FOR a series that has already produced more than its fair share of thrills, spills and illicit snogs, the Strictly Come Dancing surprises just keep on coming. Just take the rumours of a fledgling romance between Ashley Roberts and a certain Strictly pro and all-round Italian charm bucket…
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“We’ve gone out for drinks. He’s a lovely guy, but we are not dating.”
Drinks just the two of you?
“Just the two of us, yes.”
Um, is that not a date?
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“We’re friends. He’s a lovely guy. Not dating.”
She dodges the question of whether something could potentially develop after the show à la Gemma Atkinson and Gorka Márquez. But significantly, she doesn’t rule it out.
“I’m so focused on the show right now, and really that’s where I want my focus to be. What happens after that, I don’t know. The right guy will come along at the right time. I believe in that.”
She says she’s single and happily so – her last public relationship was four years ago when she briefly dated Lawson’s Ryan Fletcher, 28.
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“I know society is all like: ‘Get married, have kids!’ But my life has been really fun. I’m open to something if it comes in, but it hasn’t yet. All my friends are married and have kids right now. Kimberly [Wyatt, former Pussycat Doll], has two, and I’m Auntie Ash, so I get my little kid fix with that.
“Everybody’s path is their own path. Whoever they meet at whatever age is OK. I definitesly want a family at some point but it has to be the right guy at the right time. That hasn’t happened yet.”
Whatever is going on with Giovanni, at least both of them are single and free to go out for drinks with whoever they wish.
“No curse here!” jokes Ashley, referring to the famous Strictly Curse, which has already claimed its first victims this series, following Seann Walsh and Katya Jones’ now infamous drunken night out. “Although, me and Dr Ranj have been getting very close…”
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She doesn’t want to delve into Snog Gate or reports that Seann was deeply unpopular backstage.
“I don’t have any comment on it. It’s their lives. They kept to themselves after it all happened. At work they smiled and did their job.”
These various amorous goings on haven’t been the only turn up for the books this season. Oh hello Nicole Scherzinger, looking all scher-mazing cheering on her ex-Dolls band mate Ashley as she stormed to the top of the leaderboard with a Charleston hailed as one of the best Strictly moments of the series so far.
Social media was ablaze with confusion. Didn’t the band split back in 2010 amid bitterness and acrimony? And wasn’t most of that ill-feeling directed at Scherzy and her unofficial role as frontwoman?
“I reached out to Nicole,” Ashley explains today. “I was like: ‘Oh my god, I’m doing Strictly!’ and she was like: ‘Yes, you are! And if I’m in town, I’m coming to support you.’ I was like: ‘Wow, thanks, chica!’ And she did.”
Ashley, 37, has always remained close to Kimberly, who was sitting alongside Nicole that Saturday night two weeks ago. And although she has previously described how she felt silenced in the band (“I wasn’t allowed to talk… only Nicole was allowed to talk”), she’s adamant that whatever went before is firmly behind them.
“It’s not something that I’ve really spoken about. We’re all here. We’re all adults. We’ve all moved forward in life, and I was really grateful to have them there. It meant a lot to me. We went through basically a decade of our lives together, so they’re my sisters, you know?”
Do these new, improved relations mean there’s a chance of a PCD reunion? Quite possibly.
“If there is, I will be there. I’m a yes, of course. There have been talks, but we’ve all got to get on board. And if everybody does, I’m there.”
It’s Ashley’s seven years with the Dolls, who began life as an underground dance troupe, that have led to accusations that she has an unfair advantage over her Strictly rivals. From her standout rumba to that aforementioned Charleston – which earned her 10s from three of the judges – she and partner Pasha Kovalev have been a cut above. However, Ashley insists that her dance background has been overegged, and that the hip-hop skills she has aren’t easily transferable to the ballroom.
“I knew I was probably going to get some backlash, but this is a brand new skill for me. The ballroom and Latin world is so different in how they carry their bodies, how they move, how they transfer their weight, whereas with hip hop and jazz, you almost get to come up with the creative movement yourself. Ballroom is very specific, so it’s very challenging.
“There are a lot of old habits I really need to work on, but all I have to say is that I am ridiculously grateful to be doing this show. I’m working my little tush off, I promise you! I just hope people are enjoying the performances.”
And enjoying them enough to pick up the phone, too. The risk for Ashley and Pasha (AKA Pashley) is not just the audience holding her dance experience against her, but also people assuming they’re safe.
“I just don’t know how the audience is going to respond. Hopefully the performances will cause a reaction inside them and make them want to pick up the phone.”
There’s no doubting Ashley’s passion for all things Strictly. She describes the team as a “family” and is putting in seven hours of training every day.
It’s also given her something to focus on after what has been a very difficult year. Six months ago Ashley’s father Pat took his own life aged 70 following a long battle with mental and physical health.
“It’s been a tough year,” she says, her voice softening. “Again, I’m very grateful to be doing this show right now. It’s been a blessing, and I think he’s with me.”
