Surbiton’s Erin Boag on life after Strictly Come Dancing
- Credit: TBC
As she prepares to trip the light fantastic in a new touring show coming to Surrey, Strictly star Erin Boag reveals why the time was right to take a break from the hit TV series – and how settling in our county was one of the best things she ever did
Erin Boag’s departure from BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing at the height of its success left her fans a little confused. She was one of the show’s longest established dancers and her dazzling dance moves and bubbly personality were a big hit with viewers. But after citing a desire to take a break for a while to focus on new challenges, she walked away from her high-profile TV career. Now, of course, we know the real reason for her departure. At 38, she was expecting her first child with business executive Peter O’Dowd and gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Ewan, in May.
“I’m loving every single minute of motherhood,” says Erin, when we chat at her Surbiton home. “There isn’t anything I don’t like – not even the sleepless nights and the screaming. I had no idea I would feel this amount of love. Everyone always talks about it, but until you experience it for yourself, you don’t realise how joyous it is. I’d like hundreds more children, but I think my husband [who has a grown-up son and daughter from his previous marriage] would leave me if I did! And the sensible thing would be to stop at one.”
This is a hint that despite her euphoria since the birth, her pregnancy was anything but plain sailing. Like the Duchess of Cambridge, Erin suffered extreme morning sickness for the first 21 weeks, which left her feeling weak and exhausted.
“I was horrendously sick from six weeks onwards so I know why Kate went into hiding because she would have been feeling dreadful,” says Erin. “People who say it’s only morning sickness just don’t understand. I think it should be renamed ‘morning, noon and night’ sickness. I was so ill that it reduced me to tears. And at one point, I even started feeling delirious because I was so dehydrated. Everyone said it would pass after 12 to 15 weeks, but it just went on and on.”
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Just when she thought she had turned the corner, Erin also had to have an unplanned Caesarean sparked by a rare gestational condition called polyhydramnios, which meant that there was too much fluid surrounding the baby in the womb. “I went for my 39-week scan and the doctor told me they needed to get the baby out as soon as possible because all the fluid meant he wouldn’t drop into the birth canal. Thankfully, he came out beautifully.”
Sparkle of Strictly
She says she misses Strictly, and hasn’t ruled out a return, but believes that taking a break was the right decision. “It was the right time. I could have gone back for the last series, but dancing as a professional on the show is a full-time commitment. And I knew that while I was training with my celebrity, I’d be secretly wishing I was at home with my baby. Having said that, Strictly has been a lovely thing to do, and I’ve had ten wonderful years.”
Since dancing on to our screens in 2002, Erin has tangoed, jived and waltzed with a varied celebrity bunch, from comedian Julian Clary and Olympic hurdler Colin Jackson to Lib Dem MP Vince Cable, impressionist Rory Bremner and Good Morning Britain presenter Richard Arnold. But she says they all shared one thing in common – few of them realised what they were letting themselves in for.
“I was always really honest with my partners and warned them that they’d be crippled with nerves when they first set foot, live, on the Strictly dance floor, but some would just shake their heads and say, ‘No, I don’t get nervous.’ Then their name would be called out on the first night and they’d be shaking in their boots. I’ve seen grown men cry with fear, but I take my hat off to each and every celebrity who does that show because they are placed in a very vulnerable position.”
Naturally, Erin was rooting for her professional dance partner, Anton du Beke, during the last series and was delighted he and Judy Murray (mother of tennis ace, Andy Murray, who himself lives in Surrey) got so far in the competition. She and Anton have been partners for more than 18 years, winning a string of awards, but they are also best friends. When Erin tied the knot to Peter on Italy’s Amalfi coast in June 2009, the dapper Anton was her ‘bridesman’. And when she gave birth, he was immediately offered the role of godfather.
“Anton is exactly what you see – a real gentleman,” she grins. “Since I met him 19 years ago, he hasn’t changed at all. He’s still cheeky and quick off the tongue. And we’re a great team. We’ve survived the pressures of the competition circuit, we’ve had good times and bad, but we’ve always come out the other side.
“It was strange for my husband at first. When Anton and I were away performing, he’d ring up and say, ‘Put your husband on the phone,’ as a little joke. But at the end of the day, Anton and I go our separate ways and that’s why our relationship has lasted all this time.”
