Why I’m glad I didn’t wın Strıctly
Danny Mac, last year’s runner-up, says the real curse of Strictly is that the champ will forever be known as just that
Strictly curse? What Strictly curse? If actor Danny Mac didn’t run off with his lithe and lovely professional partner Oti Mabuse last year, then perhaps there’s hope after all. Most of us will have vivid memories of Danny – bare- chested, arms flailing – performing one of the show’s most sizzling routines ever. His raunchy samba with Oti was hot stuff, even for the famously unshockable judges. Bruno Tonioli likened what he’d just seen to a ‘pagan mating ritual’.
How must it have felt to be his fiancée, fellow actor Carley Stenson, in the audience? Well, thankfully, she can’t have been too distraught to see her husband-to-be in the throes of such passion because this August the pair finally tied the knot. Did they recreate that particular dance routine for their wedding guests, with Carley taking the female lead? Well no. In fact, Danny laughs uproariously at the idea, presumably because no wedding dress could survive that sort of excitement. ‘No, we had a very traditional first dance. No big set-piece. We kind of shuffled round, like most couples do.’ Oh, what a shame. ‘No, it suited us,’ he objects. ‘We’re quite ordinary, we just wanted everything to be… ordinary.’
Danny, 29, and Carley, 35, have been together since 2011 (they met on the set of Hollyoaks) and have always been used to quite low-level attention, but his appearance on Strictly last year shot them to another level. His wedding pics even made their way into Hello! magazine. ‘It’s the weirdest thing,’ he admits. ‘Before, I was recognised mostly by young people. Now, it’s everyone – grannies, very young kids. I didn’t really watch Strictly before I was in it, and I’m not sure I was aware of the breadth of that audience.’
Danny was back at work three days after the wedding, rehearsing for a national tour of Sunset Boulevard, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of the 1950 Billy Wilder film about a faded film star desperate to regain her former glory. Danny plays the male lead, Joe Gillis, the impoverished screenwriter who gets sucked into the life of the star, Norma Desmond. Meanwhile, his new wife is in Les Misérables in the West End. ‘No, no honeymoon yet,’ Danny says. ‘We’ll get round to that later.’
He didn’t actually lift the coveted glitterball last year, losing out to sports presenter Ore Oduba in the final. Not that Danny uses the word ‘lose’. ‘I always say I didn’t lose, Ore won. And Oti and I won on the Strictly tour, so I got a version of the trophy. My mum has it on her dining table, so every time I go home I see it in all its glory.’
Somehow his mum’s delight in seeing her son on Strictly summed up the Strictly experience. His mum sounds anything but ordinary, given that she works as a nurse in a hospice (‘It does give you perspective,’ Danny says. ‘I do sometimes think, “What good is my job to anyone?”’), but she threw herself into the Strictly shebang, even dressing the family dogs in mini suits to match what Danny was wearing on the show. Now he reveals that the joy of watching him compete couldn’t have come at a better time – his mum and dad had split up not long before, and as he puts it, ‘She’d been through a hard time. Strictly was brilliant for giving her something to laugh about.’
But did he genuinely not mind not winning? ‘I actually think it was probably best for my career that I didn’t win,’ he says. ‘I mean, Ore will never be able to get away from the Strictly winner thing, even if it’s been the making of him.’ Yet there’s no denying that Strictly opens doors. The fact Danny is now heading the cast of Sunset Boulevard might not seem linked to his Strictly success (he was offered the part before he signed up for the show) but in a way it is. ‘I said no when they first offered the part, because I didn’t think I could play it. I mean it’s epic – I’m on
stage for pretty much the whole thing. Thank God they waited, though, because when they asked again I’d been through Strictly, put myself in another situation where I wasn’t sure I’d be a success, and my mindset was different. I thought, “Why not? What do I have to lose? Maybe I can do this.”’
Sunset Boulevard isn’t his first venture onto the stage. In fact he acted in the West End aged 11, in his first professional role – coincidentally, it was in Les Misérables too, as Gavroche. But despite that prodigious start, his background is very – here’s that word again – ‘ordinary’. His dad was a fruit and veg trader, so it’s fair to say acting wasn’t in his blood. When he was offered a place at drama school, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to take it up. ‘ The fees were £13,000. My family didn’t have that sort of money. I applied for a scholarship, and got it, thankfully, but if I hadn’t I don’t know what I’d have done.’
He came across as quite the strutting peacock on Strictly ( he blames the Cuban heels) but in the flesh is selfeffacing, even shy. He’s the male celebrity with the highest series average score in the history of the programme, though, which is quite something. Has he been watching this year’s show, to assess whether he could be knocked off his perch? ‘I’ve seen enough to be blown away by the standard,’ he says, singling out the routines of Aston Merrygold and Debbie McGee. ‘But it’s such a strong field. It’s wide open.’
This year Oti has been getting up close with the Paralympian Jonnie Peacock. ‘I think Oti thought she’d get a comedy act this year so it’s been brilliant for her,’ says Danny. ‘It’s been interesting to see how they’ve worked together because they’re both used to winning. They’re both very competitive.’ And pity poor Jonnie’s girlfriend, 400m Paralympian Sally Brown, who’s been having to watch. Maybe Danny’s new missus offered her a few tips.
‘Before I was recognised by young people. Now it’s grannies’
For details of Danny’s show visit uk tour. sunset boulevard the musical. com. Strictly Come Dancing, tonight, 6.35pm, BBC1.
Above: Danny with former Strictly partner Oti Mabuse. Left: with wife Carley Stenson