So Jake you’ve emerged as a favourite among Strictly fans and the bookies….
“Going into the show I had no idea things we’re going to turn out like this.”
There’s been lots of talk about your hips…
“Well, yes, I knew I had hips. I’ve always had bendy hips – or snake-hips as everyone keeps calling them – I just never knew what I could do with them. Indeed, they seem to have a life of their own!”
What’s the reaction been like when you’re out and about?
“I’m amazed by people’s reactions to me. There’s a huge buzz around Strictly and huge support from the public. It’s lovely that people on the street are calling me Jake for the first time. When you’re on a soap for a long time you’re taken for granted and people think you are that character, so it’s nice reminding people that I am an actor.”
Of course, you’re not the first resident of Albert Square to grace the dance floor. Scott Maslen (who plays Jack Branning), Charlie Brooks (Janine), Sid Owen (Ricky) and Kara Tointon (Dawn), have all strutted their stuff. Did any of them give you advice?
“Scott’s been great at giving advice; in fact, he was a big part of my decision to do it. He was so positive and made me realise what an opportunity it is to learn a new skill from world-class dancers. I’d have been foolish to say no.”
And we hear there was also a little pressure from your biggest fans – your children, Amber, nine, and Buster, six….
“They got into the show last year and used to really enjoy Mark Benton’s performances, so when Strictly approached me in the summer I knew it’d be something they could watch and be proud of.”
Is this first time they’ve been able to watch their dad on the box?
“Yes, I don’t let them watch EastEnders. Given the nature of what Max gets up to, I don’t think it’s responsible for me as a parent to let them see it when they’re so young…
“Strictly we can all watch together. They’ve been to the studios to see me rehearse and hold tea parties on Saturday nights at home and watch. It feels like a lovely family experience and hopefully they’re proud of their dad!”
Are your family and friends shocked by just how good you are?
“Well, it’s not like they’ve seen me do this at weddings because I never dance. I never get up at social events. I’m not comfortable freestyling at all! I’d had no dance training and just went into the show hoping for the best, determined to throw myself into it and give 110 per cent, like I do everything in life. I think I got lucky having Janette as my partner. She’s a great dancer and seems to be bringing out the best in me.”
Your second-week salsa to Mambo No. 5 was a showstopper; how did it feel to perform that dance?
“Those flicks and lifts at the end – I knew it was special. When Janette showed me the routine my jaw hit the floor, but I still wasn’t prepared for the audience reaction. It blew the roof off.”
Do you prefer Latin to ballroom?
“The jive and salsa have been my favourite dances so far. I definitely think I’m more of a Latin than a ballroom dancer, but that may change. Watch this space….”
Do you think you can go all the way and win it?
“Look, I still don’t know what it is that I’ve got on the dance floor. I’m not even feeling competitive. I’m just taking each week as it comes and trying to do the best I can. There’s still a long way to go and remember, after each dance you have to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch again. It’s a steep learning curve and I’m not taking anything for granted.”
We know you’ve also been filming EastEnders’ Christmas episodes – how’s your schedule been?
“I’m sure when I’m 90 I’ll look back on the experience as enjoyable, but at the moment it’s quite terrifying! There’s no breathing space to relax and enjoy it; it’s all about hard work. Today I’ve trained five hours with Janette and worked eight hours on EastEnders, so yeah, it’s tough, but I always knew it would be. I’m not afraid of a bit of hard work.”