The start – Approached by the BBC
2005 would see me take on a new role in my career. I was to become involved with the show Strictly Come Dancing. Already an extremely successful primetime television show for BBC1, having released two shows in 2004, series three would see me putting on my dancing shoes once again. Being six years retired from competitive dancing as well as just starting to enjoy a new life as a mother, this was going to prove to be quite a challenge.
I was initially approached to take part in Series 2 after Len Goodman had put me forward but the re-birth of my dancing dream was to be put on hold as I found out I was pregnant.
A year later it was quite a shock to be contacted again by the BBC and later I was to find out it was all down to my husband who had secretly put my name forward, knowing how much I missed dancing.
With the contracts signed it was time to put my money where my mouth was and I had to do everything in my power to get my body back into condition. It had been six years since I had last assumed the wardrobe of a competitive dancer and before I could ‘wear it well’ I had to lose the excess baby weight I had gained from my newly born son as well as get my tummy muscles back into some sort of order. It was an arduous build up to the first day of meeting my allotted celebrity. Going running most days, endless sit ups and press ups and countless hours down at the studio practising being back on 3 inch heels again were all valuable preparations I needed to lead up to performance day.”
Meeting Bill Turnbull (BBC Breakfast Presenter)
The days passed so quickly and before I knew it I was standing in a beautiful garden in the middle of Berkshire, waiting to meet my chosen celebrity. I was shaking like a leaf. I have travelled and performed all over the world, danced in front of royalty and performed to audiences of ten thousand plus, but this was something quite different.
“…What am I doing?” were the words racing through my head. But there was no turning back now, the microphones were on and he was ready. The camera crew called me into his home and a very powerful bellow greeted me “…come on lets get this over with.”
Well, as you all know, this was the beginning of an extremely funny and exciting few months. Tears, laughter, stress and worry were just a few of the emotions we were to go through. I walked in to Bill Turnbull’s kitchen to be greeted by a very warm and friendly man together with his lovely family and the rest is history…
My welcome to the world of television was extremely hard work, more than anyone can imagine. Producing those 30 second shots for you all at home to enjoy was, for me, an average of ten hours a day seven days a week. If I was not teaching Bill, I was preparing the next set of steps for him to conquer. If not this it was going back and forward to the BBC studios having photos taken, meetings, dress rehearsals, pro dance rehearsals, lighting rehearsals, costume rehearsals….rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals all to make a perfect show come across to you on a Saturday night “LIVE”!
The shock of dancing again opened so many old scars and as many of you would have seen I spent the first month crying. I can not explain how difficult it was to be back again dancing. The first show left me in absolute pieces behind the scenes. My dressing room was where I spent a good deal of time just crying. I stood looking in the mirror at me in a latin dress, with full makeup on and back in my three inch high competition shoes. My feelings of nerves had all come back just as I used to feel when I was competing. The feelings of doubt came back as well. Would I be good enough, would it be a perfect performance, would I let my partner, the audience and most importantly my family down?
What neither of us was prepared for was Bill’s injury. This came as quite a shock – I cannot explain what went through my mind as I saw Bill falling to the floor and going over on his ankle. ‘Oh my god, I had broken his foot, he wouldn’t be able to walk let alone dance again… ‘
Well if any of you know Bill he is one tough cookie. Nothing was going to stop him dancing. He took treatment everyday and just kept on going. I had in mind that we would be in for one or two shows. Seven shows later saw our final night out in front of millions of TV viewers.
What added to this great experience was the fun of sitting on the BBC News couch with Bill giving avid Strictly supporter’s updates on how we were going especially after Bill’s injury.
Our last night was very emotional. I could feel it was the end after looking at our rivals. Bill gave it all he could as I think he knew now how much I was loving dancing again. All my hidden emotions had been unlocked on this show and I had spent the first two weeks crying constantly.
Karen and Evander Holyfield (World Cruiserweight and Heavyweight Boxing Champion)
Dancing with Evander Holyfield was another amazing and shocking experience. The BBC was on the telephone again, this time asking if I would take part in the Christmas Special? How could I say no after having really enjoyed myself with Bill? However, this would prove to be a far more challenging affair.
We only had a very short time to get a Christmas Jive up and going for everyone to enjoy. I knew it would be tough as the other contestants apart from Brendan had all been working together for weeks on end so they were at their peak. Evander had been in the US version called “Dancing With the Stars”, but that had been several months earlier and he had not continued any training. So it was back to the starting blocks for me. It became very apparent that the only way I could get Evander to take on board what I needed him to learn was with the “Task Master” approach. “It was the only form of training that he knew, there was to be no nicely does it…. I drilled him daily and even up to the minute before going on set. We had a ball on the night and what another wonderful opportunity to meet a legend such as “the Heavy Weight champion of the World – Evander Holyfield”.
Karen and Mark Ramprakash (England and Surrey Cricketer)
It’s funny how fate can play a role in determining your future. The BBC asked me to do series 4 at the beginning of 2006, but I only decided a few weeks before the show started that I was going to take part.
My son was only five months old when I started Series 3 and a few months later I had only just stopped breast-feeding, so my hormones had been all over the place. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it; the fitness regime and the total commitment need cannot be underestimated. My experiences with the wonderful Bill Turnbull in series 3 though, made up my mind to have another try.
