Every year Strictly Come Dancing producers manage to unearth a somewhat surprising raw talent – someone who wins the heart of the audience with their big personality and captures the true essence of what the Saturday night prime time show really is.
In 2011, there was Russell Grant being fired out of a cannon, the year before that Anne Widdecombe shimmied up to Anton du Beke and who can forget John Sergeant dragging Siberian siren Kristina Rihanoff across the floor?
But none have left the show on such a high as Lisa Riley. The former Emmerdale actress may not have quite got her hands on the coveted glitterball trophy, having finally lost out in the semi-finals, but she is the only contestant ever to have had a show written just for her by judge and choreographer Craig Revel-Horwood.
The result of that is Strictly Confidential, which will tell the behind the scenes story and reveal what it takes to be a professional dancer in the country’s biggest dance show. At Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on Sunday night, it also stars professionals Artem Chigvintsev, Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite, giving the audience never- seen-before insight into their paths to professional dancers with songs, music and breathtaking dance routines.
Revel-Horwood has written Strictly Confidential in Lisa’s honour.
It is, says Lisa, a musical format he has had rattling round in his head from as far back as the second series of Strictly – and then she came along, something which the Bury-born actress and former voice of You’ve Been Framed, is extremely honoured about.
“He was waiting for someone who could act, sing and dance and that was me. It’s an incredible honour and I feel absolutely elated to have something written with me in mind.
“It was amazing enough to be involved in something like Strictly – but to then star in the live show and now this, it’s just been non-stop ever since.
“I’ve got lots of energy and it’s a good thing because I literally haven’t stopped since I started rehearsals for the original show.
“It’s like I’m still living in that Strictly bubble and I’m not going to complain about that. Who would?”
Robin Windsor partnered Lisa to success and she says they have become incredibly close since the show, which was filmed just weeks after she lost her mum to cancer.
Her mother Cath, 57, died in her arms just weeks before Lisa started in Strictly, following a long battle with cancer.
“I am on the phone to Robin all the time and we’re planning a holiday.
“He has just been the greatest friend ever to me and I completely love him. He’s got his own shows to concentrate on but he’s been so supportive of Strictly Confidential. And it means I get to spend all day with his best friend Artem.
“We’ve been rehearsing for hours, days and weeks and I can’t wait to bring it to Cardiff. After all, the Welsh love a bit of camp don’t they?
“I’m sure the audience will love the show. It’s pure entertainment, but I think they will find it informative too.
“We’ve been rehearsing really hard for it – in fact, I haven’t stopped working since I was on Strictly.
“I’m not afraid of a bit of hard work. I’ve always worked as hard as I can.
“I like to be busy. We were in the practice room for nine hours a day during the show. I’ve never slept so well. When my head hit the pillow, I was zonked. I didn’t have one day off. We got knocked out in the semi-finals but I was then in rehearsals for the live show.
“Straight after the final, I did panto. I had Christmas day off, finished the panto on the 6th and started the arena tour on the 7th – that’s been my life but I’m not complaining. It’s been a blast.”
Since first appearing on the show, Lisa has been constantly asked about her weight loss and though she says it’s not something she chooses to dwell on, it is liberating to be able to eat what she wants and know she’s working it off.
“Everyone has been talking about my weight loss but it’s not omething I’ve done on purpose. When we are rehearsing we are constantly surrounded by mirrors so I’ve not noticed a huge difference. But when I’ve gone home it’s my friends who’ve said, ‘Jesus Christ Riley, what’s happening to you?’ and then I’ve realised that yes, my body has changed with all this dancing.
“I know I can’t go and eat a big bowl of pasta before performing as it’ll just make me sick but I haven’t started just eating celery and still have chocolate and crisps.
“I’m proud that some people see me as a role model for bigger girls.
“I’m confident. And when I first started on Strictly, I went out and did a full-on samba that even Robin struggled to keep up with. That’s what I am so proud of.
“Thanks to Strictly, I’ve hopefully shown women that you don’t have to be big to be fit or wear sparkly dresses and dance around a stage and have fun. It’s just been so non-stop and I’m still loving it.
“I’m elated to be part of the Strictly family and being in Strictly Confidential, and giving people the chance to learn a little about what goes on behind-the-scenes is fab.”
Creator Craig Revel Horwood, who also directs the Strictly Come Dancing Live arena tours said: “It’s exciting to give fans an autobiographical take on this hit show, while also incorporating some of the shows favourite moments.
“I’ve been working on Strictly Confidential for a while now and it’s a dream that everything is all coming together.”
Strictly Confidential is at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on Sunday. Tickets from the box office on 029 20 22 44 88 or via www.livenation.co.uk/cardiff