During her two-week absence from Strictly Come Dancing last month — following a mad, not yet fully explained, dawn dash home to Germany to sort out some burglars — Motsi Mabuse watched the show from the comfort of her own sofa instead of presiding alongside fellow judges Craig Revel Horwood and Shirley Ballas.
She wore no make-up, no sequins, no lip gloss and learned something new about herself. ‘Maybe it was destiny! It gave me a faraway look of everything. It revealed …’ she pauses dramatically and rolls her eyes.
‘That when I am on, I talk too much. Faaar too much!’ She bellows with laughter, bangs her beautifully manicured hands on the table and then chatters on, and on.
Motsi Mabuse (pictured) who grew up in South Africa, revealed the bullying and racial abuse she experienced during her childhood sticks with her every day
About her childhood near Pretoria during apartheid when she was bullied and taunted, racially abused and excluded. ‘That sticks with you, every day, your whole life,’ she says.
Her love for Whitney Houston and bloody-minded determination to get out. Her battle to become German dance champion and international contender. The temptation to mother her younger sister Oti, a top dancer on Strictly, currently paired with Bill Bailey.
Her yearning for more children of her own — she has one daughter aged two and a half, who is here in London with her while she’s filming Strictly. And how she copes with the endless trolling she still receives about everything from the colour of her skin to her weight, to allegations on Twitter that she was drunk on last Saturday’s show.
But right now, we’re on breasts. Wondrously big and bouncy breasts. As rare as hen’s teeth in the dancing world where everyone seems to weigh eight stone and be stick thin.
Other, that is, than the Mabuse sisters, who both boast amazingly curvy figures and stupendous décolletages. Oti’s are a 28GG cup; Motsi is reportedly a DD, but look rather bigger to me.
‘No no no, [having large breasts] has not been an advantage for us. Not at all!’ she says firmly. ‘We already look different with our skin colour and our bodies are completely different. We stand out enough already…’ she says.
Motsi revealed having large breasts hasn’t been an advantage for her, with a need for extra strong bras and support. Pictured: Motsi, with her husband Evgenij Voznyuk
On top of that, there’s the need for extra strong bras and support, the extra strength — ‘I think your body adjusts, you get the muscles you need’ — and the impact it has on wardrobe choices.
‘We have to be careful,’ she says. ‘Some things are just not fitting for your body.’
And while, to me, Motsi’s bosoms always look enviable — whether in sequins, silk, lamé and today even beneath an angora jumper — she seems a little less convinced.
‘My best friend had a breast reduction operation. She said it was the best thing she’s ever done,’ she says.
No, Motsi! Those wonderful bosoms. Really?
‘Let’s talk in a year!’ she says with a glint. ‘I just think that you need to be comfortable. That’s the most important thing. If you don’t feel comfortable, change it.
The clock is ticking for another baby. I’m tight with my sister Oti and I want my daughter to have that
‘It’s your body. You need to be happy. And keep it in perspective. And remember to be grateful — some people would kill for healthy boobs like these,’ she adds, grabbing her bosoms with both hands.
There is something instantly likeable about lusciously, glossily beautiful Motsi. Not just the huge, wide grin and the endless chat, but the joy, the emotion, the noise and the energy.
Motsi received a frenzy of racist trolling on Facebook when her TV career took off in Germany about eight years ago. Pictured: Motsi, baby Oti and Phemelo
As all Strictly fans know, Motsi is big on energy. She cries, she weeps, she shouts, she waves her arms around. Sometimes, she even drops her marking paddle amid all the excitement.
‘I am a person of great energy,’ she says. ‘As a child I was always trying to change the energy in places. Trying to entertain people, make them laugh, tell a joke, sing. I was always a show-off but I feel very bad when the energy is not right. I feel a discomfort inside.
‘If people are having fun and laughing, that’s when I settle down. When they’re silent, I get nervous. My vibes are usually up here [she points at the sky]. I’m not good at arguments, at bad feelings.’
Which begs the question, how on earth has she weathered all the endless abuse.
‘I have had to be very strong,’ she says. ‘To build a shell.’
