Daily Mirror - - NEWS - BY EMILY RET­TER Se­nior Fea­ture Writer Emily.ret­[email protected] @emi­ly_ret­ter

There were more than a few blank faces when Strictly Come Danc­ing’s lit­tle-known line-up was un­veiled this year to fal­ter­ing fan­fare – and Faye Tozer ad­mits she was among them.

The Strictly su­per­fan – one-fifth of Steps, the cheesi­est pop group ever cre­ated – ad­mits she never dreamed she was fa­mous enough to be picked for the iconic BBC dance se­ries.

“I never thought they’d have me on the show,” she says chirpily, with like­able hon­esty.

Feel­ing mean, as she is so im­pos­si­bly nice, I ask if she means she thought it was for big­ger names? “Yeah, ab­so­lutely,” gig­gles the 43-year-old.

Yet Strictly 2018 has proved crit­ics wrong, turn­ing out to be one of the best yet for eye-pop­ping tal­ent. And Faye “from Steps” – which she quips is her “al­ter­na­tive sur­name” – has sashayed her way into tonight’s semi-fi­nal.

Those cyn­ics among us will, of course, whis­per it is lit­tle sur­prise given her for­mer dance ex­pe­ri­ence.

Like fel­low con­tes­tant Ash­ley Roberts, of US band Pussy­cat Dolls, ex­cep­tional Faye has come un­der fire for her dance train­ing.

As a child, she learned bal­let, tap and mod­ern, and Steps was of course named af­ter its fa­mous dance steps to catchy tunes like Tragedy, which fans learned to fol­low them­selves. Over the last two weeks, tal­ented Ash­ley has found her­self in the dance-off be­cause of a lack of pub­lic sup­port – while the likes of un­der­dogs Stacey Doo­ley and Joe Sugg have soared to tonight’s semi.

Be­ing un­flinch­ingly hon­est again, Faye in­sists there is room for those who have had dance ex­pe­ri­ence and those who have not. “It’s lovely to see the jour­ney of the peo­ple who haven’t got any ex­pe­ri­ence at all,” she says, “but I also en­joy the qual­ity and de­tail and in­cred­i­ble things peo­ple with a bit more ex­pe­ri­ence can de­liver. It is a dance show at the end of the day."

Can she un­der­stand why the pub­lic might prefer the un­der­dog, though? “Ab­so­lutely, yeah,” she agrees. I’m learn­ing it’s a stock phrase; Faye is noth­ing if not agree­able. But she adds it is not easy for any­one – and cer­tainly not her as she learns both the com­plex Ar­gen­tine Tango and tech­ni­cally tricky Samba this week.

“Strictly has al­ways had a mix of abil­i­ties, but we are all learn­ing some­thing brand new,” Faye in­sists.

She is quick to point out Steps was a “line-danc­ing pop group”, af­ter all – not ex­actly ball­room stan­dard.

“Back in the 90s it was an in­cred­i­ble time for mu­sic but we’d be do­ing ‘Five, Six, Seven, Eight’,” she laughs.

“And you’d get cool peo­ple like All Saints do­ing Never Ever. Some­times you had to grin through grit­ted teeth!

“Be­cause of be­ing in Steps, I’m used to learn­ing rou­tines but I’ve never learned

any­thing so de­tailed and tricky as this.” Faye is clearly lov­ing her long-de­sired Strictly jour­ney, re­hears­ing 10 hours a day with partner Gio­vanni Per­nice, 27. And she is fi­nally en­joy­ing a bit of in­di­vid­ual fame, for once.

In the early days, af­ter the band formed in 1997, she has said she tried to be the “rebel of the group”, do­ing her hair in dif­fer­ent styles to stand out. It never quite seemed to work, though. De­spite huge suc­cess – Steps sold 20 mil­lion records world­wide and scooped two num­ber one UK sin­gles and al­bums – Faye, Claire Richards, Lee Latch­fordE­vans, Lisa Scott-Lee and Ian “H” Watkins, were a squeaky-clean pack­age. She smiles when she tells me how re­cently she was chris­tened Faye “from Strictly” by a fan.

She says: “Three weeks ago some­body asked me for an au­to­graph and said ‘It’s Faye from Strictly’ rather than ‘Faye from Steps’. It was ac­tu­ally quite lovely, I en­joyed that.” Af­ter the band split in 2001, Faye built a ca­reer in mu­si­cal theatre but al­most lost her grip on fame com­pletely. So much so, in fact, that her own hus­band, Michael Smith, did not have a clue who she was when they first met.

A sales man­ager for an IT com­pany – a “real per­son” or “Mug­gle”, Faye jokes – he was out for his Christ­mas of­fice party in a bar when he and Faye got chat­ting.

“I was in New­cas­tle at the Theatre Royal, I was out with the cast for drinks,” she re­calls.

“He didn’t know who I was and if he did I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have spo­ken to him!” she laughs again.

“One of his friends asked how I was after­wards – he said ‘How was Faye?” and Mike said ‘How did you know her name was Faye?’. I had dark hair at the time – and he wasn’t a Steps fan!”

They mar­ried in 2009 – Faye’s sec­ond wed­ding, fol­low­ing her di­vorce from first hus­band, Dan­ish drum­mer Jes­per Irn, in 2006 – and have son Ben­jamin, nine. Strictly has brought Mug­gle Mike his own brush with fame too, as he sup­ports Faye reg­u­larly on the show and so­cial me­dia. They have both ad­mit­ted there is a “strain” to long hours train­ing and trips to Lon­don – she has been away from home com­pletely for the last cou­ple of weeks, miss­ing their wed­ding an­niver­sary. And pho­tos of her on her birth­day be­ing fed a spoon­ful of lunch by the lovely, and sin­gle, Gio­vanni might not have helped.

But she in­sists there was never any fear of that dreaded curse. “Gio­vanni is a bril­liant partner... and he’s still sin­gle,” she stresses.

On her hus­band, she adds: “You miss each other but you have mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, Facetime, mes­sages. My hus­band works away a lot so we’re used to it, it’s fine.”

In fact, you sense that de­spite the new­found love of be­ing Faye from Strictly, a spot on the tour next year, plus a new Steps al­bum planned with the band, which re-formed in 2011 for a year and then again last year, it is Faye who is more nat­u­rally ret­i­cent about fame.

When Steps first broke up, she ad­mits step­ping out of that bub­ble was tough. Claire and H said they were leav­ing to form a two-piece and Faye says ad­just­ing was hard and re­la­tion­ships were frayed un­til the group reunited.

“I found it dif­fi­cult to watch the MTV awards and things... We had all been in there and sud­denly there was noth­ing, there was a void,” she says.

But nowa­days, she is rather fond of her new­found pri­vacy.

“I like my home life and be­ing Ben­jamin’s mum,” she says.

“These days with so­cial me­dia you have to give it all. I’m learn­ing...” she adds, hes­i­tantly.

And Faye from Strictly re­ally bet­ter had. Be­cause, whether it’s down to the line danc­ing or purely hard graft, her tal­ent means she is bound to stay in the spot­light for quite a while longer.

THEATRE Play­ing the Wicked Queen

HUS­BAND Faye mar­ried ‘Mug­gle’ Michael

TROT STARFaye is hit with Strictly fans FAYE FROM STEPS With pals, from left, Claire, Lee, Lisa and Ian in 1999 With her son Ben­jamin FAYE FROM STRICTLY The pop star has wowed with partner Gio­vanni Per­nice MUMMY

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