This all sounds very familiar. Alesha Dixon is talking about her new TV gig, at the helm of a ‘feelgood’ primetime celebrity dancing show which mixes nostalgia with slick production content, and has a judging panel that takes no prisoners. Blimey!
Has she swiped Tess Daly’s job? Or is she about to slide into Len Goodman’s recently vacated seat on Strictly?
Well, no. Quite the opposite in fact. This version is a rival, on ITV, and everyone involved is at pains to point out it’s a completely different product to the entertainment juggernaut that is Strictly Come Dancing.
‘Strictly is about ballroom, but that’s just one type of dance,’ says Alesha, obviously a little pained at the inevitable comparisons.
‘This show celebrates other formats – street dancing, contemporary, lyrical dance. It’s fresh and exciting. And it takes people on a trip down memory lane too.’
Well, it’s only a relatively short lane, given that the show, called Dance Dance Dance, revolves heavily around the music video.
The format is Dutch and the show, pre-recorded in Amsterdam, is co-hosted by Alesha and former MTV presenter Will Best.
Each week celebrity contestants, paired with the partner of their choice be it husband, wife or best friend, are challenged to re-create an iconic music video (think Michael Jackson’s Thriller).
They’ll be judged by a panel of three – Ashley Banjo, who created Britain’s Got Talent-winning dance crew Diversity, plus top choreographers Tina Landon and Timor Steffens, who between them have worked with everyone from Michael Jackson and Britney Spears to Rihanna and Beyoncé – who will decide which celebrity goes home.
Controversially, there is no public vote. ‘I rather like that,’ insists Alesha. ‘The judges, who are very credible within their fields, get to decide who stays and who goes. This means it’s not so much about being a popularity contest.’
All the indications are that it’s going to be rather brutal. This isn’t a competition where complete novices are awarded the chance to show just how many left feet they have. No one will be pitching to be the comedy contestant.
The celebrities have what Alesha calls ‘a pretty good level of dance’ already, so the ‘standard is really high from the off’. It has to be said that the level of celebrity isn’t anywhere near Strictly standard.
The best known stars include Wild At Heart actress Lucy-Jo Hudson, TOWIE’s Jessica Wright and former EastEnders actor Jonny Labey. There are no politicians either, which tragically rules out the prospect of an Ed Balls type recreating the Britney Spears classic video for Baby One More Time. The judging panel will reflect this, it seems. Alesha says they’re ‘tougher than the judges on other shows’, naming no names.
Of course, as a former Strictly winner (she tells a hilarious story about being hungover during her last ever routine, having gone out with her professional partner Matthew Cutler to celebrate reaching the final), Alesha is well placed to comment, and one can see why she took the gig, which is a presenting role rather than a judging one.
She controversially took over as a judge on Strictly in 2009 after winning it in 2007, replacing Arlene Phillips. ‘I now get my judging fix from Britain’s Got Talent,’ she points out.
‘If anything I’m envious of the contestants on this one. When we’ve been filming I’ve been standing in the wings getting slightly jealous. The big music videos were such a huge part of my childhood.
‘When each one came out it was an event. I remember sitting waiting for Thriller to come on TV. Well, the contestants bring the whole thing back to life – with special effects, make-up, the whole works. It’s amazing what you can recreate. These are three-minute masterpieces. It’s art.’
It seems safe territory for Alesha, fronting a show that combines music and dance. She said yes to the job because ‘it seemed fun and relevant’. She seems a bit baffled at the sort of telly jobs she’s been offered over the past few years. What’s the most bizarre? ‘Sheepdog trials?’ she suggests, bursting into the most extraordinary guffaw. ‘I mean I like dogs, but… why?’
Her laugh – loud, throaty and downright dirty – truly is the most startling thing about Alesha. You hear her before you see her – no mean feat given that today she’s teetering on skyscraper heels and looking like a supermodel. Where did she learn to walk like that? Strictly, it seems. ‘Once you can dance in heels you have no trouble walking in them.’
She’s in a relaxed mood today, swiping through photographs on her phone and laughing about a picture her mum recently sent her of five little girls lined up in a perfect position and one, at the end, who’s not.
‘That’s Azura!’ she says, of her three-year-old daughter. ‘She’s already the one doing her own thing. I like that!’ She sounds like a mini-Alesha.
‘She is. She’s very loud, very opinionated, quite bossy, quite funny. I do see a lot of myself in her and that’s weird, when you start seeing yourself in your child. But she’s her own little unique being too.’