It started back in South Africa when she and her two sisters not only dared to take part in a white girls’ dance competition in post-apartheid Pretoria, but also systematically thrashed the opposition — and graduated to a total frenzy of racist trolling on Facebook when her TV career really took off in Germany about eight years ago.
(She’d moved to Germany when she was just 18, following dancer Timo Kulczak, whom she’d met just once and who became her dance partner, then first husband when she was 22.)
Former Dancing on Ice judge Louie Spence branded Motsi a ‘nobody’, when she joined the Strictly judging panel last year. Pictured: Strictly judges Motsi, Shirley and Craig
‘It happened overnight. Nobody warned me. It was harsh. So harsh. So racial. So bad. I was shocked to the core.’
Sadly, the trolls gathered steam once again when she joined the Strictly judging panel here last year.
Former Dancing on Ice judge Louie Spence branded her a ‘nobody’ and said her appointment to the panel was just a diversity box-ticking exercise on the part of the BBC.
Others picked away at her skin colour, her bosoms, her post- baby body.
‘It is always disappointing, always upsetting,’ she says. ‘My body is different to when I was a dancer. I have had a baby. I breast-fed for a year, oh my God.’
But she looks amazing and in the flesh is properly beautiful. Is she happy with her body?
I’d never post pictures of myself in bikinis. I exercise, but seasonally
‘Well, I wouldn’t go and post pictures of me in bikinis! Seriously, go to Instagram, it’s a thing!’ she says. ‘But if I’m dressed fine and I look fine and you can see what needs to be seen, then I’m happy.
‘I do watch what I eat — or try to! It depends on the time and situation and lockdown!
‘I exercise, yes, but seasonally. So, sometimes, I am really motivated and other times I just say, “give it a break”.
Motsi (pictured) said she left Twitter because she had too much social media to keep on top of
‘I come from the competition world and I know you can get obsessed and I hate when you get too obsessed about things. I can get that way. So now, everything in doses, in moderation.’
Last week, she left Twitter — but laughs in my face when I ask if it was linked to allegations about drunk paddle-dropping.
‘If I were going to leave Twitter for getting abuse, I’d have left a long, long time ago. I just had too much social media to keep on top of.’
Over the years, she found ways to protect herself. So every time she receives a particularly vicious message and is tempted to bang back a tart reply, she sends it on to her husband, Ukrainian dancer, Evgenij Voznyuk, or her manager and they cry, “Don’t do it, Motsi!”
‘Now I see something bad and it takes me hours, or just minutes, to calm down. I’m “Ooch!’” then “Move on, Motsi”.
‘I try not to reply. I really do, but sometimes it is too late. Sometimes I just can’t resist,’ she flashes a massive grin at me.
Of course she can’t! She likes to control things, to be in charge — of her TV career, here and in Germany, of her dance school which she set up with her husband in 2017, of every aspect of her life. ‘I have always been focused, very focused,’ she says. ‘And determined.’
One of her many mottos is ‘have no fear’. ‘I have a lot of mottos. People are always asking me for tips so I’m going to bring out a motivation book.’
Motsi was just age 18, when she ditched a law degree and flew to Germany with aspirations of making it big. Pictured: Motsi, with her husband Evgenij Voznyuk
She certainly has plenty to draw on. She was just 18 when, to her father’s utter fury, she ditched a law degree (she also speaks eight languages) and flew to Germany, on a mission to make it big.
‘I was determined to make it work. To be a success — not to return like so many others.’
Not, ironically, that it was ever really about the dancing, which was funded by her mum taking in sewing and setting up a catering company to pay for lessons.
‘It was just about performing. I wanted to be a performer, an entertainer, and dance was the only option,’ she says. ‘And the minute I got on that plane to Germany, I went into survival mode. I had to survive.’
And, of course, she did. Today, she juggles motherhood with TV careers both here and in Germany (‘it was only when I made it in the UK that my parents were, “Wow wow wow!” because suddenly they could watch at home) along with the dance school in Germany, which suffered an attempted break-in back in early November.
‘When you wake up and the police are calling you, I hopped on a plane without thinking!’
