Louis Smith Interview: How Strictly Changed The Olympian’s Life Forever

·7-min read
Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace won Strictly Come Dancing in 2012 (Photo: BBC)
Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace won Strictly Come Dancing in 2012 (Photo: BBC)

Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace won Strictly Come Dancing in 2012 (Photo: BBC)

“It’s scary to think that was a decade ago. I was 23 years old and now I’m 33, I’ve got grey hairs coming out of my nostrils,” a candid Louis Smith says as he casts his mind back 10 years to his debut on the Strictly Come Dancing dance floor. 

The Olympic gymnast was cast on the BBC show fresh off the back of his success at the London 2012 Games, and his partnership with professional dancer Flavia Cacace took the dance floor by such a storm that they went on to lift the Glitterball trophy as champions. 

A whole 10 years on, Louis still can’t quite believe his Strictly story, particularly as he found out he’d landed a spot on the line-up between events at the Games in what turned out to be a pretty life-changing call.  

“Strictly wasn’t anything I had personally planned way in advance,” he insists, “but my agent had joked about it. Throughout that relationship, he’d say, ‘My goal is to get you on Strictly.’

“There was an opportunity to go in for a meeting and that was before London 2012, so I went in, spoke to them, cracked a few jokes and had a laugh and showed them what I was about. Then I went off to the Olympics, competed, and then we won the bronze in the team event,” he continues.

“In between the team event and the Commonwealth final, I had a phone call from my agent saying, ‘Congratulations on the bronze and the team event, absolutely smashing it, we’re all so proud of you.’ And then he was like, ‘Don’t feel any extra stress going in to the Commonwealth final, what will be will be. Regardless of what happens, Strictly want you to go on the show. So just go in and enjoy the competition and have the best time.’”

Louis Smith celebrates with his Silver medal after coming second in the Men's Pommel Horse Final at London 2012 (Photo: Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images)
Louis Smith celebrates with his Silver medal after coming second in the Men's Pommel Horse Final at London 2012 (Photo: Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images)

Louis Smith celebrates with his Silver medal after coming second in the Men's Pommel Horse Final at London 2012 (Photo: Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images)

For Louis, it was perfect to have something else to “sink his teeth into” after the highs of the Games, which were the pay-off of years of training. But going from the sports world into one of sequins and salsa just weeks later was a difficult adjustment. 

Immediately, Louis found himself being written and talked about in the press in ways he had never experienced as an athlete due to the intense media interest that Strictly commands.

“It was a transition I really struggled with initially,” he says. “Usually when I did interviews, it was with very Oxford University sports journalist-type people, who would literally quote you word-for-word and I could spiel off all this stuff and not worry about my words being twisted.

“Then I did Strictly and in the very first instance there was a headline saying I fancied my dance partner. I didn’t say that at all, so that was a learning curve. 

“I remember being really stressed about the whole situation because I knew she was in a relationship with someone and I didn’t want to be treading on anyone’s toes and be really respectful. [Flavia was] like, ‘Louis, it’s fine, trust me.’ And all the other contestants said, ‘Just wait, this is just the start, this is just what happens, don’t stress about it.’ 

“I had the most amazing cast. So many fantastic people that had all been through that and knew how to deal with it and told me to enjoy the experience.”

Louis became a fan favourite early on in the 2012 series of Strictly (Photo: BBC)
Louis became a fan favourite early on in the 2012 series of Strictly (Photo: BBC)

Louis became a fan favourite early on in the 2012 series of Strictly (Photo: BBC)

Louis got off to a solid start in the competition, quietly making it through the first few weeks before quickly emerging as a fan favourite. 

When he and Flavia reached the final alongside Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh and Pasha Kovalev and TV presenter Denise Van Outen and James Jordan, they were the only couple of the trio not to have previously landed in the bottom two. And then something happened that completely sealed their victory – their Showdance. 

