Kevin Clifton

The Strictly Come Dancing star proves that dreams really do come true

By Gill Sherry

At ten years old, Kevin Clifton became obsessed with Baz Luhrmann’s film, Strictly Ballroom.

“I said to my mum and dad… one day, they’re going to put this on stage and I’m going to play Scott Hastings.”

Well, guess what? He’s now starring in Strictly Ballroom: The Musical playing none other than Scott Hastings himself. Talk about dreams coming true!

I want to do more acting, I’d quite like to do a play, maybe not even a musical, a straight play. I’m also writing a TV drama at the moment that’s based in the world of a ballroom dance competition.

“It’s amazing,” says Kevin, the pride in this voice unmistakable. “For me, Strictly Ballroom has been this passion project that I’ve wanted to do basically my whole life. It was a film about a ballroom dancer… and how he always wanted to entertain the audience more than he was bothered about winning competitions. I was a bit like that even from being a kid. It’s been this 30-year manifestation and I’m finally playing Scott Hastings!”

It was, he admits, the main catalyst for him leaving Strictly Come Dancing after taking part in seven series of the award-winning TV show from 2013 to 2019.

“We were getting our call for the next season of Strictly Come Dancing,” he explains. “I said, look I’m up for this role at the moment and if I get it I’m not going to be able to turn it down. I got the role, left Strictly Come Dancing, and then Covid happened!”

The pandemic delayed the stage show for two years but now it’s finally happening, Kevin couldn’t be happier. Originally performing alongside actress Maisie Smith (a previous Strictly Come Dancing contestant) he now shares the stage with former Coronation Street favourite and Dancing on Ice runner-up, Faye Brookes.

But Kevin is no novice when it comes to stage shows. In fact, Strictly Ballroom is his sixth musical having already performed in Dirty Dancing, Rock of Ages, War of the Worlds, Singing in the Rain and The Wedding Singer. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that Kevin can also sing.

“It’s funny because I’ve been doing theatre for a long time. I was doing musical theatre before I was ever on Strictly Come Dancing. I’ve always done singing and acting but I guess Strictly is the the thing that everyone knows me for and it’s all dancing. Even though I’ve been doing it a long time, people still say ‘Who knew you could sing?’”

The fact that Kevin plays the lead role and that ‘Strictly’ is in the title, I wonder if people expect the stage production to be similar to the TV show?

“I think there are two types of people in the audience,” he says. “There’s the ones that loved the film and know the film inside out and they’re waiting for all the big iconic moments from the film. The others are the ones that haven’t seen the film and because it’s me and it’s got ‘Strictly’ in the title and it’s directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood… they’re expecting that it’s going to be like a spin off show from Strictly Come Dancing and they’re surprised when they get a musical.”

At the mention of Craig Revel Horwood, I ask what it’s like working with Strictly’s ‘bad guy’ away from the TV series.

“Obviously on Strictly he’s really harsh… but outside of that he’s actually a really nice guy. I’ve spent so much time on Strictly where you plan your dance all week and you go in and show him and he says ‘that was rubbish’. But he’s really creative to work with and he wanted to make this musical from scratch and not do anything that’s been done before… to make it our own, play with a lot of the scenes. He wanted to experiment so it was a very creative room and I really enjoyed it.”

Kevin actually began his Strictly Come Dancing journey as an assistant choreographer before joining the team of professional dancers in 2013. Does he see himself as a full time choreographer one day?

“I’ll be honest, not really. I thought for a while, pre-Strictly, maybe this is my route, maybe this is what I’m going to do.

It’s one of those things… I’ve been dancing all my life, now everyone knows me as a dancer on TV and I was thinking a natural progression is that one day I’ll be a choreographer and I’ll choreograph shows and stuff like that. But then I did a couple of choreography jobs and I didn’t enjoy it.”

It seems Kevin is just destined to dance. Hardly surprising when his parents were champion dancers, his sister and his aunt are both dancers, and his grandmother was the Quick Step champion of Hemel Hempstead!

