Helen Skelton's Strictly Diary: 'My body is sore, my feet are raw – but I'm loving it'

Helen Skelton and Gorka Márquez perform on the first live show of the 2022 Strictly Come Dancing - BBC/Guy Levy
Helen Skelton and Gorka Márquez perform on the first live show of the 2022 Strictly Come Dancing - BBC/Guy Levy

I’m starting to see why people rave about being on Strictly Come Dancing – everyone involved gives you the same feeling you get from being at Disneyland. It’s feelgood and positivity everywhere you go. You walk into the studio and people say, “Oh, you like nice, your hair looks nice, your make-up looks nice”, it’s all so fabulously OTT. It’s a lovely atmosphere to be part of and I am very grateful.

My normal life is on the farm and in sport, and doing what anyone else does when they have three kids, but Strictly is a world away from reality. It's also been a great opportunity for me to reconnect with people I worked with a decade ago. When I walked into Elstree Studios, Billy, one of the dressers, said “welcome home”. It was lovely.

I was really pleased with last week’s dance, though obviously there’s room for improvement, and I was really grateful the judges gave me positive feedback and things I can work on. Ultimately I was happy that Gorka Márquez, my professional partner, was happy. He’s put in so many hours and, above being a great teacher, he’s been a really great pal, so I will be forever thankful to him and his family. The performance side is alien to me, but he and his partner, Gemma Atkinson, have been so supportive. It’s helpful she’s done the show as a celebrity, so she understands the process.

So far it’s just been a real good laugh. There are so many interesting characters on and off screen and for me getting to know everyone is part of the joy. Among the celebs, I seem to have taken on the role of social secretary in that I say where people are having drinks – I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

People imagine you’re locked away in London while you’re training, but it’s not the case. Four days a week, we train five minutes from my home and Gorka travels up. The lovely thing is that I can still have a normal family life – Gorka has young children too, so the first thing we do is get a coffee and talk about whose child has been up most of the night. It helps me keep perspective – I could get stressed out about the steps and the routine, but to be honest I have enough to distract me, such as have I packed the right PE kit for the right child that morning?

People keep asking me if I am eating loads but it’s not something I think about. My diet is hardly one of a professional dancer either – I’m still giving the kids their tea, so last night it was a jacket potato with spaghetti hoops, and whatever else was left on the Spider-Man plate. I’m surviving on coffee and sweets.

I’m loving the training and the fact it's hard is something I thrive off. My body is sore, I’ve got a bunion, my feet are red raw, but I genuinely feel: no pain no gain. This week is a different challenge – I’m doing a dance that’s meant to be sassy and sexy but in reality I have a massive bunion. It’s kind of ironic. I underestimated how technical the dance steps are and it’s definitely a mental as well as physical challenge. Plus, we do long days, so thank God we spend a lot of it laughing.

The kids pop into rehearsals too, which is great because they love the show and it’s making them feel part of it. My five-year-old has asked Gorka to teach him the Moonwalk. To be honest my whole family is loving the show so far. My dad is a Cumbrian dairy farmer and my brother is the most non-showbiz man I know, but even they are really getting into the Strictly vibe. They had a family party for the launch show, not that they got to see me because as I came on my Auntie Marge tried to turn up the volume but instead knocked the telly off.

We’ve got a Cha Cha Cha this weekend and I’m constantly walking through the moves in my head. Even when I was putting my baby to bed the other night, I found myself swaying, my feet were doing the moves. That’s not going to get the baby to sleep at 3am. Maybe a Waltz would be better.

Everyone is feeling the pressure of this weekend because the public vote begins and no one wants it to end yet. I am trying not to think about that though because, for however long this lasts, I am very grateful. Ultimately, I am nearly 40, I have three kids and I am spending my days getting one-on-one dance lessons with a world-class dancer. People would give their right arm to be in my shoes right now, so I have a lot to be thankful for and nothing to complain about. Except the bunion.

Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday on BBC One at 6.30pm