'I can't wait for make-up and fake tan to cover my pasty-looking skin and ginger hair'
Olympic athlete Greg Rutherford has jumped out of his comfort zone and right into Strictly Come Dancing. The long jumper tells Gabrielle Fagan how he's coping and why he's joined the show
Greg Rutherford's convinced he'll win plenty of attention competing on Strictly Come Dancing ‑ not for his moves, but for being "the tallest celebrity who looks like a drunken spider trying to prance around the dance floor".
The long jumper, who flies through the air with the greatest of ease, won bronze at the Rio Olympics and gold at the London Games in 2012, but admits so far he's foxed by the foxtrot and was nearly crushed by the Charleston at the outset of the competition.
"We had a workshop focusing on each of the dances and I've already had a mini meltdown over the Charleston. My brain simply couldn't figure out the steps and I rang my family in a complete panic saying, 'I shouldn't be doing this, why did I agree to it? I'm going to be terrible and so embarrassing.' I'm still terrified about facing that dance," says the 29-year-old, roaring with laughter.
"Also, as I'm 6ft 2in - the tallest of everybody by about four inches - it's hard to hide. I'm ultra-competitive and usually only go into things to win, but with this, I'm aware there's no way I'll lift that glitter ball. I've got a bit of rhythm, and I don't think I'll be the joker of the show; I'm just determined to get as far as I can in the competition.
"After 15 years of going in a straight line and jumping into a sandpit, having to move here, there and everywhere, and learning steps as well, is pretty tough, but I've always wanted to learn to dance, so I'm trying my hardest."
For his first appearance on the TV show, he wore a tight sheer top, with a plunging neckline, showing off his muscular torso - a large red rose tattoo on his side was clearly visible - and his red hair was styled in a fashionable quiff.
"I've spent most of my life running around in a tight vest and Lycra shorts, so baring my bod isn't a problem for me. I don't want to be known just for showing off my abs and pecs, I'd rather be known for my dancing, but who knows?" says the Milton Keynes-born athlete, who was talent spotted aged 14. He's currently the reigning world, European and Commonwealth long jump champion.
"I can't wait for the fake tan and make-up actually, because with my ginger hair and fair skin I've been pasty-looking my entire life, so being bronzed for once can only make me look better. Anyway, coming into this, I vowed I'd get fully involved and I'll happily wear those sequinned costumes and just have some fun."
Rutherford, who has a 23-month-old son, Milo, with his partner of four years, writer Susie Verrill, 28, is untroubled by any concerns over the 'curse' of Strictly. A string of celebrities have got romantically involved with their professional dance partners, including Susanna Reid, Ben Cohen and last year's runner up, Georgia May Foote.
"I think the whole 'curse' thing is quite funny, and I'm not troubled by it at all. Susie and Milo are everything to me. I have to travel all over the world to compete, which was fun when I was single, but now I miss Susie and my little boy so much. It's heartbreaking sometimes as Milo's more aware and gets upset when I leave," says Rutherford, who's had a long jump pit and gym installed at his home to minimise time away from his family.
The couple are keen to add to their family and Rutherford even froze his sperm before travelling to Rio to avoid any risk of a future child being affected by the Zika virus. The infection is carried by mosquitoes, found in countries including Brazil, can be carried in semen, and is linked to brain defects in babies.
"Susie gives me 100% support in everything I do, but it's lovely that, as she's a very good dancer, she can really get involved in this. She's putting me through my paces at home. She totally understands how close I will be with my partner and how intense the experience will be, but she's all for me enjoying it and learning a new skill," says Rutherford, who's paired with professional dancer Natalie Lowe.
"Actually, I think she's really pleased because she's always had to put up with what she calls my 'finger dancing'. After a drink on a night out, I launch into a bit of movement with my hips and some finger pointing and wagging. Anything will be an improvement on that."
Rutherford, who's described himself as bitterly "disappointed" not to win gold in Rio, also has another goal in mind - forging a career beyond sport.
"I'll be 30 in November and, in sporting terms, my career is nearly over because as you age, you can't compete at the same level. I'm definitely continuing for the next two years - I'm proud of all I've achieved and know I can do more - and will assess at the end of that whether I'll retire or carry on for a further two to take part in another Olympics," says the athlete, who's helped launch a new DNAFit test, which analyses 45 genes to determine power, endurance and recovery.
"I'm still young and don't want to be typecast as just someone who can only do sport. I love TV work and I'm open to whatever the future holds. I've already been so lucky with what I've achieved and having my wonderful family, so everything else is a bonus."
- Greg Rutherford's DNA was analysed using a DNAFit test which provides a detailed analysis and personal results can be compared with his. The code of 12 other Olympians will be added for comparison purposes by the end of the year. Visit www.dnafit.com