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It’s Strictly’s an­nual trip to Black­pool this week­end, and the chance to dance with a pro­fes­sional in the

Tower Ball­room is a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity for the con­tes­tants – as proud north­ern lass Gemma Atkinson knows very well.

This se­ries has al­ready served up a shock, with pre­sumed fron­trun­ner As­ton Mer­ry­gold mak­ing a sur­prise exit, but Gemma was still in the com­pe­ti­tion as we went to press. Inside TV got on the phone to her af­ter a day’s hard train­ing, to ask about her jour­ney so far and her pre-per­for­mance rit­u­als

– and why danc­ing in Black­pool would mean ev­ery­thing to her…

Hi Gemma! How are you find­ing the Strictly ex­pe­ri­ence?

It’s one of the most amaz­ing things I’ve ever done, but it’s also men­tally one of the most chal­leng­ing. You go through waves of be­ing so ex­cited and pleased to then feel­ing dev­as­tated that you can’t pick up a dance, and wor­ried that it won’t go right on the night.

Like now, when you have a break from train­ing you go,

‘Oh my gosh, I’m re­ally tired’, but I’m itch­ing to get back to per­fect it!

What’s an av­er­age week like in train­ing?

I would say Tues­day and Wed­nes­day are nor­mally my cry days, when I tell my­self I can’t do it.

I love a Mon­day be­cause it’s a brand-new dance, so you’re ab­sorb­ing ev­ery­thing, whereas Tues­day/wed­nes­day, once the tech­ni­cal side comes into it, you re­alise how dif­fi­cult it is. One minute you’re lov­ing it, then you’re cry­ing that you can’t do it – it’s so strange!

This year’s cast seems to be very close – does it help you to have the oth­ers’ sup­port?

Def­i­nitely. Every­one gets on so well – we have a group What­sapp, so if any­one’s hav­ing a hard time, we can just send a mes­sage and every­one jumps on it to sup­port each other. We all train in dif­fer­ent ar­eas so none of us re­ally know what the oth­ers are do­ing. So when we all group up on a Fri­day, it’s nice to say, “Oh my gosh, you cried on

Tues­day – so did I!”. It’s a re­lief to know you’re not the only one strug­gling.

How do you pre­pare be­fore the live show?

I al­ways have a cof­fee be­fore a latin dance be­cause it gives you that lit­tle kick, whereas with ball­room it’s more of a camomile tea be­cause you need to be a lot more re­laxed. I do get very ner­vous, I don’t think that will ever go away, but Al­jaž [Sko­r­janec, Gemma’s dance part­ner] gives me a good pep talk be­fore each per­for­mance. He says, “I’m here now, I’ll be with you through­out the whole dance and, re­gard­less of the out­come, I’m gonna be with you at the end of it”.

What would it mean to you to dance at Black­pool?

We used to go there all the time for hol­i­days when I was a kid. In fact, I was there for two nights this sum­mer! I’ve got so many fond child­hood mem­o­ries, so to be in the Tower Ball­room danc­ing with Al­jaž with my fam­ily there watch­ing would just be amaz­ing. And it’s also my birth­day that week­end, so to say I’d spent my 33rd birth­day in the ball­room, with every­one I love – it would be a birth­day to re­mem­ber, that’s for sure!

Stress daily: Al­jaž keeps Gemma work­ing hard Fan­tas­tic Miss Fox­trot: Gemma’s classy ball­room style

Latin sauce: The pair dance a spicy salsa

An­other one bites the dust: The cast say farewell to Brian Con­ley

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