“I was in an ice bath last night, and oh my world I’ve got calves.”
YouTube star Joe Sugg‘s life has changed in many ways since he started Strictly Come Dancing 14 weeks ago.
“Suggs aren’t known for their calves, but I can actually feel a calf now,” he says proudly. “Look, I’ve got calves!”
Speaking to the press on the last day of rehearsals for the Strictly final, Joe is contemplating how far he’s come.
“I never thought I’d be sat here now,” he says.
“I just thought, give it a chance and see what happens. It’s a whole new audience and it’s just gone down an absolute storm.”
Although he already has more than eight million subscribers to his YouTube channel, he’s loving the new fanbase he’s acquired.
“Nowadays I think I get stopped more out and about by the older generation who know me from Strictly than from YouTube, which has been so nice,” he says.
“But on the other side of things, I’ve had so many positive messages from my own audience who have followed me into this.
“I’ve been having messages from younger guys saying, ‘I would never normally think of doing dance but from watching you on Strictly I can see you’re having so much fun’. And I’m not cool but somehow for them I’ve made it more acceptable.
“And they’re now going to dancing classes with their girlfriend or with their friends, and for me one of the best things about doing this show is its effect on the younger generation and hopefully getting them into dance.”
Documentary maker Stacey Dooley is the bookies’ favourite to win, and she’s also enjoying her new wider fanbase.
“What it’s bought for me personally is you’re able to have conversations with the general public about lighter celebratory things. Work’s so intense, it can be so harrowing and it’s very serious and has to be.
“So for me it’s just been people stopping me in Sainsbury’s saying, ‘I loved your samba when you had feathers coming out of your body’. Or they’ll say, ‘Oh I danced to that song at me wedding’. They’re so invested.”
And with dance partner Kevin Clifton, she’s developed a passion for dance that she can’t see going away.
“I really didn’t realise I’d love it this much… Sometimes Kev walks in to make the tea and I’m watching ballroom dancing on my phone, or [head judge] Shirley Ballas dancing in the ’80s. She was amazing. It’s just crazy.”
For Ashley Roberts, the route to the final has been the most eventful. The former Pussycat Doll has been in the dance-off three times and has been criticised for having too much dancing experience. She admits she was surprised by how much of a “emotional rollercoaster ride” it would be.
“It has been an emotional journey, it has been up and down,” she says. “I think in our adventure we’ve experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows and the full spectrum of the Strictly experience.
“We did have to battle out three times to get to the final but we stayed motivated and stayed in positive thoughts and we made it, so woo hoo!”
She also addresses the question of her previous dance training, which has often been cited as the reason why she wasn’t getting the public votes.
“I did do dance when I was younger – it was a completely different style,” she says. “It’s kind of like asking a soccer player to play basketball – it is two completely different forms of dance and it’s been 20 years since I was trained.
“I absolutely love that I got asked to be here and I’m so grateful that I got to learn Latin and ballroom and it’s been an amazing experience.
“I thought it would be physically challenging – but it’s all been worth it. The show has lit a fire in me to perform, I forgot how much I love doing it.”
Meanwhile, pop star Faye Tozer has been enjoying being known as Faye from Strictly rather than Faye from Steps.
“I’m really lucky outside of Steps that I do a lot of musical theatre, so for me Strictly has just raised a massive platform and shown people more of what I can do outside of Steps, so that’s been a really exciting thing for me, so more of the above please,” she says.
Like Ashley, Faye also has a dance and performing background, but she doesn’t think it should detract from the enjoyment of the show.
“With every Strictly series there’s been a mix of abilities, but it’s an entertainment show at the end of the day and I think it’s been lovely to see everybody’s individual journey and it’s been amazing to be part of the celeb team. It’s been a brilliant series.”
What next for the celebs?
Joe says his success on Strictly has made him “much more open” to looking beyond YouTube and performing professionally in the future.
“I went into this thinking, cool, I’m gonna do this and then go back to YouTube,” he reflects. “I love what I do and the reason I had this opportunity in the first place was because of my YouTube channel. But now afterwards…”
Stacey won’t be giving up her hard-hitting documentaries – but wants to carry on having some fun too.
“Documentaries are my passion and I’m going back to them after Christmas,” she says. “But one of the reasons I did Strictly was to show my lighter side.
“I am a documentary maker who makes serious programmes, but also I am just a young girl who enjoys the entertainment side of things so I suppose [I want to do] a bit of both in an ideal world.”
With the public on her side, she could finally be the one to give Kevin – a four-time runner-up – the chance to get his hands on the glitterball. But she insists they aren’t counting on a win.
“I want to go into the final with no real expectations in terms of what’s going to happen,” she explains. “I want it to feel like a massive party.
“We’ve had such an incredible couple of months – all of us – so I want us to come together collectively and celebrate.”
The Strictly Come Dancing final is on BBC One on Saturday, 15 December at 18:30 GMT.
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