Strictly star Ian Waite: Celebrities never get that close to anybody, but when you dance together for so long you can't help but have a connection
As Strictly Come Dancing favourites Ian Waite and Vincent Simone prepare to bring their Ballroom Boys show here next month, Ian tells Linda Stewart how he only took up dancing because his dad was looking for love - and about how he found domestic bliss of his own
When you watch Ian Waite whirling effortlessly around a dancefloor, it's hard to believe he initially had to be persuaded into the spotlight.
The 48-year-old Strictly star only went along to dance school to sit on the sidelines and look after his younger brother, but once he was eventually talked into stepping onto the dancefloor himself, he was bitten by the bug.
He initially intended to become an architect, but fate intervened and he discovered a major talent for dance and eventually became a household name with Strictly Come Dancing and sister show It Takes Two.
Now Ian and fellow dancer Vincent Simone have joined forces for The Ballroom Boys, a high-octane dance show filled with glitz and glamour that's making its way to Northern Ireland.
Ian, who lives in Berkshire with his pilot husband Drew (29) and their dog Ollie but grew up near Sandhurst, admits he didn't immediately take to dance as a child.
"My grandmother used to play those old movies with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly when I was a young boy. I loved them, but I never thought I would end up doing it," he says.
"My parents got divorced and my father was told that there were lots of single women at the local dance school, so he started to go. He went about three or four times a week, then one day he said he'd like me to go along with my brother.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
"My brother was five and I was 10 - I was playing rugby and football at school and I didn't think my friends would appreciate me doing dancing.
"But I went along to take my brother. One day, they got me up for a dance - and the rest is history.
"I loved the ballroom and the Latin side of it - that was my first passion and it has remained my passion."
Over the years, Ian began to enter competitions as he honed his dance skills.
He admits he was always a creative boy - so much so that he was nicknamed 'the artist' at school, where lots of his paintings and drawings were on display.
"I have a creative side and a certain amount of that is in my dancing and my artistry," Ian tells me.
"I think my parents thought I would become some sort of artist, but I did my O-levels and started studying architecture.
"I quickly found that it wasn't what I expected. I did it for about six months, then I gave it up because I had just won the European Dance Championships. I thought 'That is what I'm going to do - I'm going to be a dancer'.
"I went to work for my father (a precision engineer) in the beginning and he gave me the availability to do my lessons and go abroad whenever I needed to compete. From there, I was competing in the amateur ranks and I made the top six in the world."
After Ian split up with his then dance partner, he moved to Holland to work with a new partner and choreographer Ruud Vermay for the next seven years.
By the time he returned to the UK, he was starting to think about retiring from professional dancing, but he was intrigued when he came across a new BBC programme that was attracting a lot of interest.
"I started to watch Strictly Come Dancing - I was about to retire and it seemed like the perfect show for me," he says.
"Then I bumped into Camilla Dallerup, who was in the first series. She had just split up from Brendan Cole and she introduced me to the BBC for the second series.
"It ended up that I was in seven series of Strictly - I did seven of the main show and seven of It Takes Two.
"This will be my eighth year in It Takes Two. I do Waite's Warm-up, which is about the rehearsals contestants have been doing."
Strictly has such broad appeal because it's a great way to get away from humdrum everyday life, Ian believes.
"It gives you an escape to another world of fun and dance. It's very carefree and happy and it gives people an escape from normal life," he says.
"It's an uplifting show and people love the fact that it's very 'Saturday night entertainment'. "It's a family-oriented show and it's very old-school.
"I think people love nostalgia and love to hark back to the good old days, and this is a show that does that."
He describes Strictly as the biggest gift that anybody coming towards the end of their dance career could receive.
"That's why so many people want to be in it - to be able to go on television and show what they've done all their lives," Ian explains.
"My dancing has been my life. It just happened that I was in the right place at the right time and was able to show people my talent for dancing."
Of all the contestants he has partnered on Strictly, Zoe Ball is Ian's favourite.
"I've kept in contact with her and I work with her now on It Takes Two," he says.
That's not to say he doesn't love the others, though."I've danced with Denise Lewis - she came to my wedding and I love her to bits. Jodie Kidd is one of the most fantastic people I know - we get on so well. Penny Lancaster... we remain friends and I go to their Christmas party. I always get the tall blondes," Ian jokes.