The gymnastics-inspired routine – a nod to Louis’ sporting background – was unlike anything ever seen on Strictly at that moment in time. Set to Take That’s Rule The World, its contemporary style did not fit into the traditional confines of ballroom or Latin, and saw Louis begin his performance balanced on top of a giant globe.

While Showdances in previous finals had an ‘anything goes’ approach, Louis reveals he and Flavia had to push producers in order to create something he’d dreamed of performing. 

“I like to do something different and I like to think that die-hard fans of Strictly have seen all the different dances and performances and they know what they haven’t seen when they see it. So I wanted the Showdance to be something like that, because it then stays in your brain,” Louis says. 

Flavia was cautious due to Showdances usually being “slap, bang, wallop, lifts, sparkles and cannons” but went to speak to bosses, and they were soon on board. However, this meant Flavia had to go back to the drawing board with what she’d originally had in mind. 

“All the planned lifts couldn’t really be used, as it wouldn’t fit the slow tempo of the music,” Louis explains. “So we were just researching ideas and we went through about 50 different lifts to see what did and didn’t work in the timeframe we had.

“It’s an honour to be able to have started that ball on the contemporary side of things on Strictly,” he says, with such routines now a regular fixture on the show.

Louis and Flavia's Showdance was unlike anything else the show had seen before at the time (Photo: BBC)
Louis and Flavia's Showdance was unlike anything else the show had seen before at the time (Photo: BBC)

Louis and Flavia's Showdance was unlike anything else the show had seen before at the time (Photo: BBC)

Paying tribute to the late Caroline Flack, who followed in Louis’ footsteps with an emotional Showdance set to Robbie Williams’ Angels in the 2014 final, he adds of the much-missed champion: “She took it to another level because. There was a connection and you feel drawn into the performance and get the goosebumps.”

While Louis might have opened Strictly up to new ideas, the show also awakened a whole new passion for him too, with the athlete going on to hone his performance skills in a West End production of Rip It Up at the London Palladium alongside fellow Strictly alum Harry Judd, Jay McGuiness and Aston Merrygold. 

“One of the things I’m most proud of is going into the performing arts and musical theatre side of things, which I never really saw myself being part of,” he says.

“I was always sort of envious when I’d go and watch a West End show and it would look so much fun and I wished I could dance and sing. So to have been able to work my way into that and capitalise on all of these opportunities that have come up, I do feel very lucky and privileged that Strictly opened the door to that.”

It's 10 years since Louis lifted the Glitterball (Photo: BBC)
It's 10 years since Louis lifted the Glitterball (Photo: BBC)

It's 10 years since Louis lifted the Glitterball (Photo: BBC)

He adds: “I’m under no illusion as well that all the things I’ve done, I’ve had to learn and take it seriously because I don’t want to be one of those people where you’ve got the job because you’ve got a name. I want to feel like I’ve earned my spot, and the people who I’m rubbing shoulders with have trained for years and years in musical theatre school and have earned their stripes. It’s also their proud moment on stage, so I don’t want to feel like I’m embarrassing them or letting them down, or cheapening the experience.” 

With more performance expertise now under his belt, could Louis ever be tempted back to the ballroom again, perhaps if the BBC ever launch a Strictly All Stars series?

“100%,” Louis says without skipping a beat. “I would love to do Strictly knowing what I know now. 

“I’ve learned a way to pick things up quicker now.. One thing I really struggled with on Strictly was the performance side of things… So I would love to go back on and see how I would fare now.

“Now I could give those musical theatre-trained people who go on Strictly a run for their money!”

Louis is currently working with Tu to show why its school uniform gets gold for durability at the The Ultimate Playground Games. The Savvy School Shop is available at Tu.co.uk, Argos.co.uk and in selected Sainsbury’s stores.

Louis Smith hosted The Ultimate Playground Games (Photo: Scott Garfitt)
Louis Smith hosted The Ultimate Playground Games (Photo: Scott Garfitt)

Louis Smith hosted The Ultimate Playground Games (Photo: Scott Garfitt)

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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