Is she a dancer yet? (Azura’s dad, Azuka Ononye, is one of Alesha’s backing dancers, so one assumes a certain gracefulness will be in the genes.)
Another explosive laugh. ‘She’s getting there. She’s still at the stage where dancing to her means jumping but we’re trying to teach her some steps.
‘She goes to a class called Disco Duck, and at home we’re always performing so she’s used to us prancing around. Obviously her dad is a better dancer than I am, but I’ve been trying to teach him the ballroom hold.’
She’s unexpectedly happy to chat about her home life. She hoots with laughter when I remind her of a previous interview when she batted away even innocuous questions about family matters, and emerged seeming downright aloof.
There was a reason though. What I didn’t know at the time – and no one did – was that she was pregnant with baby Azura. It was the best-kept secret in showbiz. ‘I didn’t tell anyone.
Well, my partner knew, and my mum. But I didn’t tell anyone else in the family. No one at Britain’s Got Talent knew – although they must have suspected because my dresses had to be altered every week. And my boobs got huge! Everyone must have thought I’d had a boob job. I kept it a secret until I was six months pregnant.’
The reason for her subterfuge is understandable. Back in 2006 Alesha was living a seemingly gilded life, recently married to the rapper MC Harvey.
Then, after just a year of marriage, it fell apart in the most public way possible when Harvey cheated on her with Javine Hylton, his co-star in the West End production of Daddy Cool.
It seems a world away now, but the fallout, Alesha admits, meant she would never be as publicly blasé again. ‘When you’re in a high-profile relationship and you break up it’s embarrassing,’ she admits.
When she did fall in love again, with Azuka, a colleague who’d become a close friend, she was determined for them not to turn into another celebrity couple. So much so that they dated for an extraordinary three years without anyone even knowing they were an item.
‘When that’s happened, you don’t want to be seen with the next person a month later,’ she reasons. ‘I wanted time to build a foundation, for it to be a relationship that would be taken seriously.’
She laughs at how events overtook them – with Alesha having a pregnancy to ‘explain away’, on top of a boyfriend. So much of Alesha’s life is an open book – she’s talked candidly before of her parents’ marriage ending when she was four, the fact she’s not in touch with her father and then her mother suffering domestic violence in a later relationship – it must have been hard for her to keep such a huge part of her life secret.
‘It was! And on BGT I was always teased about being the single one. Simon Cowell was always trying to fix me up with some of the contestants, not having a clue what was really going on.
Amanda Holden knew, though. She kept it a secret. She also guessed that I was pregnant. I remember her giving me a present – a little outfit – with a note saying, “If I’m wrong, forget about this”, but she wasn’t. She was right.’
It would be understandable if she were cynical about relationships, but she insists she isn’t, although she does stress how differently she approached her relationship with Azuka.
‘We were friends first – which is something I did very differently – and I think that’s really important. The lesson I learned was to take time to get to know him.’ Does she not find it difficult to trust, after what happened?
‘Anyone can surprise you, but I trust him 100 per cent. He’s a good person. I’m honestly not cynical about relationships. You can’t tar all men with the same brush, and, well, you trust someone until they give you a reason not to.’
She’s 38 now and physically she’s stunning, but then she always was. Odd then that she was once told that she was too fat by her record company. They asked her manager to tell her, and it took him three weeks to pluck up the courage. What was Alesha’s reaction? It certainly wasn’t weeping and self-flagellation, more like fury.
‘I can’t remember exactly but I probably went out and had a burger. I would never have allowed them to dictate how I looked. How dare they try? I’d never conform like that. It doesn’t matter what size you are. But it gives you a good insight into how record companies work.’
Yet she’s model-slim today. Hasn’t she conformed? ‘I’ve never once been told that I needed to lose weight for TV, and I would tell them where to go if they tried. When I had my baby I didn’t do any of these crazy diets. I lost the baby weight gradually. That’s what happens in the real world.’
What next for Alesha, does she want more children? She’s candid about the fact that it’s a dilemma. ‘The honest answer is I don’t know. I have days where I’m so busy that I think, “No, I’m good with one”, then other days when I think, “Well, maybe.” It’s a constant dialogue I have with myself, especially because I’m 38, and that really is the curse of being a woman.
‘The reality is that the idea of having another baby is beautiful, of course it is, and it’s probably easier to squeeze another one in in this industry because I can control my own diary, to a certain extent. So if I decided I wanted another one then I could make it work, but actually I’m so busy just working and finding time with Azura.’
There are no plans for a football team-sized family then? That laugh booms out. ‘There’s certainly not enough time for that.’