“Obviously on Strictly, he continues, “you had to come up with a different dance every week for your celebrity partner. Every Sunday, which was a day off, I’d be at home all day tearing my hair out just to get my dance right. It was always a bit stressful. I got to the point when I thought, do I actually enjoy choreography? I came to the conclusion that I enjoy being choreographed and performing more than I want to be doing the choreography itself.”

What about a different career entirely? Was that ever an option?

“To be honest, it was never really a question. It’s funny because I don’t really remember my first dance lesson. Apparently I just started joining in at the classes at my mum and dad’s dance school when I was about four years old, and copying what was going on in front of me. It’s not even like there was this big decision of ‘I’m going to be a dancer’ it was just part of my normal routine.”

He did have some doubts in his twenties, though, when he questioned whether a career in dancing was what he actually wanted.

“I did have a bit of a moment when I was like, I don’t know if this is what I want. I’ve never really made a decision on it, it’s just always been part of what I do… part of what the whole family does. It’s a big family thing, and I just started questioning it all. I definitely knew that I didn’t want to do competitions anymore.”

Ironic, then, that he should go on to take part in the biggest dance competition of all!

“I know!” he laughs. “It sort of came full circle. Strictly is the biggest stage of a competition that I could’ve found!”

He does, however, still remember having doubts about his chosen career path and, more importantly, what happened to convince him to continue.

“It was a bit like Scott Hastings in Strictly Ballroom,” he says. “I was questioning it all and searching for something different. But two things happened at the same time at that moment. I saw Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands… and I got approached to join Jason Gilkison’s Burn the Floor Dance Company. I went out to see what they were doing over in Australia and loved it. It absolutely took my breath away what they were doing over there and I realised it’s not that I don’t want to dance or perform, I just don’t want to do competitions. I want to be part of a show, I want to be part of a company.”

As a result, Kevin toured with Burn the Floor and has never really looked back. In fact, that full circle he referred to has turned again, seeing him leave the TV dance contest show and return to the stage. So is he happy to still be known as a dancer, or does he consider himself an actor?

“Technically, my job description now is an actor. I quite enjoy that and I want to do more acting and more singing. It’s amazing that I’ve been part of this massive TV show and that everyone knows me for being a professional dancer but… we went to register Minnie’s birth the other week and they said, ‘What shall I put down as your occupation?’ I said, actor!”

He’s referring, of course, to his new baby daughter with his partner, Stacey Dooley. The pair danced together in series 16 of Strictly Come Dancing which saw them emerge victorious as winners of the coveted Glitter Ball Trophy. It was fifth time lucky for Kevin who had reached the final on four previous occasions.

I take this opportunity to ask if he has a favourite dance.

“Ironically, because it’s the big one in Strictly Ballroom, the Paso Doble has always been my favourite dance. It was my favourite dance when I was competing, my favourite dance throughout Burn the Floor. I think that was probably influenced by the film. The film has been a massive influence on me. I always wanted to be Scott Hastings and now I’m playing Scott Hastings and the Paso Doble is the main dance!”
Kevin is touring the UK and Ireland with Strictly Ballroom: The Musical until July this year after which he’ll no doubt be taking a well-earned rest.

“I’ll be taking a bit of a break, probably for the rest of the year, just to be Dad.”

And after that?

“I want to do more acting,” he says again. “I’d quite like to do a play, maybe not even a musical, a straight play. I’m also writing a TV drama at the moment that’s based in the world of a ballroom dance competition.”

A writer as well as a dancer, actor and singer? Is there no end to this man’s many talents? What about a judge? Could he see himself as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing one day?

“Possibly,” he confesses. “I’d love to do that… that would be cool. But I don’t think any of the judges will be leaving anytime soon and I think all the judges are brilliant at what they do. Obviously Anton Du Beke’s moved into that now and I think he’s excellent so I don’t know if there would be space… but definitely, never say never! If that was ever to happen and they fancied having a chat with me about it, I’d definitely be up for that!”

In the meantime, you can see Kevin in Strictly Ballroom: The Musical in Edinburgh (8-13 May) and Glasgow (5-10 June). For tickets visit www.strictlyballroomtour.co.uk