One of his most memorable moments on Strictly was dancing with judge Darcey Bussell, who bowed out of the programme recently.
"Those were amazing moments for me. It was an amazing experience to dance with a prima ballerina," he says.
"I'm quite sad that she's leaving - she was a massive part of the show and she gave really great comments and critiques. She's legendary in her own world, but she's going to do amazing things."
The elephant in the room is 'the Strictly curse', which has been blamed for causing the end of contestants' relationships, most recently Stacey Dooley. And last year Katya Jones and Seann Walsh, who were both in relationships, hit the tabloids after they were spotted kissing in a street.
"There's been a lot of that, hasn't there? I think it's just one of those things," Ian says.
"Celebrities never get that close to anybody, and when they're dancing so close for so long, you can't help but have a connection with somebody like that. And it's inevitable really, but more so recently. It's something that happens."
For Ian, dance professionals are used to working closely with a partner without crossing the line, but it's something celebrities are not familiar with.
"They're out of their comfort zones, but you're not out of your comfort zone. But I don't dance with a man, so maybe that helps," he says.
The dancer met his husband about five years ago, when he was a pilot for Easyjet.
"We met on a plane, but he wasn't flying it. He was sitting in front of me with a work colleague who introduced us - that's how we met," he says.
"He's very funny. Everybody loves Drew - he's easy-going and fun and he doesn't take life too seriously.
"He started learning to dance about two years ago and he's doing dance competitions now, so you talk about dance and he knows what you're talking about, which is nice.
"He's really interested in everything I do and he loves my family. His family are in Leicester, which is about two hours away, so he probably sees my family more than I do.
"When he's home, he goes and sees them, even when I'm not around."
Ian didn't come out as gay until he was 21 and his dance career was starting to take off.
"I was considerably late coming out - most people come out much earlier," he says.
"I met a guy... I got a boyfriend at 21 and I just decided that was the path I wanted to be on.
"I think people accept you for what you are nowadays. It's part of me and part of my life and I don't want to pretend to be anybody I'm not."
Ballroom dancing tends to stick to traditional gender roles, but Ian thinks of it as acting.
"You're playing a role - I play the masculine role and the lady plays the feminine role, although they do have same-sex dancing now as well," he says.
"Last year in Strictly, they did a lot of same-sex dancing in the group dance."
While Ian and Vincent mostly dance with girls on stage in The Ballroom Boys, they do have one same-sex number.
"We have a funny dance with each other that you have to see because it's hilarious - it's a fantastic part of the show," he says.
"I had this idea years ago. I'm 6ft 5in and Vincent is 5ft 8in, so it's quite a big height difference. It's a ballet number. All I am going to say is 'Nutcracker' - it's very funny."
Ian has performed in Northern Ireland many times before, including with the Strictly tour and a performance of Strauss waltzes with Camilla Dallerup and the Ulster Orchestra at the Waterfront Hall.
"We love Belfast. I've been coming to Belfast for 10 years," he says.
"It's lovely to be coming back - I always do my shopping there because there are such great sales!"
Ian came up with the idea for a boys' shows for he and Vincent because he wanted to do something out of the ordinary.
"With so many Strictly tours going out on the road, we wanted to do something a bit different, so Vincent and I spoke about a boys' reunion, and The Ballroom Boys idea came to life."
The line-up for show includes Ksenia Zsikhotska, from Dancing With The Stars Ireland, and the multi-talented Crystal Main, who has toured with dance shows around the globe.
On vocals will be Olivier Award-winning James Lomas, who was one of the first performers to play Billy Elliott in the West End.
"He's an amazing talent and we are really lucky to have him," Ian says.
"It's very much a variety show. We open with a couple of top hat numbers and then some Latin American and rat pack numbers.
"Then there's some audience participation, a question and answer session and our funny ballet number."
The finale includes a show-stopping performance by Vincent, who is a world champion in the Argentine tango. Ian describes it as "breathtaking".
"It's worth the price of the ticket just to see the Argentine tango," he says.
"We try to cover everything - we have a bit of everything in there. There's something for everybody in our show."
The Ballroom Boys, starring Ian Waite and Vincent Simone, will be at the Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey, on June 2 ( box office tel: 9034 0202) and at the Millennium Forum, Londonderry, on June 6 (box office tel: 7126 4455)