I didn’t know who Mark was when I first met him. When I put his number into my phone I asked him what his surname was. He replied: “oh, it’s long”. I typed in ‘Long’ but he stopped me and said: “actually I meant that it’s a long name. My name’s Ramprakash”. I was so embarrassed but the ice was broken immediately.
From then on it was an incredible roller coaster of experiences and emotions, with millions of viewers watching every Saturday night and obviously voting for us, as we kept coming back week after week.
Again the rehearsals were hard but Mark’s natural fitness and desire to win enabled me to teach him at a quicker rate and to create more exciting choreography. The further we got through the show the more the pressure grew and getting through to the final was unbelievable. The competition was very strong and we had to produce a near perfect dance.
Suddenly people were talking about us being favourites but we knew Matt Dawson and Lilia Kopylova were a fantastic couple too and although both Mark and I were used to the pressure we had to put that out of our minds and concentrate on rehearsing the 5 dances required including the favourite ballroom and Latin dances from that series. We chose the Tango and the Salsa and Matt and Lilia opted for the Waltz and the Samba.
The evening from the start was an adrenaline filled blur, the competition was high with Matt and Lilia matching us dance for dance.
The judges said that the quality of dancing in the final was “exceptional” and when we achieved a maximum score of 40 out of 40 for our Salsa it gave us the momentum for the Freestyle, this provided a fitting end to our partnership in a great competition with marvellous lifts interspersed by many different dance steps, our most popular move of the night was to be a very challenging overhead lift which won a double standing ovation, led by judge Len Goodman.
When they announced we had won, I could hardly breathe and the emotion of the moment got to me. Of course I cried and was unable to speak or tell Mark just how proud I was of him.
The other judges were equally impressed, with Bruno Tonioli calling the performance “the crowning glory of a spectacular night”
After winning Mark kindly said, “From the very first day I met Karen Hardy she has given me the experience of a lifetime. It has been an absolute privilege to be on the show.” and Matt Dawson said: “There was no question, there was one winner here.”
Karen and Brian Capron (Actor)
Brian was a gentleman and showed how truly passionate someone can be in his or her chosen field. He would often burst out into a rendition from Guys and Dolls – the play he was touring with at the time. I was actually in awe of his passion and dedication to acting. As someone who I watched for many years in Grange Hill, although he is more famous for his role in Coronation Street, I never imagined dancing with him.
Our experience sadly became fairly traumatic, with Brian falling down with intense ‘flu during the series, which unfortunately resulted in him forgetting some of our rehearsed moves.
It was an honour and a pleasure to dance with Brian and I wish we could have been able to take our journey further.
Christmas Show 2007
When I was asked to appear on the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Show, it was, of course, such an honour, combined with the fact that I had the chance to dance once again with Mark Ramprakash. We hadn’t danced together for a year at this point, but we pretty much picked up where we left off with Mark taking the dancing yet again in his stride.
We decided to do the jive, which is a hard dance and one we weren’t as successful with during the competition. We wanted people to see what a dancer he was! We put in hours of training and sadly didn’t win but with Mark being such a great competitor he didn’t show his disappointment, he just walked away back to his dressing room to probably analyse where he had gone wrong! But that…..I have learnt, is Mark.
Sport Relief 2008
I was then offered a fantastic opportunity to work on the Comic Relief and BBC Sport’s fundraising initiative ‘Sport Relief’. The producers came up with the great idea of challenging sports celebrities to team up with and train new partners from the worlds of sport and entertainment, one experienced in dancing and one a complete beginner. There would be no pro’s to guide them through.
The line up of willing celebrity dancers included Matt Dawson, Elaine Paige, Roger Black, Jade Johnson, Gemma Bissex and Darren Gough, and I was responsible for coaching David Ginola and Denise Lewis along with Kara Tointon and my old partner Mark Ramprakash. This was a great opportunity to see sports people who I admire take on the challenges of dance. Getting Mark back in training along with Kara – who has so much air and grace and who was a natural dancer – was a joy to be a part of – they looked great together. They were both pushed physically to master the choreography and I am proud to say were worthy winners on the evening.
Karen and Gary Rhodes OBE
Having said I would never do it again, the unstoppable pull of music and dance found me in the now more familiar position of waiting in a secret location in London to meet my celebrity for Series 6. My partner was of course to be revealed as one of Britain’s foremost TV chefs, Gary Rhodes OBE.
As we leapt straight into a hectic rehearsal schedule I soon discovered that Gary was not only a perfectionist in the kitchen but also strove to be a perfectionist on the dancefloor. Though the Saturday night performances may not have been step perfect, the energy and enjoyment Gary threw into them was – and I believe demonstrated the true essence of Strictly – just to get stuck in and enjoy it.
Behind the scenes
What goes on behind the scenes to make a television show such as Strictly Come Dancing so successful is beyond words. There is an army of workers that all form a winding web adding their own little bit of magic to make the finished production.
The web of workers is so vast, from the lighting crew to the extremely hard working camera crews, spending hours following us all over the country. They have to deal with our highs and lows all in their efforts to capture those all-important show stopping seconds where there was a sudden accident, a hug of friendship or that ever emotional moment of a tear. The makeup and costuming crews, hair and set designers, musicians, cleaners, show producers and directors, press office workers and not to forget the great guys who got us teas and coffees after tiring times on set, the list goes on and on.
It is another world behind the scenes and unlike anything I would ever have imagined. I cannot look at the television the same way anymore without appreciating all that is going on behind the scenes. It truly has been a wonderful experience so far… Thank you!