But it sounds like nothing had even been stolen. They hadn’t got through the door.
Motsi said she wants her daughter to have the same tight relationship she has with her own siblings. Pictured: Strictly’s Oti and Motsi Mabuse
Couldn’t her husband deal with it? After all, he is now the dance school’s manager and she was a judge on one of Britain’s most-watched entertainment shows, risking it all to return to Germany for just a few hours.
‘No, no, no, no. Sorry, but no way!’ she says. ‘I like to control things. I am everywhere, I am across everything.’
Even if it means a fortnight’s quarantine and having to watch the veteran dancer Anton Du Beke in her seat? ‘He did brilliantly,’ she says without hesitation. ‘There’s a harmonious thing about seeing him as a judge.’
The only thing she can’t control at the moment is the production of a sibling for their daughter. At 39, Motsi is aware time isn’t on her side. ‘I haven’t closed that door. I peep in it and peep out and Covid says, “Don’t peep!”
‘We’ll see. I have to mentally close it soon, because The. Clock. Is. Ticking! But then I keep on thinking, ah ah. I see the relationship I have with my sisters and it’s tight, so tight. And I want my daughter to have that…’ (Motsi has two sisters: Oti, who is nearly ten years younger and followed Motsi to Germany when she was 18 — ‘I became her sort of mum’ — and Phemelo, an engineer. ‘We all say to Phemelo, “You are our insurance when everything goes wrong.”’
There was also a half-brother, Neo, who sadly took his own life when he was just 18.
But back to babies. Are they trying? ‘We can’t be trying! He is in Germany! Covid has said No!’ Motsi exclaims, but goes gooey when she talks about her husband and former dance partner, Evgenij.
Motsi (pictured) said Strictly is ‘very intense’ for the couples because they are bubbled together, unable to see their families
‘He is my “om”. He is very spiritual. We live in the forest, we take long walks and we don’t watch TV,’ she says. ‘He’s gentle with me. He sees my sensitive side. I can feel his love — wherever I am.’
But for now, she and her daughter are here. Along with Auntie Oti (‘She’s doing so well — she’s brilliant’) and the rest of the Strictly crew.
‘It’s different without the audience. So different. I am a very public person. I like the public reaction from the jokes, but instead we’re in our own little island.
‘But besides that, I’m loving it. We are here to have fun — for me that’s important,’ she says. ‘And to give the fun to the audience.’
She gets her energy levels up in her dressing room with a musical playlist, starting with Barbra Streisand and climaxing with Beyonce’s live stadium shows.
‘Shirley [Ballas] will come in and say: “What is going on in here?!” I think that sometimes she looks at me and I look like craziness.’
One side-effect of lockdown, says Motsi, is that the couples are bubbled up together, unable to see their families. ‘It is intense for them, very intense!’
Ooh, so will there be any Strictly love?
‘Ah! Blessings! Strictly blessings, I call it. I’m all up for that. Let it be. Let it happen!’
Motsi said her life is her daughter, husband and students. Pictured: Motsi, with her husband Evgenij Voznyuk
So, er, what about all that steamy chemistry between Ranvir and Giovanni?
‘No, no, no. But you know Giovanni. You know Giovanni …’
Yes, we do! That’s rather my point.
‘No. It is not a thing. People wish for it, but it is not a thing.’
She should know. Both her husbands were her dance partners. ‘I only know dancers!’ she giggles. ‘I have only ever known dancers.’
Over the years, through all hard work, abuse and well-earned success, Motsi has learnt a few crucial lessons: to sometimes say no — ‘nicely, but firmly’ — to a terrible outfit or a bad hairstyle and not to take the celebrity side seriously.
‘The attention! None of it is real. You can get addicted to the attention and think it is your life, but it is not. My life is my daughter, my husband, my students.’
But the biggest relief, she says, is finally to have allowed herself to take a step back, even if it doesn’t come naturally.
‘I am living the life I wished for as a little girl, but I have stopped trying to prove a point. Now I am just trying to prioritise what is important in my life — to be a mum who isn’t scared, protecting your kids from danger, communicating, loving, and talking, talking, always talking!’