Meet Strictly 2021 semi-finalist Rhys Stephenson

Rhys Stephenson

Rhys Stephenson is still pinching himself that he was a part of Strictly - Credit: Matt Crockett

Romford’s Rhys Stephenson lit up our screens with his energetic dance routines on Strictly Come Dancing, but what comes next? 

Words: Amanda Griffiths / Photography: Matt Crockett 

A natural-born performer, CBBC presenter Rhys Stephenson has been lighting up our television screens on Saturday evenings with his energetic performances on Strictly Come Dancing. Soon, he will be coming to an arena near you with the BBC show’s live tour.  

He describes being part of Strictly as an honour: ‘I still pinch myself to think I was chosen to be a part of this year’s line-up. I’ve always loved (the show), but it’s not something you can work towards, it either happens or it doesn’t, so it’s really exciting and wonderful,’ says Rhys, whose main goal was to keep people entertained. 

He has certainly done his bit in keeping the nation and his hometown of Romford entertained. His Charleston in week seven saw him and professional partner Nancy Xu receive top marks from all four judges, while his Argentine Tango during the quarter finals again saw him top the leader board with 39 points and avoid the dreaded dance off for the third week in a row. 

Rhys Stephenson by Matt Crockett, 2021

Rhys grew up in Romford - Credit: Matt Crockett

‘I didn’t realise how many rules there were and how important the techniques are,’ says Rhys, reflecting on his Strictly journey. ‘Every dance, no matter whether it’s a wild Charleston or a slow foxtrot, there are rules that you need to abide by. 

‘I prefer the Latin dances - but both are really hard. I love ballroom; to watch it, when it’s done well, it’s gorgeous and dancing it is fun, it’s just that frame. I cannot seem to get my head around it and it’s so annoying because it seems like such a simple thing and yet it's not. 

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‘Latin has its own set of rules - one dance will require you to straighten your leg all of the time and then another requires it to be bent all the time, so every week, what you’ve learnt before, forget it! I love Latin because I’m an energetic dancer and so even when my technique might not be the best, I can always get through it with flair and entertainment.’ 

Rhys is no stranger to entertaining people, having been acting and performing since the age of ten. He joined the National Youth Theatre in 2013, going on to perform in a number of productions. His TV-presenting career began the same year when he got involved with the University of Westminster’s student station Smoke TV, for which he won a National Student Television Award for best on-screen male. 

‘I did loads of shows in school,’ says Rhys. ‘I was always part of the drama club, right through into secondary school and then into university – I loved doing it. (Performing) has always been a great release and escape really. I always saw it as a hobby; as a kid I didn’t think it was wise to see it as a profession or a career because it seemed like such a long shot to even get there. But I got there, which is incredible actually, a blessing that I was even able to, even though as a child I tried to be sensible and write it off. I’ve had the real pleasure of being part of some really big shows – Blue Peter was amazing – we did the book awards, that was real good fun.’ 

Rhys Stephenson

He will be going back to CBBC after Strictly - Credit: Matt Crockett

Rhys has also been part of shows like Newsround: ‘During Black History Month, we had a sit down where we talked about growing up black and British in the UK, that was really special,’ he says. ‘We get to meet some amazing guests as well. We recently had a talk with Sir Lenny Henry about a book that he’s written with a black superhero, we got to talk about representation and kids being able to see themselves in stories. This was just after the week when Nancy and I did the Spiderman dance, he was a big fan of that because he loved how young black kids could see us on television and feel a connection with (the dance).  

‘CBBC has given me so many amazing opportunities, I know in my heart that whatever other jobs I do after this, as much as I would love them – and I will love them – I don’t think I'll ever have a job as free and as fun and as loving as CBBC has been for me.’ 

So, what comes next for Rhys, apart from the tour of course? 'The only thing I know for certain is going back to CBBC,’ he says. I had to leave quickly to do Strictly, so it’ll be lovely to go back to my family up there at CBBC and just do something that is very much my world and that I understand.’ 

‘The best thing about Strictly is that it opens up so many other amazing opportunities, so I’m hoping to dive into them and delve into other kinds of media. I absolutely love children’s television – it's a wonderful place where there are no egos and people just want to be happy. It’s innocent and pure and I think that’s the way children’s television should be. It's such a happy place to be but there’s so much more out there and I’m looking forward to maybe exploring a bit more of that. I’m just excited to explore and kind of get my fingers in different pies, see what’s out there and see what else I click with.’ 

The Strictly Come Dancing 2022 tour comes to the O2 Arena on February 11-13, for more information or to book tickets visit strictlycomedancinglive.com/tour-dates-2022