Strictly Come Dancing’s CHARLES VENN traded in his boxing dream to become an actor but we think you’ll agree that he’s still a knockout
Strictly & Casualty star Charles Venn pulls no punches
Ican’t believe you’re 45. You are looking good. Thank you. When I started Strictly, my kids didn’t want me to do it: “Nah, dad, it’s going to be embarrassing, you can’t dance.” Now I can do the jazz splits.
So, your family had doubts about your dancing?
Most of my family were excited about it. My wife did ask: “Are you sure you want to do this, babe, the attention the show attracts?” But I thought, “I’m just going to do it.”
As a married man, was the famous Strictly “curse” something you discussed with your wife?
It has become synonymous with the show. My wife did ask that question. I said: “Babe, if our marriage was fractured, if there were any creaks or cracks in it, then I would understand, but no, there are no fissures in our relationship, we’re good. As long as that remains, there’s no reason why anything would affect it, we are solid.” We’ve been together for 20 years, there are so many things that could have broken us up and they didn’t. So I said, “Don’t worry about [ the curse].”
Has the show lived up to your expectations?
It has exceeded them. What you come to find out is that you end up investing so much emotionally and physically in the show. You put everything into it: the pain, the sore knees, arms, you name it. But it’s all worth it.
You have an OK- ish body! We take it you were already fairly fit before joining Strictly?
I’ve been active since I was a kid. I went from athletics at school to joining my local boxing gym at the age of 12. I used to box a lot, that was my thing.
Was that ever a career option ahead of acting?
I wanted it to be, but my late father refused. He said: “No, you’re not going down that route.” If he hadn’t stopped me, I definitely would have [ done it]. He died six years ago. He passed away at home in his bedroom. It was a crazy time for me. My dad had vascular dementia, but to be fair he had a good innings.
What were your dad’s concerns?
He was worried about my health, about me getting in the boxing ring. My dad and I didn’t necessarily have the greatest bonding relationship. He was an old- fashioned Nigerian man, a very stoic individual. But he was there and when he spoke, I had to listen. I was a young man who definitely wanted a more engaging father; he wasn’t that, but he was there. I’m thankful for that because who knows how I would have turned out [ otherwise].
With the benefit of hindsight, are you glad you didn’t go down that route?
I am. When I first fell in love with boxing I was a Frank Bruno fan, but with his style you’re prone to taking punishment. Later, I fell in love with Muhammad Ali’s style: evasive, quick on your feet, reflexes, hit but not getting hit, and as a result you take less punishment. Over time it evolved into Floyd Mayweather’s style, which is virtually not getting hit at all, economic movement, counter- punching, holding, and an impregnable defence.
Do you still box?
I do, but I can’t go in the ring now, obviously. When Strictly ends, I’ll go back and do a bit of sparring. Boxercise is a big part of my life and it always will be. It’s what has kept me light on my feet and has really helped with the dances, the quickstep for example.
How often do you pump iron in the gym?
I do go a lot, but when Strictly came along I stopped going because I knew I would injure myself. The [ amount of] cardio you are getting from the show, you’re all right. It took a while to temper the amount of times I go to the gym, now I go three days a week. As much as developing the body, it’s equally important to let it heal and rest – at the age of 45 I have to. [ The same with] drinking, all these things I used to do and enjoy when I was younger [ need to be tempered].
Would you say you’re fairly cleanliving these days?
A lot cleaner than I used t o be [ laughs]! When I was younger I didn’t care about diet, drinking and smoking, you just think you can do it for ever. But you can’t. I got to my thirties and stopped.
How much quinoa and kale are you eating?
All that stuff: egg whites, smoked salmon, the whole shebang. Up until the show I was more of a pescatarian, but I found out very quickly that you need to up the calorie intake. I started getting light- headed when I was training because I’d already tapped into all the reserves in my body. I’ve been eating more meat such as pork sausages.
We do like sausages… how has your body changed since doing Strictly?
It has become a lot more ripped. I’ve lost a lot of weight. My wife was telling me, “Babe, I can get my arms around you, that feels a bit strange.” But I was forewarned. Anybody who goes the distance on this show, you slim down. It’s good in terms of muscle definition and I like how I look to a degree, but I wish I had more muscle mass. My clothes are getting roomier.
You’ve been in the bottom two a few times, but had a breakthrough dance during couples’ choice week. Does getting your hands on the glitterball trophy feel like a feasible goal?
Yes, it does. It didn’t feel like that in the beginning. It was very difficult to bounce back, but you either fold or you fly, and Karen [ Clifton] and I weren’t prepared to fold. [ That couples’ choice dance], it sounds corny, but I felt my dad, a presence, it was weird, everything was coming [ together], it was all there.
During one of the film clips on Strictly, we see you revisiting your old home on the Mozart estate in West London. How important was it to show viewers that?
People assume that you came into the game like this. They don’t know about the hard work, what you’ve been through. I remember I was in the area at a party and there was this girl, we’d never really spoken, but I wanted to say: “Hi, I’m from the area, we have mutual friends,” and she just gave me this really vacant look as if to say, “You’re not from here, the hood.” That perception of, you’re here, you’re wearing Gucci shoes, you’re looking smooth, they just see that, they didn’t see what happened before: that kid running around in the area, having fun, trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. I came from the hood, I had a dream and I worked hard.
