Autumn time in Susie Verrill’s house usually involves a lot of relaxing, winding down and NO TRAINING. And then her Olympic medallist boyfriend went and signed up for Strictly Come Dancing. She reports back from the fake-tanned frontline.
For us as a family, September marks the stage of the year where we can finally spend some time together, eat what we want, take trips away and more often than not, do nothing. Because as the partner of a professional athlete, the entire month of September means off season.
And off season means no hill running getting in the way of our dog walks, no restricted diet, no being left to single parent while Greg jets over to America for four-week training stints. We can finally be the archetypal family and get cosy on the sofa, with a glass of wine and a takeaway. It’s our pocket of normality.
That was, of course, until this year when Greg signed up to take part in Strictly Come Dancing and the schedule became even further rammed than it was prior to the Olympics. The days are long, the training is gruelling and in fact, he comes back more tired (also, sweaty) than when he was running himself ragged on the runway.
Strictly is so much bigger than we imagined in every way, all-encompassing and full throttle 24/7.
Since news got out that Greg was set to be a contestant, both he and I have been inundated with questions on what we were expecting in the lead-up, how we’re feeling now he’s on to week five, whether we’re enjoying the glitz and glamour etc, so I thought I’d have a chat about the ins and outs of how it’s all going and what the experience is like from the front line.
First up, let me start by saying even prior to Greg taking part, I was a huge Strictly fan. As someone who studied dance, it makes my heart sing, and as someone who works in social media, I love anything which prompts online conversation and discussion.
There’s such an energy to it and for me, it displays a real integrity and class other shows don’t come close to. The fact it draws 10 million viewers speaks for itself; it’s TV you can watch with your grandparents, your children, your other half (who would probably rather be watching the History Channel or something awful on Dave).
I love it, so when Greg posed the possibility of popping on his own dancing shoes, I fully encouraged (he may say forcefully persuaded) him to take the plunge.
Once everything had been agreed and Greg had finished jumping for the year, he set off for his first rehearsal with the rest of the gang. The professionals and other celebrities had a couple of days where they essentially just got to know each other and have the honchos work out how well/terribly they could dance.
Not being there I don’t know the ins and outs, but I presume it was a case of seeing who might match well. Plus, they needed to learn a group number and get an idea of the different dances they’d be trying out. Salsa, Rumba, Charleston… the whole shebang.
It was the second day when Greg rang to say he was really, really struggling. When Tess and Claudia are kind enough on the show to let the viewing public know Greg hasn’t danced before, let me confirm HE REALLY HADN’T DANCED BEFORE.
“We were asked about the ‘Strictly Curse’ in interviews before the show had even started; when Greg posted a photo of him and Nat to Instagram last week, comments flooded in remarking he should be focusing on his ‘wife’ rather than his dance partner.”
He’d do a dad-shuffle on rare nights out and that thing where you nod your head to the music and bite your lip enthusiastically. I knew my boyfriend had rhythm, but that was quite literally it; that was the one singular thing he had going for him.
Other than that, as a bloke of 6’3”, with thighs heftier than my waist, he had the grace of a rhino in Doc Martens and his worried phone call that day confirmed my fears. He was going to be the gimmick.
After sending me a video of the number he was expected to learn, I set about memorising it and by the time he returned home that evening, we hammered it out together to attempt to pick it apart and tweak things ’til his moves resembled an actual dance.
I have videos of him repeating the sequences over and over in the garden, desperately trying to point his toes and not look like an octopus with rickets. To look back at them now makes me want to well up a little bit. He was full of enthusiasm, but suddenly terrified he’d taken on much more than he could handle and – probably for the first time in his life – he was rubbish at something. And I can’t stress this enough. He was r-u-b-b-i-s-h.
One move (‘the pony’), a very, very simple up and down motion with trotty feet had him whooshing from one foot to the other, arms flapping like his penis was on fire.
When it came to finding a partner a few weeks later, there was only one person who, in Greg’s mind fitted the bill. Natalie Lowe, dancing goddess and all-round super person was the lady on the radar; Greg was desperate to get her and I found myself in the unusual position of wanting my boyfriend to have another woman.
I know he’d found her really approachable and kind during those first rehearsals and I’d seen clips where she’d gently usher him into the correct direction if rickety octopus came out to play again; plus, with them both being tall, they seemed like a perfect fit.
I know there’s a real furore around the ‘Strictly Curse’; it was the one thing we were asked about in interviews before the show had even started and when Greg posted a photo of him and Nat to Instagram last week, comments flooded in remarking he should be focusing on his ‘wife’ rather than his dance partner (note; we’re not married).
In all honesty, it makes me very eye-rolly. I can say with total confidence, I want Greg and Natalie to have a connection, it’s so utterly important. Intensity, passion, drive; it all needs to be there and I would have hated for this whole process to have begun with either one of them thinking they had to hold back or feel unsupported.
Having spent time with Nat I can also certify what everyone suspects already; she’s an incredible woman, hugely professional but also someone Greg can spend hour upon hour with and not want to throw himself down a well.
The magic she’s worked on him is quite honestly astonishing and what you see each weekend is testament to her patience and skill (aside from Greg’s mega-bum during the Tango; that was all him).
“It’s so, so tough this year. There’s no wheat and chaff, everyone’s bringing their A game and you just can’t call it.”
Lots of women ask if it’s uncomfortable watching them get sexy with one another and I can confirm, not in any way. I can only speak for myself, others might struggle, but I either end up thinking, ‘Ah, I’ve got a hot boyfriend!’ or ‘Ah, I’ve fallen a little bit in love with Natalie.’
I occasionally pop along to watch their rehearsals, and I’m actually impressed Greg feels comfortable enough to really get into it, knowing I’m sat there staring at them. Sometimes I shout, ‘Don’t forget he’s mine!’ or, ’STOP TOUCHING HER!’ just to make sure we all know where we stand (I don’t).
So, each day, the two of them head to a studio in Milton Keynes (the dancers basically relocate to accommodate the celebrity) and from 10am to 10pm they train. They have a couple of breaks and obviously the TV crew come to film; Greg will occasionally have physio; there’ll be media commitments; but for the most part, the week is taken up perfecting the weekend’s routine.
It’s not just a bit of prancing here and there, it’s a crazy schedule and it’s very normal now for me to not see Greg until 10:30pm (when he’ll arrive home to Milo, still awake, forcing me to watch The Good Dinosaur).
Once we reach Thursday, it tends to be the case that Greg’s London based until the show’s done and dusted for another week; there’s costume rehearsals, group numbers, more training. It makes sense for him to up sticks from Milton Keynes for a few days and just concentrate on the job in hand. That, and getting spray tanned.
It’s obviously only week five, but I’ve been to watch the show live and cheer on my favourite couple, and will continue to do so for the upcoming weeks, should they remain in the competition.
It’s so, so tough this year. There’s no wheat and chaff, everyone’s bringing their A game and you just can’t call it. It’s amazing to see those who were truly terrified coming down that famous staircase on the very first show, now having presence and the ability to move.
Dance can be so beautiful, the most wonderful skill to have and I’m unequivocally happy with how well Greg’s doing even if yes, our off-season laze about session is on hold for a while. I can honestly say, I’m more than happy being a Strictly widow. I might even miss it.
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My name’s Susie, I used to work for sport/fashion magazines in London while feeling cosmopolitan. Now I’m a stay-at-home mum in Milton Keynes who writes during nap time and attempts not to drive to garden centres every day in search of company other than that of a one-year-old.