'I was really scared about Strictly ... it had been so long since I had put myself out there to be judged in any way'Former member of girl band Eternal, Louise Redknapp feared stepping back into the limelight to compete on Strictly Come Dancing last year. She reveals to Gabrielle Fagan how it's proved a blessing for both her marriage and her life
Louise Redknapp's talking passion, the kind that puts a spring in your step and makes you feel on top of the world, and she reveals delightedly: "I've got that back. I felt I'd lost myself a little bit, but hopefully this is a new me and a new era."
She won her way into the nation's hearts when she competed on Strictly Come Dancing and got to the final in 2016 - gaining confidence with every step - and although she didn't win the Glitterball, she gained a far better personal prize.
She says it reignited "a love of performing" that the former singer, who found fame with girl band Eternal in the Nineties, feared she'd lost - and it has even helped renew the romance in her marriage.
Twelve years ago, she abandoned her solo pop career to raise a family - she and her husband, ex-Liverpool footballer and TV sports presenter Jamie Redknapp (43), have two sons, Charley (12) and Beau (8).
Although she's had various TV presenting roles and runs a fashion blog, neither were, she admits, any preparation for dancing back into the limelight on the hugely popular show.
"I was really scared about Strictly," she says candidly. "It had been so long since I'd put myself out there to be judged in any way. A year ago that would have seemed an impossible task, but I ended up having an incredible time. I feel so much better about myself as it gave me a big injection of confidence. I adore dancing - I'm having lessons twice a week - and rediscovered my passion for performing, which is in my blood."
The glamorous 42-year-old, who looks slim and super-toned following the recent Strictly nationwide tour, now has her sights set on a role in a West End show or musical and is discussing other projects, including duets and an album.
"Over the years, I've definitely put the boys and Jamie first. My choice was to be there the majority of the time with them and I'm pleased I did that, but there came a time when I felt a little bit left behind," she admits.
"My boys are more independent nowadays and so busy with school and sport that I think I deserve a little bit of career me time. I hope that's allowed without anyone judging me. Also, I think it's important for the kids to see a new ambitious side to their mum and to show them how much you can love a job."
While she was dismissive of the so-called 'curse of Strictly' - the list of celebrities and their dance partners who've broken up with their other halves includes Rachel Riley, Ben Cohen, Joe Calzaghe and Jimi Mistry - she did have concerns about the effect of her six-month intensive involvement in the series, including absences from home, on her husband of 18 years and family life.
"I knew it would be different for Jamie, as he was so used to me being at home, but it had a wonderful effect on our relationship because it took us both back to a time 20 years ago when we were young and had just met and I was performing with Eternal. It reminded us of the people we were then," she says with a smile. The couple live in a multi-million pound mansion in Oxshott, Surrey, but Redknapp insists: "At home, we're like any other married couple with kids - we scream, shout, laugh and cry. Jamie's such a wonderful partner.
"He's extremely proud of me and got very emotional during the competition when I did well and got very involved in it all, which I didn't expect. He's encouraging me to get back into the business.
"He always says to me, 'If you're happy, I'm happy', and he's told me that whatever comes along for me, we'll cope as, 'You and me, we make things work'. He's not particularly romantic and never sends me a Valentine's card, but he's supportive, which means so much more."
On Strictly she was partnered with professional dancer Kevin Clifton and would love to see Jamie following in her footsteps and taking part in the series. "He hates dancing with a passion, unless he's drunk, so it's unlikely! Although we're now friends with Kevin and his wife Karen, so I hope they might persuade him one day... who knows?"
Redknapp, who's partnered with laundry detergent and washing care brand Ariel for a campaign to redefine the meaning of clean, says: "My huge love of fashion makes me appreciate how important it is to look after our clothes as they can make us feel so much more confident in ourselves." But, she initially struggled with her own confidence and was reluctant to wear Strictly's famously revealing costumes.
Fellow competitor and model Daisy Lowe (28) made it her mission to transform her. "I felt as a mother with two sons who still had to do a school run, I didn't want to go too far! But Daisy, who's become a real mate, told me, 'If it is the last thing I do, I'm going to get you to get that body out'.
"By the tour's finale, I was wearing a tiny dress with tassels and had embraced the whole thing. I feel much more body confident thanks to the show and her."
It was, she confides, a self-esteem crisis during week three of Strictly and a pep talk from an old stage-school friend that also helped shape her new approach to life. "I called her because I thought people would hate my outfit and the routine and I'd get kicked out. She told me, 'When you were a little girl, you were fearless, lived every moment and gave it 100%. Just go out and do that now'," she recalls.
"It had such an amazing effect on me and I'd advise every woman to be fearless and go for what you want. I've learnt being happy and doing something you love is the best tonic in the world."
- Ariel and Louise Redknapp partnered to redefine the meaning of clean. To find out more visit: www.supersavvyme.co.uk/ariel