AC­TIVE FEA­TURE

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

Attitude - - Contents - Words Thomas Stich­bury Pho­tog­ra­phy Markus Bi­daux Styling Nick Byam

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

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