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Mike Bushell: the truth about that Strictly death threat and why Jamie Dornan came into my bedroom at 5am

The BBC Breakfast host is in Belfast next week with the Strictly Come Dancing tour. He talks to Leona O'Neill about the perils of live TV and his famous friends in Northern Ireland


Mike Bushell and Katya Jones during BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing

Mike Bushell and Katya Jones during BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing


Mike Bushell and Katya Jones during BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing

BBC Breakfast host Mike Bushell is more accustomed to sportswear than sequin trousers, but as his recent stint on Strictly Come Dancing proved, he has no qualms about trading the newsroom for the ballroom.

BBC Breakfast host Mike Bushell is more accustomed to sportswear than sequin trousers, but as his recent stint on Strictly Come Dancing proved, he has no qualms about trading the newsroom for the ballroom.

The 54-year-old, who is currently waltzing his way across the UK with his dance partner Katya Jones in the nationwide Strictly Live Tour, will Bachata into Belfast at the end of the month.

The father-of-three, who lives in Hampshire with his new wife Emily, says he has fond memories of Northern Ireland, and some funny ones too - particularly the night 50 Shades Of Grey star Jamie Dornan came into his bedroom at 5am.

He says he went on Strictly to challenge himself as an "embarrassing dad dancer". And he's no stranger to embarrassment, falling into a swimming pool live on air and spilling water on his trousers before a news broadcast so that viewers thought he had wet himself.

But it wasn't all "dad dancing". Mike says that Strictly changed his life.

"I started the show a bit overweight at 12st 2lb but by the end I was 10st 8lb," he says. "My shape changed, my posture improved. It was an incredible, life-changing experience, losing the weight, the friends I made, learning new skills and pushing myself to new boundaries.


Mike Bushell and Katya Jones during BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing

Mike Bushell and Katya Jones during BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing


"Kat would say to me on a Monday morning 'we are doing this' and by Thursday it was just happening and we were ready to dance the routine on the dancefloor, which was incredible.

"The whole process also helped my mental agility. It was getting easier and easier to remember things, remember moves and the ability to deal with pressure on you also increased.

"Taking part had so many benefits and it will hopefully inspire others to take up dancing as a form of exercise and sport, instead of squash or whatever they do at the moment. It's such great fun to dance around with your friends and get fit at the same time, and not be embarrassed about being rubbish."

Mike says he gets a "buzz" from the crowds during the Strictly tour.

"We have just had our first performances on the Strictly tour," he says. "It has all gone very well.

"It was nerve-racking, hearing the crowd for the first time. It's electric and I think everyone noticed and got a lot more energy from the crowd. It seemed to go down very well. On the first night I came bottom of the leaderboard, but my dances went well.


Mike with the line-up for the Strictly Come Dancing tour

Mike with the line-up for the Strictly Come Dancing tour

"The great thing about the tour is that it's the public in the arena who decide who wins each night. Which means that, at every show, you can have a different winner. Because the judges' scores don't count, everyone has a chance of winning over the arena every night.

"I'm not too competitive. I'm not trying to compete with any of the good dancers on Strictly. I'm like the 'older dad dancer' of the gang. I'm around 20 years older than the rest of them. But they are so supportive, that is the really nice thing about it."

But not everyone was as supportive. During his eight-week stint on Strictly Mike received some vicious trolling, including a death threat.

"I was trolled," he says. "And there was one death threat. But I don't think it was taken seriously, because we tried to track it down and it was deleted. And a lot of the nasty comments are from people just wanting followers, so they are set up to provoke a reaction or wind me up a bit. But I didn't want to do that, so I just basically rose above it. And actually there were far more positive comments than negative ones. And it's great that people have an opinion on which couple were the best dancers and who they wanted to stay in.

"I just didn't want people to take it too far and get personal about it, because at the end of the day it was the judges' decision as to who they wanted to survive the dance-off.

"We didn't really take the death threat seriously. We certainly didn't let it stop us going out of the house or anything. We wanted to stand up to it, we wanted to say: 'Hold on, this is ridiculous'. My wife Emily put up a post saying that people had taken it too far, but we weren't taking it too seriously. It was just someone causing mischief.


Mike’s host Jim Dornan, with son Jamie

Mike’s host Jim Dornan, with son Jamie

"I've had other issues with people on social media. I've had people asking me why I am so rubbish at all these different sports I try - I hold the world record for trying 500-plus different sports.

"I suppose it's because I'm a beginner in all of them and I'm usually doing it with professionals and the real experts. There would be no point in trying these sports and being really good at them, because the public wouldn't be as inspired. I want them to know that if I can do it, if I can try it, everyone can have a go."

He says fans treat him much differently to those who hurl abuse at him online. And he says being recognised in the street is a privilege he doesn't take for granted.


Dinner guest Jimmy Nesbitt

Dinner guest Jimmy Nesbitt

"That doesn't get to me at all," he says. "I absolutely love it. Anyone who comes up and asks for a selfie, I'll stop and chat to them, no problem. I like to find out a bit about them as well. I just feel so humbled and privileged that anyone would want a photo and say hello. It means that they are watching. If no one said hello then that means that no one is watching.

"So I would get sad if no one said hello, to be honest. I stop for everyone, until the last person has got a photo or whatever they want. Because that is important. It's a privilege.

"I don't ever get any abuse to my face. The only abuse I ever get is on Twitter or social media. People coming up to me are just nice and friendly, and they want to talk to me about what I'm doing."

Mike says that he found one particular story that emerged from Strictly hilarious - that he had undergone a facelift.

"I lost a stone-and-a-half on Strictly," he says. "I was then able to run up stairs at train stations and not be out of breath. I was better at football. I'm now outrunning my wife, who is younger than me. I can leave her behind. So it has made a huge difference. Over Christmas I have probably put on a quarter-of-a-stone, but I'm hoping with the tour that will come right back off again.