Erin is currently touring in the glittering variety show, That’s Entertainment, her seventh dance tour with Anton, which comes to G Live in Guildford this month, followed by dates at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre and the Fairfield Halls in Croydon in February and March respectively.
“I missed out on the last one because I was heavily pregnant, so it’s great to be back,” she says. “It has everything a good variety show should have – sensational choreography, timeless tunes and some amazing costumes. We’ll be dancing to some good old classics – from That’s Entertainment, True Love and Make ‘Em Laugh to A Couple of Swells, Night and Day and There’s No Business Like Showbusiness. We will also be joined by six top-class backing dancers, star vocalist Lance Ellington, who performs on Strictly, and the full 25-piece London Concert Orchestra. It’s guaranteed to be a really good night out and perfect for anyone who likes a bit of Fred and Ginger.”
But if you can’t wait that long you could always join Erin’s dance classes at Kingston Dance Studio. “I run them on Monday nights, and it’s a drop-in class so people can just come along when they want,” she says. “I have a beginners’ class and an improvers’ class, which attract people of all ages, including lots of men and people who come individually – it’s not all couples.
“Take my beginners’ class – this burly builder poked his head round the door and asked if he could join because he was getting married and wanted to surprise his fiancée. Now he comes every week and loves it. I teach all the dances that are featured on Strictly, from the Cha-cha-cha and the Waltz to the Jive and Foxtrot. Strictly has had a huge impact on dance. Suddenly, it’s cool again. If you’re a man and you say you go dancing, people don’t laugh – they ask what type you do. And it’s also a great way to lose weight because you have such fun while you’re doing it.”
Move to Surrey
After a long tour, Erin likes nothing better than crashing out at home. But she ended up in the heart of Surrey’s commuter belt quite by chance after moving to Britain from her home in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1996.
“I flicked through an A-Z at the airport and came across Surbiton,” says Erin, who started dancing at the age of three. “I remembered it as the setting for The Good Life, which was shown in New Zealand when I was growing up. I’d always thought it looked nice – even though I later discovered the series wasn’t even filmed there.”
She rented various flats in Surbiton and nearby Raynes Park and Sutton before buying her first property in 2004 after she and Anton were signed up for the first series of Strictly. Now she has five buy-to-let flats, including one she bought with Anton, and used to live in a top-floor flat on the river in Kingston before building her dream home in Surbiton.
“We searched two years for the house that ticked all our boxes, but we couldn’t find anything within our budget,” she says. “So we decided to demolish a cottage on south-facing land on a beautiful street in Surbiton and build our own. It was slightly more stressful than I anticipated, but we’ve created a beautiful five-bedroom home with en-suite bathrooms, walk-in wardrobes, a double garage and a spacious driveway. All the things on my wish list!
“I adore living in Surbiton. In fact, there’s not a lot to not like about Surrey. There are great pubs, restaurants and shops, as well as wonderful places to visit at weekends. On spring or summer afternoons, we like walking along the towpath in Kingston, followed by afternoon tea. And when Ewan gets older, we’ll put him in a bike seat and go cycling there. We also love having Sunday lunch at the Foley Arms in Claygate or feeding the ducks in Richmond Park. In fact, it’s really lovely just to take a blanket and sit under the trees.
“There’s so much to do in this beautiful county that you don’t have to spend money to have a really nice weekend.”
My Favourite Surrey
Restaurant: The Siam Food Gallery in Esher, a Thai restaurant on the high street. The food is fabulous and there’s a really lovely atmosphere. We often meet friends for drinks opposite in a lovely bar called Layla, before crossing to the restaurant.
Shop: Good old Bentalls in Kingston. It’s such a classy store and stocks everything you could possibly want. It’s also perfect for new mothers like me because it has mother and baby parking, lifts for buggies and a great selection of baby clothing.
View: The one I miss from my old flat. When I lived on the river, I could see Kingston Bridge lit up blue at night. It’s such a beautiful view and I miss it terribly.
Place to relax: The family room in our new home. It’s large and open-plan, with a kitchen, dining and relaxation area. All my favourite things happen there. It’s a very social space and lovely to come home to after a year of building work.
Place to visit: Hampton Court Palace. Peter and I often walk through the grounds or sit in the gardens before enjoying lunch in a nearby restaurant or café. Then we round it off with a ferry ride back to Kingston.