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'Paul would have loved that kiss... his presence is all around'

Strictly's Debbie McGee tells Gemma Dunn about her relationship with dance partner Giovanni Pernice... and following in her late husband's footsteps

Debbie McGee doesn't walk. She glides. At least that's what it looks like as she makes her way across the room to talk all things Strictly Come Dancing. It's the first in a series of chats with her about the popular BBC One dancing show, which this weekend will see the professionals and their celebrity partners take to the dancefloor at the prestigious Blackpool Tower ballroom.

At 59, McGee is the oldest celebrity competitor in this year's crop of famous faces. Not that you'd know that by watching her on the dancefloor.

So far she's waltzed all over the other competitors like Mollie King - who is 29 years her junior - and scored the first 40 of the series for her tango with Giovanni Pernice.

She's in phenomenal shape physically, which she puts down to a healthy lifestyle powered by yoga and pilates.

"Because I've always been in showbusiness and had to be on stage in slinky dresses, I've always liked eating, and the only way I can eat everything I want is to exercise," she explains matter-of-factly.

"But I've never been a gym girl. I did go to the gym for a couple of years and it's the only time I ever got injured."

McGee rose to fame alongside her late husband, magician Paul Daniels. The pair were married for more than 25 years until his death in March last year.

On April 1 this year, she shared a picture on Twitter of them on their wedding day, writing alongside it: "29 years ago today."

In 2010, Daniels himself donned a tuxedo and competed in Strictly, where he was partnered with Ola Jordan. He was the second celebrity to be voted off the show that year.

"It changes week by week," she says of life after Paul, explaining that a recent stint of publicity for a Channel 5 programme talking about her late husband stirred up memories.

"I had a really emotional previous two weeks to this, because there was a big tribute to Paul on Channel 5 and I had to do a lot of interviews recalling Paul, and so it got to me. I know how much he would just love it.

"But because he also did the show, and lots of people on the show got to know him, his presence is kind of around and I think emotionally it's got to me more than I thought it would, is how I could describe it."

Her flexibility and dancing prowess aside, McGee also grabbed headlines following her first dance on Strictly which saw her locking lips with 27-year-old Pernice as their routine ended.

Days after the kiss, McGee told ITV's This Morning that Daniels would have "loved" the kiss, adding: "And the fact that I caused, or appeared to have caused, this furore with the kiss on Saturday night. He just loved showbusiness, and that really was showbiz."

She laughs when asked about the headlines suggesting their friendship could have a romantic edge.

She explains: "We really have a close relationship. It's a special friendship. It's not a love affair, it's an incredible, deep friendship."

A few weeks later when we catch up, McGee also brushes off any suggestion she has become the object of affection for younger admirers.

"If I have, I haven't noticed it. This programme takes over your life. I don't see anybody, I haven't been going out because it's so exhausting. Nobody knows who they are attractive to, or who is going to ask you out, so I have no idea."

With the Blackpool Strictly spectacular looming, McGee says she has no idea what to expect from it, but adds: "I've got butterflies like I'm going to a teenage prom."

During last year's Blackpool Tower Ballroom extravaganza, soap star Danny Mac earned a perfect 40 for his stunning Charleston. The pressure is on for all of the couples and McGee says making it to that stage of the competition is a nice way of giving back something to the professional dancers who work tirelessly alongside them.

She adds: "For all the pros, it's incredibly special to them and they've worked so hard for us that if we can get through, it's our way of paying them back."

So far, McGee has managed the unimaginable during Strictly: she's gotten the normally stone-faced judge Craig Revel Horwood to get down on bended knee to salute her dancing, and head judge Shirley Ballas handing over her "queen of Latin crown" to her.

But will she go on to win the Glitterball trophy and crown?

Now that would be magic.

  • Strictly Come Dancing, BBC One, Saturday, 6.45pm

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