Strictly Come Dancing frontrunner Ricky Whittle has revealed that he was targeted by racist bullies when he was a child.

The 27 year old Hollyoaks actor told Love It! magazine that the abuse started when he was living in Northern Ireland.

He said: “I must have been one of the first black people in the whole country. I stood out from the other children at school.

“They had never seen a black kid before and that’s when the bullying began.

“I had a hard time of it – the taunts could be cruel and menacing.”

The soap star went on to explain that sport helped his popularity grow as he became a hit in the school football team.

However, he was told he would never run again after he broke his leg on the pitch in 2004.

Ricky said: “It was a sickening injury – the kind every sportsman has nightmares about. I joked to the doctor, ‘So when will I be able to play football again?’

“He quite innocently replied, ‘Oh, you’ll never play football ever again. In fact, this injury is so bad, you won’t run again and you’ll be very lucky if you don’t walk with a limp for the rest of your life.”

“My world fell apart. It was the lowest I’ve ever felt. At that time, five years ago, football was literally my life.”

But determined Ricky has managed to recover enough to hit the top of the Strictly leader board after seven operations, a titanium rod being put in his leg and his “long and painful rehab”.

The actor said: “I have no interest in coming second. I still have physical obstacles to overcome though.

“Because of my previous injuries, I’ve got weak ankles and I’ve fallen over a lot because of that.

“During my training I was also putting in long days on the set of Hollyoaks, so I was in agony. When I’d get home, I’d just lie on my bed with my feet in ice-buckets for as long as I could stand it, just to numb the pain.”

Meanwhile, complaints about Anton Du Beke making a racist comment towards his Strictly dance partner Laila Rouass have quadrupled, The Sun has reported.

Freesat viewers can now watch Strictly in HD for free.