She adds: “There’s this quote: ‘Life is tricky. Stay in your magic.’ It’s like, there are going to be bumps and bruises and stuff that knocks you down that sometimes you feel like you can’t get up from, but life moves on, and how are you going to live it? That’s your choice.”
Arizona-born Ashley is such an upbeat, sunny presence that it’s hard to imagine her ever feeling dispirited. But in 2010 she left The Pussycat Dolls burnt out and sapped of confidence after a rollercoaster ride that saw them become one of the bestselling girl groups of all time. She admits that the future was uncertain and that she felt lost as to what to do next.
“I kind of detached myself from the industry. I just felt like I needed to refuel my soul with nature and family. It was such a bubble that we were in for many years, and coming out at the end of it was… tiring.
“We went from zero to 100 with the Dolls. It was like Don’t Cha happened and it was an explosion. We sold over 50 million records, and there was one point where we were in three different countries in one day and the schedule was relentless. We were hard workers, we were determined to keep pushing, but the wear and tear of it all took over.”
By the end, Ashley needed to escape.
“I needed to just touch base with myself and remember why I wanted to be in the industry. And relationships – when you go through the Dolls or any part of this industry you lose touch with your peeps. So it was about reconnecting.
“I took classes again – acting and comedy – just to feel creative. I didn’t really know what the heck was going to happen.”
She’s adamant she was never depressed, but took steps to protect her mental health by turning to therapy. Well, of sorts.
“I met this woman who’s a hugging guru,” she says. “I got hugged by her.”
Wait, what? That’s what she does for an actual living?
“Yeah! She travels around the world hugging people. I got some hugs from her. And I think it helped me. And I got into yoga, learned how to meditate… Tools to help with handling life and feeling grounded.”
In the wake of the #MeToo scandal, ex-band-mate Kaya Jones has spoken repeatedly of the abuse she claims the Dolls were subjected to at the hands of the music execs controlling their careers, describing the group as a “prostitution ring”. The other women, however, have distanced themselves from those comments and Ashley says that was never her personal experience.
“The music industry is certainly colourful but I didn’t [recognise what Kaya described]. I worked my butt off in this industry for many, many years, and I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten because of hard work, I feel.”
Has she ever felt under pressure to look or dress a certain way?
“I’ve enjoyed my journey as a woman in this industry,” she says. “Women should feel empowered and supported to be whatever they want to be and how they want to express themselves. I felt empowered with the Dolls, getting up there and throwing down. I mean, some people thought that the costumes were too much, but I really enjoyed it. I feel like that’s a conscious decision for yourself and what works for you.”
For Ashley, that post-Dolls turning point she’d been searching for came unexpectedly in 2012 with I’m A Celebrity! – a job she initially turned down and even when she finally accepted, didn’t think it would amount to anything more than a jolly.
“They asked me and I’d said no. But then a personal thing happened with a friend of mine and she was like: ‘Ashley, we just don’t know how long we’ve got here.’
“So they called me again and I said: ‘Screw it, OK, I’ll do it.’ Two weeks later, I was on a plane. I remember being on my way there and thinking: ‘What the hell have I said yes to?’ I don’t even know! I’d seen one episode which I think actually was a good thing. I didn’t know what I was up against.”
She ended up finishing second (Charlie Brooks won it), the British public charmed by her positivity and her grace – she has in spades what Simon Cowell would call the Likeability Factor. After the show, Ashley moved from LA to London and has lived in the UK ever since.
“I was like: ‘Yes to the Brits!’ And now it’s home to me. London’s home. I love it here. I love my friends. I love the work that I get to do and the Brits have been so good to me. I never thought I would be here, but I’m really grateful. I was shocked that I made it to the end. But it was definitely rewarding that people got to see me for me and voted because of me just being me.”
She has gone on to land jobs on Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, This Morning and The Jump and as a judge on Dancing On Ice and Let It Shine, but she says Strictly has reignited her passion for performing.
“I think I forgot how much I love it,” she says. “I’ve spent most of the last 10 years in telly, and Strictly has relit a fire in me so that after this, I want to keep performing. I lost a bit of that. It’s definitely given me such a big boost that I’ve got to keep doing this kind of stuff because it makes my heart happy.
“When I was little. I was like: ‘I’m just going to do this!’ And then you become an adult and maybe you’re not as good at things as you were or maybe you just don’t push yourself. So I’m just really happy that it’s happened at this time in my life. It’s been a little gift.”
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Perhaps thinking of her dad, she adds: “You still gotta feel the hard times. You have to allow it. But enjoy life as much as you can, even when it’s hard.”
And keep dancing?
“Yeah, keep f**king dancing!”
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- Do you have a private Facebook? Yes, just for family and friends.
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- Hair: Dino Pereira using Kiehl’s Since 1851 Magic Elixir
- Make-up: Lan Nguyen-Grealis using Mac
- Styling: Nana Acheampong
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Ashley Roberts talks Strictly backlash, reuniting with Pussycat Dolls and THAT romance with Giovanni Pernice have 2564 words, post on www.thesun.co.uk at November 10, 2018. This is cached page on VietNam Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.