"There were some reports that I had a facelift after I lost the weight," he says. "That really made me laugh. It wasn't a facelift at all, it was basically an electronic massage. It just got rid of dead skin. It felt nice. Someone recommended it because my skin was dry. It was only £30 and it was really nice, but it definitely wasn't a facelift.


Mike Bushell and his wife Emily

Mike Bushell and his wife Emily

David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

"I thought the stories were hilarious. There were no marks and I didn't take a break to have any surgery or anything.

"It's like after the Strictly wrap party, I was talking to the photographers for about 15 minutes outside and of course they use the picture of me looking sleepy and bleary-eyed, even though they took loads of pictures of me not blinking. It's not people being nasty. I am a journalist myself, so I know how it works."

Something else he knows a great deal about is making a gaffe and seeing it go viral. Footage of him falling into a swimming pool during a live interview was shared almost 12 million times, as was a clip of him presenting sports on BBC after spilling water on his trousers.

"Back at the Commonwealth Games I was on a beach doing some broadcasts with all the medal winners for BBC One," he says. "It was 3.30pm in the afternoon Australia time. The five swimmers got stuck in traffic so there was a last-minute change of location so me and the cameraman had to run for about three-quarters of a mile.

"We got there at 3.28pm and I had two minutes before I went on air, so I had to do the rest of the bulletin from one side of the pool while the swimmers were being interviewed by Hazel (Irvine) from BBC Sport.

"And gradually I walked my way around while I was reading the autocue off an iPad. I realised I only had one mic and stepped into what I thought was a children's pool, just beside the swimmers - they were sitting on the edge of the pool - and asked them the first question.

"I hadn't noticed that there was a deep bit of the pool, because I was concentrating on getting their names right and the questions out. And as I leaned in to the second swimmer, I went sideways and fell into the pool. I think that was where the term gaffe-prone came from for me. I think that was my only gaffe.

"Although I did spill water on my trousers once at BBC Breakfast and I had to go on air like that. As I was going on set, they were doing some kind of experiment with water and my mic pack dropped into it and it splashed all over my trousers. So I had to go on air with wet trousers and a lot of people commented that I had wet myself, which I hadn't done. But it looked funny. So I guess that is another incident that could add to the gaff-prone title. I don't mind at all being compared to the genius character Frank Spencer."

Mike, who went to the National Youth Theatre, studied theatre and television and was even in a rock band, says that had he not pursued a career in broadcasting, he might have become an actor or a musician, but probably not a dancer.

"I don't think I'd have enough qualities to be a professional dancer," he says. "I did try dabbling in acting when I first started. But I was quickly in debt and that is why I got a job with a local newspaper. And I loved the journalism side of things.

"So if I wasn't doing what I am doing, I'd like to say I would get involved in music again, to write some music again. But the singing voice wasn't good enough, really. It'd be great to be in a band again, though. But it's finding the time. The BBC Breakfast job is so full-on when you're doing your pieces, researching them, doing all the different sports. That takes up so much time. I've tried 550 sports now, and I still hold the world record on trying the most sports.

"I'd say I would have liked to have pursued a little more of the acting, had a little more fun, if I had got a break. But it can be such a precarious profession, it could have been a bit of a risk."

He says what is important to him these days is inspiring people to "get up off their sofa and get fit".

"I've been told that the number of men in particular going to dance classes has increased significantly since I've been on Strictly," he says. "I've had dance clubs and centres reporting a big increase in men joining jive classes, cha-cha-cha classes, which is really great to know. Because that's what it's all about, really, trying to get people up off the sofa and get them to try it. Because they will see how much fun it is. If they come along to the tour they might think 'look at him, he's having a great time, and look what it's done for him' and maybe it might inspire them to take up dancing and learn a new skill themselves. Even if they only do it once a week to have fun and enjoy the benefits of it."

Mike says that he is greatly looking forward to coming to Belfast at the end of the month, and to meet his famous pal, obstetrician and gynaecologist Jim Dornan.

"I was in Northern Ireland for the golf last year, in Portrush, which was brilliant," he says.

"I did a bit of sightseeing while I was there. I went to the Giant's Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. I was only there for one day, but I thought it was really, really good.

"The other time I came over was to cover a hurling event in Belfast and also the sport of circular soccer, which had been invented by a chap called Jim Dornan, who is pretty well-known. He was so friendly. The next day he took me up the coastline and showed me the lovely coastal region above Belfast.

"The next time I went back, we had got on so well, myself and Jim, he took me to a golf course and went to his house and had dinner with Jimmy Nesbitt, which was wonderful. I stayed over at his house. So I slept in this room and during the night, at around 5am, a man came in to get something. I was half asleep and didn't really notice. It was only the next day that I twigged on that Jim Dornan is Jamie Dornan's dad. He had been staying somewhere else that night and had come back for something from his room. I didn't know who he was, because I was sleepy and I'd never seen 50 Shades Of Grey.

"But Belfast is a great place and it will be wonderful to be back. It holds a really special place in my heart. The people are great. Jim Dornan was fantastic and went the extra mile, picking me up from the airport, showing me the sights, it just showed me how warm and amazingly welcoming people are there, and how much of a fantastic vibe there is in Belfast. I really noticed that going out in the evening.

"And the food is amazing, whether that is at Jim's place when he was cooking or up at Portrush and Coleraine, where I had some amazing stews.

"I also love the accent, it's so lovely to listen to. It just relaxes you. It is just a fantastic place. I can't wait to come over."

Mike will be taking part in the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour at the SSE Arena in Belfast on January 29 and 30. Tickets are available to buy online at www.ssearenabelfast.com

Belfast Telegraph