Have your tissues ready for emotional farewell show at Ipswich Regent from home town Strictly Come Dancing star Robin Windsor
- Credit: STRICTLY THEATRE CO
Ipswich boy and Strictly Come Dancing favourite Robin Windsor explains how wanting to finish at the top of his game and the lure of a permanent natural tan convinced him to waltz into the sunset.
Every kid at some time or another dreams of seeing their name in lights. Not every kid’s dream comes true.
“Probably the highlight of my entire career was headlining Burn The Floor at the Shaftsbury Theatre in London’s West End. I remember standing outside, watching the signs go up with my and Kristina Rihanoff’s name across the top of the theatre and shedding a little tear.
“I’d travelled the world with that show for 10 years. We ended up on Broadway, which for ballroom dancers was absolutely incredible, they’d never been a ballroom show on Broadway and we were there for almost a year. Then along came Strictly Come Dancing.
“I had the time of my life, got to meet some incredible people, my profile raised an awful lot and I became a household name which is something I never even dreamed would happen. It was happening it was amazing. Every dancer aspires to be a star and to be the best they can be. I did Broadway, the West End and Strictly all in the same year - that’s something very few people could actually say they’ve done,” laughs Robin.
His farewell tour takes you from him learning to dance in Ipswich as a little boy to his first successes in the dance world and his time on Strictly to mentions of boyfriends and funny encounters.
“For my last dance tour I wanted to create something for the audiences that not only gave them great dancing and the Strictly sparkle, but also something real. I want them to have fun, but also get to know me a little bit better and I think this show does that,” says Robin, who received an honorary doctorate from the University of Suffolk last year. He jokes he’s looking forward to coming back with his stethoscope.
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He’s supported by five other world class professional dancers including Anya Garnis, who reached the semi-final of Strictly Come Dancing with Patrick Robinson in 2013.
Robin promises lots of incredible dancing, fabulous costumes, lots of camp, loads of laughs and what it was like for him growing up as a dancer in town and moving his way across the world.
“There’s going to be a few sad bits and I’d bring a tissue with you because it will be quite an emotional night in Ipswich because it’s the last night of the tour. As a thank you to the dance school I grew up with I’ve invited it to do a performance with me. I’ve an extra show in London, with every penny going to the Make A Difference Trust.”
Robin’s been dancing nearly 36 years. He’d always promised himself he wanted to stop while he could still dance well.
“That’s why I put this farewell tour on, so I could go out with a bang and let people see me while I’m still at my best before the body starts to dwindle away. I don’t want to be another 10 years down the line and people saying ‘oh you probably should’ve stopped a while ago’.
“I felt like I’d come to the end of the road as far as dancing was concerned. While I’ve still got the opportunity and young enough to change my career path I wanted to do something different,” says Robin, who wanted to put together a tour that wasn’t only action-packed, energetic and fun - like him - but also very personal and heartwarming.
That something different is St Lucia spa resort BodyHoliday with its promising slogan of give us your body for a week and we’ll give you back your mind. He’ll be teaching fitness and wellbeing with a bit of entertainment thrown in too.
“I’ve been out every year to do classes during what it calls Jive June. I’ve been offered an amazing opportunity to live and work in St Lucia, giving dance lessons on the beach - what could be better? It’s probably one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever been in the world and I’ve been kind of everywhere. I’ve found my second home.”
The hardest part is leaving his little wire-haired fox terrier Lukaz behind, but he’ll be living with his other daddy so at least Robin can visit as often as he can.
“It’s a huge step, literally hanging up my dance shoes. I’ve had a couple of meltdowns, thinking ‘am I making the right decision’. But each time I come away, take a step back, look at it and go ‘you are, you’ve been offered a new life in the loveliest place in the world to have a real tan all the time. I can’t say no to that,” says Robin, who’s no stranger to touring.
He’s been involved in many shows over the years like Puttin’ on the Ritz, Keep Dancing and most recently Dance to the Music with Rihanoff.
