about different parts of the culture. Everyone talks about me bringing my personality to the show. Well, those things are part of me, so how can I not bring them to the show?
October is Black History Month. What does it mean to you?
I think it’s a great thing that there is a month to celebrate people who made good Black history and that it’s recognised. I think we should be going more into the celebration mode of good things, rather than focusing on events that have degraded Black people, or take from them or the culture. At the same time, Black culture, lives and talent need to feel that they can be celebrated at any time of the year. It can almost feel as though it can be an excuse to restrict it and just leave it to one month.
What is Graziano like as a teacher?
I mean, have you seen him? He’s so lovely. He’s becoming a real friend. He’s very compassionate but when he needs to be firm he will be and really push me. What’s nice is that he knows when to say, “Right, that’s enough. Let’s take a break.” I feel like the professional dancers need more recognition. They have to fit the choreography to our physical strengths but they also have to deal with our confidence and self-esteem issues.
Tell us a bit about those insecurities…
You quickly realise just how much you want to do your best for your partner and for yourself. I’m going to have to push myself beyond anything I’ve done before. It might make me feel vulnerable but I’ve got to go for it.
Have any of those worries disappeared?
Just being here and doing the dances is making me feel more confident. It’s a really exciting time.
How are you juggling it with being a single mum?
When I knew Strictly was coming up, I talked to the kids about it. I always have a meeting with them before the week starts, so they know exactly what’s happening. I’ll ask them what the most important thing is for them to get to, like my son’s football training or my daughter getting to work at the weekend. So even though we’re apart, we have that schedule. It empowers the kids so they don’t just think, “Mummy’s not here.”
You were very close to your parents. What would they say if they could see you now?
My sister texted me the other day asking how things were going and I told her we were starting soon, and she said, “Don’t forget, Mummy used to love dancing.” That really warmed my heart because all these memories of her dancing around the house during my childhood came back to me. She would be the proudest Jamaican mum ever! And she would love Graziano. My dad would be very happy too. I think they’d both be really excited, proud and happy.
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The glitz and glamour is an essential part of the Strictly experience. How have you found it?
So exciting. I’m a plus-size girl, so as long as I’m not thinking, “Will this restrict my movement?”, I’m here for the glam.
I just need to try to keep the wig on!
Finally, what is your driving force in this competition? What gets you up every morning and motivates you to put in the hours?
If you have Graziano video-calling you, you’re gonna get up! We’re a dream team.
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