The Steps legend was knocking on the producers’ door for 10 years before she finally got the call to audition for the show in 2017.
“This was when I literally fainted,” Strictly superfan Faye tells HuffPost UK. “I’d wanted to do it forever and I’d finally got the chance to.”
After decades of doing the Tragedy routine with Steps, Faye got to showcase a whole new side of herself when she glided on the Strictly floor with professional partner Giovanni Pernice.
The pair had an electric partnership that took them all the way to the final, creating one of the show’s most iconic routines ever along the way.
It saw them dancing to Peggy Lee’s Fever dressed as skeletons during Halloween Week, and it was the first Jazz performance in Strictly history, after the then-controversial introduction of Couple’s Choice. It was a risk, Faye says. But one that paid off.
“We didn’t know whether it was going to bomb massively or if people would go, ‘OK, this is something new and we like it and accept it’. For us, we were taking a massive, massive chance,” she recalls. “Giovanni had never done anything like it.. but it all seemed to come together.
“It was one of the hardest routines I did because of the back bending and weird jumpy moves. I looked like a tarantula – it was very strange!”
In the second instalment of our Back To The Ballroom interview series, Faye reflects on her Strictly journey, detailing how the show led to Steps’ collaboration with Michelle Visage and revealing the top tip for painful feet that this year’s contestants will be dying to know.
My life has changed since Strictly because…
You become part of this elite club of people in the Strictly family. People I meet now, who I work with who have previously done Strictly, know how it was to feel that journey and go on this complete crazy ride. Also, people love Strictly so much – wherever I walk now, people know me from Steps as well as Strictly. ‘Faye from Strictly’ became my second name.
It took three months for producers to get back to me after my audition…
You go in for a little meeting and you do a little practise run – I did a Waltz and a Samba or a Cha Cha for a few minutes with Aljaz, and then Janette came in and said hi. [The producers] had a watch and a chat and I just had to wait, and wait, and wait to see if they’d accepted me. My audition was around May, and then it was August I got the nod. I thought it was done and gone and not meant to be.
I think they change it as they go along, because they might go ‘oh no, we’ve got a sports person’ or someone else comes in the mix, so I don’t think they make final decisions until close to announcing.
I thought it was going to be a scary competition but actually there’s so much love in the room…
The love between the pros and the pros with the contestants. I got a lot of help from the pros – the Strictly girls – who said, ‘if you just do this or just lift your elbow here’. They were always willing to give a helping hand because they want to make you feel good. The camaraderie was such a lovely, exciting and unexpected thing, so you really felt like you were in a team… It’s just so emotional to see the quality and the work ethic of everybody there.
Luba gave me the best tip for my painful feet…
I really struggled with my feet and the shoes and the blister over blister. I was in flip flops for the whole season because my feet where that bad and needed airing. I can remember being on the phone to Luba and she told me a top tip – soak a pair of socks in vodka, put your socks on, then put your shoes on and then the leather of the shoes will actually stretch and mould to your feet. That was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Luba was a little bit of a mentor to me. Even though very strict, she was actually a stable little rock for me and was there rooting for me.
The show gave me a bit of self-confidence back…
When I first got into the room, there were so many big personalities that I was like, ‘wow, I’m not sure where I fit in here’. I wasn’t the loudest, not the funniest, not the best dancer. I had all these negative thoughts and then I got into the room and got the first dance done and I loved it – it was the biggest rush of my life and I was buzzing off adrenaline. Then I was like, ‘I need to stay in, I need to stay in’, because it was just incredible and so much fun.
Strictly led to Steps’ collaboration with Michelle Visage…
I reached out to Michelle when she was doing Strictly because Debbie [McGeee, Giovanni’s previous partner] had reached out to me. Then she messaged me back and we started Facetiming. So the next series, we were watching it on the phone together at the same time. It was so much fun.
Me and Michelle became really great friends because of Strictly. We shared the journey so we kept in touch and Steps asked her to do an Instagram thing with us. Because of that, we asked if she fancied doing anything musically with us, and management phoned and the rest was history. Our lives are linked now because of Strictly!
Instead of Tragedy, I now go into a bit of a Salsa in a nightclub…
You get the bug and it’s wonderful. One time, one of my friends had a birthday in Italy and one of our friends was a ballroom dancer, so I cracked some moves out in Sicily, which was quite apt as that’s where Giovanni is from. Giovanni’s line was ‘maintain the frame’ when you’re talking about the classic pose, and I always show everyone my lovely top line after I’ve had a few champagnes.
My favourite Strictly couple ever is…
Aston Merrygold and Janette Manrara. They were absolutely amazing, and then they were out! Then he did the Christmas special during our year and it was so lovely to see him dance in the flesh.
My dream Strictly celebrity would be…
Somebody really funny like Alan Carr. One of the joys of Strictly is that you get people who really don’t dance but just have joy on the dance floor and I really enjoy the comedic celebrities for their banter in between the dances.
My advice for this year’s contestants is…
Pace yourself, eat well, sleep well and just enjoy it. Try not to take it too seriously. Sometimes the pressure you put on yourself can take over. Oh, and bananas and coffee, that’s what we lived on.
Steps’ latest album What The Future Holds Pt.2 is out now. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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