Strictly Come Dancing’s People’s Champion, Lisa Riley, tells JUDE DORNAN why she is telling her amazing life story in new show, Strictly Confidential
Overnight, following her first televised performance on the ballroom dancing reality show, the nation had taken her to its heart.
Still with bemused, she remembers: “On the Monday morning after the Sunday show, I was on the train with two of my very good friends - and we were looking at the weekend’s papers .
“And I was on the front cover of every single paper! I turned to the girls and I went, ‘What the hell have I done? I don’t get it!’ It was amazing but I didn’t understand why I’d made all the impact that I had.”
As the weeks went by, the reaction only got bigger. She laughs: “It was things like my brother going to me, ‘Oh my God, you’re trending on Twitter!’ It was ridiculous.
“But it’s sweet and obviously it’s still happening now.”
Expected to be the comedy contestant, along the lines of Anne Widdecombe or John Sergeant, Lisa instead stunned the nation by revealing a natural sense of rhythm and a real talent for dancing.
By week four of the show, the words “People’s Champion” were being bandied about and, although in the end she only reached the semis, many expected her to win.
Lisa herself was still bemused by the reaction to her and partner Robin Windsor’s performance. But, if she needed convincing that she’d miraculously won over the public, the live show broadcast from Wembley Stadium finally removed all doubt.
She recalls: “Wembley was a real turning point for me because to have 6,500 people in Wembley – and my dad and my brother were there as well - I just never ever knew that that reaction would happen.
“I mean, Bruce couldn’t actually speak and it was then that I thought, Jesus Christ, we really are the most popular couple.
“You can be told it. But when 6,500 people are chanting both our names and Bruce can’t even do his next link, that’s when you really know.”
But what the nation didn’t know then was that Lisa was actually grieving - her beloved mother had finally succumbed to cancer just days before the show began.
Lisa says now: “It was real therapy for me in every way – and it was something that my mum would have wanted more than life itself.
“I could have crumbled - and I did crumble but I did that on my own. But basically, I had to do it, I had to go out and do my job and keep going because it’s what my mum would have wanted. And also people deal with grief in a different way. I think about her every hour as it is but I know that she’s up in heaven driving all this on, she is making all this happen.”
“I remember at Wembley, my dad was just crying – crying because he was proud and crying because he knew she was in the building.”
One thing that kept her going was the fantastic bond she formed with partner Robin.
She says: “We are best friends and we will be best friends for life.
“We were both very camp and we just looked like we were enjoying ourselves - and we were!
“We weren’t competitive. We didn’t look like we would do anything to win, we were being ourselves. The fact 14 and a half million people on a Saturday night were watching us didn’t seem to occur to us.”
They began to get accosted by fans. Lisa says: “Obviously me and Robin were going Picadilly to Euston loads during the series - and literally at one point, I said, ‘We’re like Prince William and Kate Middleton - everyone wants to talk to us!’ Which was so flattering!”
She was even more flattered to be chosen as the star of a brand new Strictly venture - Strictly Confidential.
In this touring show, four stars of the series - Lisa and professional dancers Artem Chigvintsev, Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite - reveal much more of the behind the scenes drama, both in the show and in their own lives.
She says: “How flattering can it be when Craig Revel Horwood writes a show for you and wants you to be the first person to take it on the road. We are going to delve into my life when I was at drama school, my time on Strictly - the highs, the lows, the stresses, the really good time after mine and Robin’s chacha after Week One when I broke all those boundaries down.
“And also with the professionals as well because their stories are fantastic. So it’s a real insight to people.”
She can’t wait to return to Manchester with the show. She says: “I know when we’re at the Lowry, the Manchester audience - because it’s my home town - will be so supportive.”
And Lisa’s mum will take centre stage this time - the star has a poignant routine planned to her mother’s favourite song, although she won’t reveal it. She says: “It’s a really special song and everyone will absolutely love it.
“ It will be a very special moment for me. It will be like she’s sharing the show with us which will be phenomenal. It will prove that she’s really there with us.”
l Strictly Confidential comes to Blackpool Opera House on Friday, July 26.