The so called ‘bad boy’ of Strictly Come Dancing, Brendan Cole, waltzed into Belfast last week for a chat about his new stage show, which is coming to the Waterfront Hall in March.
With a reputation for being controversial and confrontational, Brendan has fast become a firm favourite with Strictly fans, and I include myself in that number.
Before we sat down for a heart to heart, I wondered if his bad boy persona was all an act or if he would be a tricky interview. Thankfully I needn’t have worried. He was funny, charming, sincere, and he lit up when he talked about his five-year-old daughter Amelia.
Hailing from New Zealand, Brendan started dancing when he was just six years old. It wasn’t his decision, it was his mother’s and he wasn’t always a willing participant in the classes. “Mum wanted us to dance,” Brendan admitted. “She really loved music and dancing. My brother and I used to jump out of the car and run down the street to get away from having to go but mum made us do it. Eventually it was something we really enjoyed doing.”
Brendan was always very active as a child, playing football and rugby but dancing was the one thing that stuck with him as he grew up. “I look back now and think why on earth did we do it,” he continued. “I didn’t think I would make a career of it though until I was in my late teens.”
As a very driven and determined teenager, Brendan loved the competitive side to the world of dancing, and after travelling from New Zealand to England to train for the World Championships when he was just 17, his life changed forever. “I went to train in a studio in London and I thought ‘I want a piece of this’,” said Brendan. “I set my sights on it.
“I am very driven to get what I want. I turned 18 when I was in London and I set my sights on returning before I was 19.
“Looking back I still feel guilty over what I must have put my mum through. I think mum thought I would come back. I remember her stood at the airport crying. But when you are 18 you are stupid and want to break free and live your life. She is so unbelievably proud though. She is proud of all her children.”
Brendan relocated to London, but it wasn’t all glitz and glamour as the ambitious teenager struggled to get his big break. “It was hard, hard work. There were a lot of dark days but the knocks push you and make you stronger. I remember the knocks more than the good times.
“In the world of competitive dancing you want to get to the very top and it was very hard in those first few years. I was earning £5 an hour in an office job, in a freezing cold factory, and on a building site. My aim for working so hard was to be the best and change my life.
“I still remember a few years of really hard work and not getting the results I wanted. I got dropped in a competition and I was absolutely mortified. I thought I was on my way to making it before I was back down again and for a split second I thought of stopping. It was make or break but it only lasted for a few minutes before I thought I am going to come back stronger.”
And thanks to his work ethic and determination, Brendan became one of the most famous dancers in the world.
Back in 2004 when Strictly Come Dancing first came to our screens, no-one imagined it would become the long-running, beloved tradition it is today. “One of the things we wanted when we first showed up was that dancing was shown for what it is,” continued Brendan.
Over the years, Brendan has become a stalwart of Strictly and it was no secret that when head judge Len Goodman retired last year, he hoped to hang up his dancing shoes and take over the vacant slot on the judging panel. However, the decision was made to replace Len with former professional dancer Shirley Ballas, much to Brendan’s disappointment.
“I did hope I was going to take Len’s spot but it wasn’t to be,” confessed Brendan. “It was disappointing but it was a bit of a long shot and I would have missed dancing.”
There has been a mixed reaction to Shirley’s arrival on set, and early on she butted heads with Brendan, but the dancer says there are definitely no hard feelings. “Nobody was ever going to fill Len’s role,” he continued. “Shirley did a good job in that she certainly made her own mark and went in all guns blazing. I like controversial people who are prepared to put themselves on the line. I have certainly had my moments with her but backstage everything is fine. I have no grudges.”
Brendan certainly has a reputation for speaking his mind on the show, and is never afraid to tell the judges exactly what he thinks, but in recent years he has mellowed, thanks to the love of a good woman and the effects of fatherhood.
Brendan met his wife Zoe in 2010 and the couple welcomed their first child, daughter Amelia in 2012. The family are adding to their number in just a few months time, with baby number two on the way.
“Since I had my daughter, my focus has changed. It becomes about your child and their wellbeing. I will be on tour when baby number two arrives and I am a little apprehensive. A tour takes longer to plan than a baby!”
Brendan is living his dream and has no regrets about how his life has turned out. “I am very much a no regrets kind of person, you learn from your mistakes,” he added. “There are choices I would have made differently but then I wouldn’t be here now.”