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Charles Venn: 'It would mean so much to win Strictly'

TALENT: Charles Venn with his Strictly Come Dancing partner Karen Clifton (Image: BBC)

CHARLES VENN is practising his latest choreography for Strictly Come Dancing with dancing partner Karen Clifton when Life & Style arrive at their rehearsing space. The pair are visibly determined to get every step right, and to be in sync. It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the judges, they’ve awarded Venn and Clifton consistently good points so far this season. There’s been critique of their lack of charisma from judge Craig Revel Horwood, but the pair don’t appear to be short of it today.

In fact, if there’s one word you’d use to describe Venn, it’s charismatic. He sits on one of the prop chairs, lightly joking about his sore muscles but these appear to be a distant memory when he’s gyrating hips as he talks about his affinity for Latin styles.

“Not only do I get to find out things about myself but I also get learn some dance moves. Before Strictly I didn’t have a clue about ballroom. Latin, I say maybe, only reason I say maybe is because, you know, especially we as African Caribbean folk, you know, we use our hips when we dance, right? So yeah, I was a bit more in common with that.”

While the Casualty star is no novice to performing or appearing on TV week in week out, he is to ballroom dancing.

“The reason why I wanted to take part in Strictly was, for me, I love is about challenges. Sometimes you’ve got to put yourself in an uncomfortable position, outside of your comfort zone.”

The 45-year-old says the appeal of making new discoveries by taking part in the show was a major motivation. And aside from picking up the physical skills and fancy footwork required to perform the styles, he's also been embarked on a more profound, personal journey.

“I knew I was fairly tough coming from that background, you know, Mozart Estate, Kilburn, that was, yeah, you had to be tough, you know what I mean. That just builds you to be tough you had no choice. But to deal with obstacles that I’ve had to face on this show myself and Karen, I learnt how strong my resolve could be. Being in the dance off twice, I didn’t realise how emotional and physically and mentally draining it would be. There’s a lot of pressure on you to deliver," he says.

And he has delivered but not everyone believed he’d be a success.

“My kids...they were like, Dad, don’t do Strictly, you can’t dance, dad and I’ve surprised them all. I did the jazz splits for heaven’s sake, you know, I done showed them daddy can still move.”

Now they’re proud and really impressed. His son is even trying to follow in his footsteps.

“My little man he’s seven and he’s trying to reenact the moves,” Venn says with a smile, gesturing as he retells his son’s reaction.

He beams broadly again as he reflects on the validation Strictly’s given him when it comes to his moves on the dancefloor. “I also learnt that I’m not that bad a dancer...I now have a semblance of how to do the foxtrot and quickstep and salsa and cha cha cha.”

The schedule for Strictly is gruelling. Venn and Karen only get four days to work on their routines, and practise from roughly 10am till 6pm each time they meet, sometimes that stretches to 7pm. And then there’s the live shows. On top of that, he’s still filming Casualty.

He’s taking this seriously – and it shows.

“I’ve got to many people depending on me,” he says.

Despite praises from the judges and impressive scores, Venn has found himself in the dance off on the show two weeks in a row. He’s so far been saved by the judges but the prospect of being booted out is real.

While he recognises there is room for improvement when it comes to his steps – demonstrating his diligence in taking notes from the judges comments, he talks of fast quick quick slows, heel drags and toe leads – he’s unclear as to why despite delivering, he’s not been kept safe by the viewers.

IMPRESSIVE: Charles Venn has consistently demonstrated skill and passion on the show (Image: BBC)

“It’s the voters. For some reason they don’t think we’re doing good enough or – I don’t know what it is," he says.

He’s not afraid to make a direct appeal to them. And you can tell the competition means a lot to him.

“Voters, trust me. We‘ve got so much more to give.

“Guys, man, you know. Break us off something, man. Come on man, you know, we just good people," he pleads.

He switches back to serious mode when the topic of imminent elimination is broached.

“If Karen and myself are eliminated this week, of course, we’d be very, very disappointed with that, you know, because as I’ve said we’ve done really, really well over these last four rounds, we’ve shown variety; as I’ve said, I’ve proved to myself that I can dance.

“To even get as far as I have in this competition I’m very proud of that anyway,” he says.

Whatever happens, it won’t have been a fruitless experience. As well as walking away with a whole set of new moves, if worse comes to worse, Venn says he’ll also be taking away from the show the knowledge that he can handle this type of pressure.

It’s a huge deal for someone who describes himself as nervous in front of the camera. Although you’d never guess he was.

“It’s nerve-racking, speaking for myself, very nerve-racking whenever I perform in front of a camera,” he discloses.

Regardless of how he feels about it, it’s not something he runs away from. As if dancing in front of the nation live each weekend wasn’t enough, Venn is performing the series’ first ever street dance this weekend.

“There is a definite sense of pressure and because of the dance, street dance/contemporary, this takes me back to my old days,” he says.

Venn would love to lift the famous glitterball trophy and be crowned this year’s Strictly winner, but he’ll need us all to get behind him for that to happen. He’s in need of greater support from the public, something that previous black contestants on the show have also required. With his skill and passion, he’d be a deserving winner.

“It would mean so would mean so much to my family, my mum who keeps praying for me and wishing me all the best, my kids.”

He’s also aware of the impact it could have beyond that, as an example for others that “you can overcome anything with focus, hard work, diligence and belief and faith. You can achieve.”

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