Former Strictly Come Dancing winner Karen Hardy talks about her favourites to win, Natalie Cassidy leaving the competition and how much she misses being on the show…

Did Natalie and Ricky deserve to be in the bottom two this weekend?

“Wow! Natalie Cassidy versus Ricky Whittle in the bottom two on Strictly Come Dancing, that was sure to be a sad loss for Natalie. I think if Natalie had ended up down there with anybody else, the scoring would have gone two all and it would have had to have been a decision from Len. But going up against Ricky who has been so strong since week one, sadly our lovely Natalie wouldn’t have had a chance. What I’ve fallen in love with Natalie for is how much she’s embraced Strictly, how much she loved to dance. She’s always loved the show, it wasn’t just a one minute wonder for her. She’s always enjoyed it and always been really genuine. So I’m sure a lot of people will be very sad to see Natalie go out.

“What was most beautiful, first of all, was to see Ricky improve his performance even though he was in the dance-off and even though he’s been told so many times how good he is. He probably could have said, ‘I’m going to take this easy, I’m fine’. But he didn’t, he fought really hard and actually improved his performance. What I also loved was that Natalie was fighting. She went, ‘I’m 99 per cent gone but you know what? I’ve got 1 per cent chance and I’m going to give it everything.’ That’s what I really loved, I loved the fight of those two couples.”

There has been a lot of press about Ricky Whittle this week, do you think it influenced his performance?

“From what I understand Ricky has had a bit of a press issue, I think that’s the best way to diplomatically put it! No matter what, whether it’s a press issue, whether it’s problems at home, I cannot tell you the pressure that these couples are under now. It’s not just the celebrities, it’s the professionals because they’ve got to come up with some really exciting choreography now.

“The show is in it’s seventh series so it’s about trying to find choreography that has never been used before or trying to find that special piece of music. They’ll now be on about eight or nine hours a day of training time because they’re now onto two dances. They’ll also be having to do a lot of media and a lot of press associated with this, there’s also the sister show. You’ve got a family, you’ve got a life, but you don’t get to see home at all at this stage. So the pressures will be on.”

We’re nearly at the finals – who are your favourites to win the show?

“Four couples left and all have got interesting strengths to them. The frontrunner from day one has always been Ricky Whittle. I have to go with where there is quality and where there is personality. You never know what is going to happen and you’re always looking forward to Ricky’s performance. The thing about Ali is she’s improving each week, little by little, it’s the hare and the tortoise story. I know how much the nation love that, they love that person who comes from nowhere and just takes over. Ali is excellent with quality and technique, I wouldn’t say Ricky is as strong technically. Ali is improving, she has fantastic hip actions, beautiful points of her feet, wonderful arm extensions but she can be a little bit nervous. So you have a little bit lacking technique versus that quality of technique, you know it goes a long way.”

“Then we’ve got the outsiders… who could be the dark horse of the competition? We’ve got Chris Hollins and Laila. I wasn’t very excited for a few weeks about Laila. Then suddenly she delivered this Charleston this weekend and she’s back in the game again! She did have the injury and that can knock you, but she came on this week and she looked so glamorous before she had even danced. Great choreography and their interaction was incredible. But the man who stole the show was Chris Hollins and I was sure he was going to get a 10. There were a couple of little errors and he didn’t get the most technical point, which is the swivelling. But he had the most incredible choreography, great personality, faultless. No mistakes anywhere and he delivered it with such confidence! It’s going to be a great quarter final, semi final and final!”

At this point when the show is getting really exciting, do you miss being in Strictly?

“Honestly, I’ve missed it every week – the costumes, the music, the steps, the wonderful people who were involved in it. But when you get to these last few weeks, it hurts a lot. If you’re a real competitor, you love that last little fight at the end. The real champion will shine through. Who can come up with the best and most exciting or new piece of choreography? Who can come out with a dress that will steal the show? Who can find that piece of music that will just make everyone go: ‘Yes!’ As a performer I love nothing more than these moments so it’s hurting a lot, I’m missing it a lot. I wish everybody could have the experience that I had. I want one of my fellow professional dancers to experience it as well because it is very, very special.”

Karen has just launched a state-of-the-art dance studio in the heart of Chelsea. To find out more about expert tuition for all levels, visit Karen’s website

karen studios

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