He’s come a long way since a youngster at the Ipswich School of Dancing. He loved to dance and happened to be good at it, which catapulted up the ranks of the competitive world. The more Robin danced, the more he fell in love with it and knew if he worked hard he could make a career out of it and fulfil his dream of moving to London.
He describes himself as one of the very lucky few boys who never got picked on or made fun of for doing ballroom dancing.
“I used to go to Copleston High School with an orange face on a Monday morning after a competition the night before and all the kids and teachers were so supportive. If it wasn’t for them I would never be able to carry on. They pushed me and I’m extremely grateful for that, because I had it really easy. I know so many talented boys who stopped dancing because they got picked on.
“Coplestone was amazing. I hadn’t quite understood my sexuality at the time, but even then I was a dancer and probably a little on the camp side. Nobody really gave me any hassle and I think that’s a testament to the school. If it was like everywhere we’d have a million Billy Elliots.”
Normally Robin would tour with a professional partner or as part of show directed and choreographed by somebody else. His first and last solo effort is very dear to him.
“I’m reminiscing about some very special moments in my life. It’s not been as easy as everybody thinks. I’ve battled depression and I talk a little about that in the show. I work very closely with a mental health charity called SANE. If you can help just one person not to have to deal with the darkest times I dealt with then my job is done.”
There was a succession of things that all went wrong at the same time for him four years ago, including the breakdown of two relationships. The glare of the Strictly mirror ball didn’t help and he found himself living dual lives, dancing for millions of viewers and living in his bedroom.
“We all have a bad day. My bad days turned to dark days and then my dark days turned to dark weeks. Because I had a job where I could not work for a week I’d find I just spent a week in bed without getting out and it was really, really tough. I’m just so thankful for the support of my friends who were by my side the whole time and helped me get through it.
“I wouldn’t (talk about it) at the time. Even going back just a few years, for a man to say they were suffering from depression or mental health issues was still very taboo.
“I was still on Strictly and you’d see me - happy, smiling, the bubbliest person in the world but behind that smile was a lot more pain. It’s probably the happiest people who are suffering the most because you’re almost putting on a front.
“More people have started to discuss it and speak about their own experiences. The charity asked me would I be prepared to speak about my story and I said no for the first year that I was working with them. Now I feel if I do talk I can probably help people so that’s why I decided to share.”
Robin was part of the hit BBC show for four series, dancing with celebrities Patsy Kensit, Anita Dobson, Lisa Riley and Deborah Meaden.
“I made fantastic friends with them all and not being asked back on the show was a huge disappointment because I loved it so much, but I’ve still been a big supporter and I do watch it every year.”
He doesn’t get the controversy that surrounded YouTuber Joe Sugg; the show has to appeal to the younger demographic and the vlogger has more than eight million subscribers. Robin doesn’t buy into some of this year’s contestants’ supposed dance background.
“If you’re an actor, pop star or something like that you’ve all been to stage school, you know how to count to eight to do pieces of choreography. Cats is quite a tough musical to be in as a dancer, however ballroom is such a completely different discipline, you almost have to undo things you’ve learned in the past.”
He’s not a fan of the merry-go-round of professional dancers. A few years ago, you knew them all - from James and Ola Jordan and Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace to Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag.
“Everybody had that couple they could relate to, their favourites and now I think they’re rushing them in and out and people don’t really get to know the professionals as well as they used to and the professionals don’t really get the time to get themselves known.”
Speaking of the Jordans. James wasn’t a fan of the funny video segments linking each routine. Robin doesn’t mind, although he thinks they should match the couple’s dance that week more.
“I used to love watching the VTs when it’s in the rehearsal room and you’re watching the mistakes they make and then on Saturday night you could see are they doing it any better. At the end of the day we all have to remember Strictly isn’t a dance competition it’s a light entertainment show. Last year there was so much negativity about certain celebrities online. People just need to take it for what it is - the best show on telly - and just sit down and enjoy it.”
• See Robin Windsor’s The All Fun Farewell Tour at Beccles Public Hall on November 21 and the Ipswich Regent on November 22.