I thought your rumba on Strictly with Johannes to Sting’s Shape of my Heart was incredibly sexy and romantic. As a gay man, it brought tears to my eyes (and in a good way), and it was something I really wished I had seen as a gay teen. How important do you think this sort of same-sex representation is on a prime-time TV show?
It’s vital. It’s one of the main reasons I agreed to do the show (aside from the fact that I’ve been a huge Strictly fan since the beginning). When asked if I wanted to dance with another man, I won’t lie, I had to think about it. I worried what people would say, that the hate would outweigh the love. But then I thought about what my younger self needed, and that is precisely it: representation. To know that children are watching this and not even questioning mine and Johannes’ partnership, it removes so much of the shame I felt when I was growing up. What I love the most is when parents message Johannes and me, telling us how glad they are that their children can grow up in a world where two men dancing on Saturday night television is just normal.
Your chemistry with Johannes is so obvious. Who paired you up, and are you good friends in real life?
The amazing production team put us together. He’s such a graceful and kind human being. We have so much fun when we are training. We don’t get much down time though, because we put so many hours of training in that by the time we are done we both just need to crawl into our beds and recuperate for the next day. But I’ve got a friend for life in Johannes.
HOW DID YOU GAIN A PLACE ON STRICTLY? DID THE PRODUCERS APPROACH YOU? AND WHAT WAS IT THEY SAW IN JOHN WHAITE THAT, I THINK, HAS MADE YOU AND JOHANNES ONE OF THE BEST-LOVED PAIRINGS ON THE SHOW?
My agent gave them a nudge and asked them to meet with me. He said it was highly unlikely that I’d get booked (because hardly anyone does first time around), so to keep a level head and just go and introduce myself. I went down and did a little dance, and I just let myself go. I was naturally very nervous, but I made sure to be myself because that’s the only version of me that is true. Whatever they saw in me was enough, because a few months later I got my contract through. You are dancing with Johannes every week!
How much training goes into each performance?
We try to get between 30-35 hours a week for each dance. I can’t work Tuesdays as I do Steph’s Packed Lunch up in Leeds, so we only have three days to learn our full routine. It’s really hard work, and Day One always feels like the world is going to fall away from beneath my feet as I stumble about trying to remember the steps. But by Wednesday something usually just clicks and the choreography starts to feel more natural.
How much does each of you individually contribute creatively to your routines? Of course, Johannes is professionally trained – does he boss you around?
I don’t have any creative input. I just show up and get told what to do. I think if we, the celebs, were to have any creative input the show wouldn’t be so beautiful and streamlined – imagine the poor creative team having to manage a load of opinions from a vast array of different personalities. It would be carnage.
“I thought about what my younger self needed, and that is precisely it: representation”
You obviously love your dancing – but what’s the hardest part of your weekly routines on Strictly?
Monday mornings. I’m usually still completely exhausted from the weekend and so trying to learn a routine is always very over-facing at first. But Johannes is so patient – he just goes over it and over it with me until it clicks.
You have been the winner of the Great British Bake Off and are a regular TV chef. Baking or dancing – which is your passion?
I haven’t baked for months (apart from a batch of pumpkin scones) but I think I love them both. I’ll always cook and bake, and now I want to always perform and dance too!
Before Strictly had you ever danced before?
There’s a lot of talk about me that I’m a trained dancer and a trained choreographer, which is absolute nonsense. I did plays while I was at college so naturally there were a few step-ball-changes involved, but that would be like saying a kid who used to play football every so often was a ‘trained footballer’. Until Strictly I’d never done a volta, a pivot, a waltz, tango, paso doble, cha cha, samba. I’m a newbie. I think we all are.
You have said that you have suffered from depression. What lifts you up?
Taking time out. I’ve realised how valuable my time is, and if I feel it isn’t being respected – by myself or other people – then I make sure I pay it some respect. I’m fortunate that I don’t have children or many other commitments that most people have, so I’m able to take time to volunteer on a farm in Canada, or take a week off to watch films and eat sweets. I work really, really hard, but I also appreciate the importance of rest more.
The gym has also been a big saving grace for me. I’m bulimic, and struggle with it even to this day, but being able to control my routine and listen to classical music while I lift heavy weights really helps to calm me down and give me a little break from the world.
What’s next for John Whaite?
I’ve no idea. I’d love to do more performance-based work like plays and shows. I’ll continue cooking on and presenting daytime TV because I have such a soft spot for that, too. But I’ve learned that the only thing I can control in life is my input and my enjoyment. And as long as my fiancé feels loved, my dog is fed and my mortgage is being paid, anything else that comes my way is a blessing.
And, most importantly, are you having fun?
More fun than I’ve had in years!