Domestic bliss has made me dance to a different tune
As Strictly Come Dancing star Brendan Cole prepares to bring his new show to Belfast, he discusses his family life and his former dance partners. By Gabrielle Fagan
Brendan Cole's twirling his favourite dancing partner around the living room and the tiny blue-eyed blonde shrieks with delight and demands one of his famous 'lifts'.
The handsome professional on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing has had a string of glamorous celebrity partners, including Kelly Brook and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, during a decade appearing on the series, but clearly dancing with his two-year-old daughter Aurelia is in another league.
"She loves dancing, which is really sweet to see. I actually haven't encouraged her. It's just something she naturally enjoys, especially when I swing her up in the air," beams the patently proud father.
He's packing in as many special moments with her as possible because family time's going to be limited during his 48-date tour of the UK and Ireland with his dance spectacular, A Night To Remember, which arrives in Belfast in March.
Cole describes the show as revealing "the real Brendan, who is more fun, naughty and cheeky away from Strictly, which is controlled and scripted".
"In this, I host throughout and I'm happy to answer questions from the audience," he adds. "There's a wonderful cast and a fantastic programme of music and dance."
So while theatregoers are set to gain an insight into one of the series' favourite performers, he's also allowing a rare glimpse into his private domestic bliss - and explaining the remarkable effect it's had on his life - as he chats at his home, a 300-year-old cottage in Buckinghamshire which he shares with his model wife, Zoe Hobbs.
For years, he had a reputation as the 'bad boy' of Strictly because of his feisty nature, his outspoken and sometimes scathing comments, and his romantic links to a bevy of beautiful women.
Most famously, his eight-year relationship to fiance and fellow dancer, Camilla Dallerup fell apart after he danced with newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky in the first Strictly series in 2004, and their obvious smouldering on-screen chemistry helped them win. Kaplinsky has always denied any involvement with Cole.
"I'm a different person these days," declares the 38-year-old who married Zoe (32) in 2010 in front of Strictly stars and Sir Bruce Forsyth. Aurelia was born on Christmas Day 2012.
"It was certainly close to love at first sight when I met Zoe, even though at first I thought she was so ridiculously attractive and I thought that she was far too good for me! But fate played its part and here we are today together.
"When you're happy and fulfilled in a relationship, it gives you more stability and a different perspective on life. I was very outspoken in the past, but you change as you grow older and you become a bit more thoughtful and considered. Put it this way, nowadays I'm not afraid to be controversial if it's necessary, but I do think before I speak!
"When you have the responsibility of being a husband and a father, it's different. I never want to do anything to embarrass my wife or daughter, whereas in the old days, when I was single, there wasn't anybody to worry about upsetting.
"I don't want Aurelia looking back on footage or reports of me when she's older and saying, 'My dad's an idiot!' and I wouldn't want Zoe to be embarrassed being married to a man who's ranting and raving."
The New Zealander, who started dancing when he was six, has admitted that adjusting in his 20s to the level of fame he enjoyed in those early years of the series wasn't easy, but he's now the longest-serving professional dancer on the show, along with Anton du Beke, and that famous youthful volatility has been replaced by calm.
"Now I've learnt to fight only the battles I need to, the ones which mean something to me. I tell myself, 'Stay cool, there's no point having a go, it won't change anything. Take a chill pill and get on with it'," he says with a smile.
Although the opportunity to lift the glitter ball for the second time has as yet eluded him, he has reached the final with Lisa Snowdon and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. In this year's 12th series, he partnered Casualty star, Sunetra Sarker and the pair were eliminated in week 10.
The secret of success on Strictly, he insists, is a partnership where the professional dancer enjoys a 'rapport' with the celebrity.
"It's absolutely necessary. If you don't gel it's tough because you're spending eight hours a day with that person. You can fake it if you need to, but after a while, strained relationships will become obvious," he says bluntly.
"For instance, I had an incredible relationship with Sophie - we just had a connection, never had a cross word and it all came together. We've stayed friends and often go out together, she and her husband, Richard and me and Zoe. I also got on well with Lisa (Snowdon), Kelly Brook and Natasha Kaplinsky.
"While Sunetra and I enjoyed a good relationship, juggling the training with her TV work was hard and we didn't have the time to bond like I have in the past with other celebrities. But we got further than we thought and we were both proud." His other partners have been Lulu, Victoria Pendleton, Fiona Phillips, Claire King, Jo Wood, and Michelle Williams.
Cole's only too aware that outside relationships can suffer when celebrities are caught up for months in intensive training and are far from their families - dubbed the 'curse' of Strictly. Most recently, Countdown presenter Rachel Riley split from her husband of 15 months shortly after taking part in the series and dancing with Pasha Kovalev.
"I always tell my dance partners, 'Get your boyfriend or husband as involved' and then there's no problems of misunderstandings and jealousy. It's good if they can come to some of the sessions and see what goes on."
He practises what he preaches and his wife regularly visits rehearsals and has helped him create his touring show. "My work is a massive part of our lives - when I tour it's particularly hard on her because of my not always getting home - and so the rest of the time, I want her involved as much as possible in what I do," he says.
"Zoe's extremely supportive of me and I love her input because she looks at everything from the perspective of not being a dancer. Would I teach her to dance? Er no, I'd rather keep my marriage! That would be about as risky as trying to teach someone you're close to how to drive!"
The Strictly professionals who’ve won over the fans
Pasha Kovalev - the Russian star is best known for his cheeky smile and, of course, showing off that perfectly tanned and toned chest at every opportunity.
Aljaz Skorjanec - although the Slovenian star has only been on the show for two series, he made a strong impression with fans with his chiselled jawline and beaming smile, even winning his first time out in 2013 with partner Abbey Clancy.
Artem Chigvintsev - his boyish looks and placid nature not only won over fans but also his partner, actress Kara Tointon, with whom he went on to have a four year relationship.
Anton Du Beke - the dapper dancer may not have the classic hunky physique, but his gentlemanly charm has made him one of the show's most popular stars.
- Brendan Cole's tour A Night To Remember comes to Belfast's Waterfront Hall on March 21. For details, visit waterfront.co.uk