What was it like growing up there?
It was a great estate. That was my
“I’ve become more ripped and lost a lot of weight since starting Strictly”
stomping ground, me and my friends. We were just young kids having fun, the internet wasn’t around, so we had to make our own entertainment. The Mozart was like a labyrinth, the most incendiary environment, but the people in there were good people. Yeah, people got killed, but people get killed everywhere. In terms of stabbings, it wasn’t like that. I got into a fight once and I know if it was now I would probably have been stabbed. That’s the mind set some of the kids have now, unfortunately. It’s tribalism to a degree: gang- related, mob- related. It comes down to money, status and perception. The government have to be more resourceful. They have to start doing more in the streets because it can make a huge difference if they are prepared to apply the funds.
Are you involved in any grassroots campaigns? If not, is that an area you would be interested in exploring?
I would like to do more. The surprise that you see on people’s faces when they learn that you’re from the area… One awards show I went to, I gave a speech and I spoke about coming from Mozart, working hard, how if you put your mind to it, you can achieve [ things]. I stand as proof of that and I remember kids from Mozart who were in the audience saying, “Thank you, you inspired me so much after hearing that.” It gave them a little pep in their step. Without that, they’ll think, “That’s long, man, I haven’t got time for that, I have to make money the fast way.” But if you say, “No, I studied three of four years in the acting business, learning everything I possibly could before going out there and carving out a career, and here I am,” then they’ll go, “Well, if he can do it…”
When you were placed in the bottom two, despite receiving positive feedback from the judges, did you ever think it had anything to do with race, a row that has engulfed the show in the past?
No. The reason why I say that is because of [ fellow contestant] Danny John- Jules, who went straight through, no problem. I want to believe that the viewers and voters at home are not myopic enough to think in that manner, to really let the colour
of someone’s skin affect how they perceive or judge them. Take me on the content of my character. On t op of that, I was looking at someone ’ s social media — I shouldn’t have done it, but I did — and I sa w someone had written: “I just don’t take to him, he’s smug, I think he’s arrogant.”
I mean, I didn’t want to say anything…
[ Laughs] Am I a confident man?
Yes, because of where I come fr om and the journey I’v e been on, I have to be. Of course, I still ha ve my insecurities and vulnerabilities lik e the next person. I’m certainly not arrogant. I don’t even know how to be. Considering where I came fr om, I can’t be. My mum wouldn’t have allowed it.
Will you carry on dancing after Strictly?
I’ve already said t o the missus that we’ll go dancing. It’ll be a great bonding experience for us. It’s not going to be anywhere near as intense, though. Six/ seven hours a day? I think not! But twice a week, yeah, man. I would ev en consider it replacing a gym session.
Moving from the dancefloor to TV and film sets, how did you get involved in acting?
It was actually by accident. I was in Kilburn, in London, with my friends, one of them had a video camera and he just gave me a scene: “Pretend you’re a debt collect or and you have to pick up money fr om this guy.” I didn’t really think anything of it. Afterwards he said t o me: “Chucky, you should seriously think about acting, you’ve got ability,” and I thought, “Why not?” so I applied for a performance arts course. I remember the first day thinking, “Man, where has this been all of my life?” It was a v oid I didn’t even know needed filling.
You appeared in Dream Team and Footballers’ Wives. Are you any good
at it in real life?
I liked football, but I wasn’t a big f an. On Dream Team, I actually learnt ho w to play because we had semi and ex- professionals, and the coach who taught us was a former pr o. I started to become quite handy.
Footballers’ Wives was massive as well.
That got six or seven million viewers an episode, and it was a great role I was playing.
At that point, Idris Elba wasn’t around, so I was getting a lot of attention from magazines such as OK! and Hello! It was a great time.
I’m sensing a rivalry between you and Idris…
[ Laughs] Never! Idris is the godfather, the man who we all look up to and respect. He’s the biggest black actor in the game, no doubt. When Idris is attached to a project, you’re watching it.
Do you feel a pressure to keep in shape as you grow older?
There is a modicum of pressure to keep and maintain, but at the same time it’s our job as actors. You’re told, in terms of knowledge, craft and appearance, that it’s essential if you are going to be cast. Luckily I enjoy it and staying in shape is just a by- product now.
You also caused swoon levels to soar as nurse Jacob Masters in Casualty. Has your medical knowledge ever come in handy in a real- life situation?
My son bumped his head once and I did a little bit of compression, put some ice compresses on it, but that’s about as far as it goes.
So you’ve never had to perform an emergency tracheotomy with a Biro?
Not as of yet and I hope I never have to!
Finally, what is your dream role?
James Bond. I’d make a great Bond! Strictly Come Dancing continues this month on BBC1
“Idris Elba is the godfather. When he’s attached to a project, you watch”
Charles wears t- shirt by Björn Borg, shorts, by PE Nation, trainers, by adidas at Schuh
Charles wears shorts, by PE Nation
Charles wears shorts, by PE Nation, trainers, by adidas at Schuh
Charles wears shorts, byPE Nation GROOMING SandraHadi using MAC FASHION ASSISTANTWill Simons