Tangoed: Having been at the bottom of the leaderboard in week one Sarah and Aljaz soared to the top.
Sara Davies is breathless – as well she might be. She’s just spent the day rehearsing her rumba routine with Strictly Come Dancing partner Aljaz Skorjanec and, according to her strict schedule, she should now be spending time with her two sons, Oliver, seven, and five-year-old Charlie.
The Dragons’ Den star has pencilled in some quality mum time before hot-footing it down to London from the Teeside home she shares with the boys and husband, Simon, for tonight’s show.
“But I’m talking to you instead,” she laughs, “and it’s thanks to Aljaz that I am.
He’s looking after the boys while we have this chat. He offered! Right now, he’s in the conservatory with them and the three of them are playing with some new toys he’s bought them. What’s not to love?”
Apparently Oliver and Charlie were initially quite resistant to the idea of their mother appearing on the UK’s biggest light entertainment show.
Sara is the youngest investor on Dragons’ Den.
“Oh, they hated it at first,” says Sara. “They definitely weren’t impressed. ‘Why did I keep having to go to London? What was this awful thing that was taking me away every few days?’
“They’ve been used to me being around a lot, what with the lockdowns and everything. But all that changed when they met Aljaz. He went out of his way to pay loads of attention to the boys and now they love him. We all do.”
So does this include Sara’s husband, Simon? The inevitably close relationship that Strictly’s celebrities develop while spending up to 12 hours a day in very close proximity to their young, athletic, attractive professional partners, has claimed quite a few casualties over the years.
Only recently, former Strictly star, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor has said her husband found it very difficult when, inevitably, she became close to her pro dancer, Brendan Cole. So what does Simon make of it?
“I’ll start off by saying I wouldn’t have been able to live my Strictly dream without Simon’s support,” she replies. “He’s amazing! The first time Simon and Aljaz met each other was actually on our wedding anniversary. Aljaz and I had just done our first day of rehearsals and he ate dinner with us at home that evening.
“He really went out of his way to make Simon feel comfortable about the fact that another man would, essentially, be monopolising me for however long I lasted in the competition.
Sara says that Strictly has been ‘a shock to the system’.
“He suggested I leave them alone for a bit so he and Simon could spend some time together, have a few beers and talk about football! It was lovely seeing them getting on so well.’
It’s become a bit of a regular thing for Sara and Simon, and Aljaz and his wife, former Strictly dancer and now co-host of BBC2 spin-off It Takes Two, Janette Manrara, to double-date.
“Janette’s been coming up from London one night a week to see Aljaz and then the four of us either go out for a meal or eat together at ours,” Sara explains.
“This week, I cooked and we had a bit of a kitchen disco. It was a lovely evening, we laughed all night and it’s like we’ve all known each other for years. It feels like we’re friends for life.
“Janette and Simon really get on, while I feel one of the reasons Aljaz and I have gelled so well is because, personalitywise, Janette and I are alike. We’re cut from the same cloth. We’re both driven, committed, ambitious and hard-working.”
Sara’s work ethic first paid dividends when she was at York University. During a work placement at a small craft company in 2005 she invented a tool for making bespoke envelopes and by the time she had graduated her business was turning over £500,000. By 2018, her company, Crafter’s Companion, was bringing in £25million a year.
She joined Dragons’ Den in 2019 as the show’s youngest investor.
So the long hours and effort that Strictly entails was not a problem. The emotional ups and downs are another matter though.
“Oh, my goodness, I can’t even begin to describe what I’ve been through over the past month or so,” she says. “It’s been a real shock to the system. The range of emotions I’m experiencing? it’s like nothing else.
Sara and Simon regularly double-date with Aljaz and Janette.
“I was advised that Strictly would be a real roller coaster but I thought, ‘I’m strong – I’ll be able to handle whatever it throws at me’. “But, oh my word, the devastation when you’re at the bottom of the leaderboard like I was in week one. I was so disappointed in myself.
“But then, last Saturday I was at the top and, oh, the elation. It’s carried me through all week! It’s the craziest thing.”
Why does she think she’s improved so much, so quickly?
“Because I’m now really, really feeling the emotions of the dances and actually performing them rather than going through the motions,” she says. “When I started, I thought that so long as I learnt the steps, routines and techniques, and practised, practised, practised, that would be all I’d need.
“I thought, ‘Oh yes, Sara, you’ve got this’. But in that first week, I got those comments and they really hit home. Basically, I was being told that, despite the fact that I thought I’d done my best, it wasn’t enough. I had to really perform the dance.
“Dancing the Foxtrot in week two was a turning point, I think. It’s Aljaz’s favourite dance and by then, we’d developed such a great bond. I could see how into the dance he was and I wanted, more than anything, to make him proud of me.
“I worked even harder over that second week so I’d know the steps inside-out. I wanted to walk out onto the dancefloor and let the dance take me over. I watched Aljaz’s face, read his body language and emotions as we danced and tapped into that.
“We were both emotional and shed a few tears afterwards. I knew then what performing ally a dance really meant.”
Sara Davies and Aljaz Skorjanec have come a long way since week one.
Scoring four nines in week four for an amazing tango? At that point, as an uber successful businesswoman used to winning, it must surely have crossed her mind that the famous glitterball trophy would look rather good on her mantlepiece.
When I started, I didn’t think I’d be good enough to win,” she says. “My dad’s a former ballroom dancer and he certainly didn’t think I’d last very long in the competition. It was my aim to get to the halfway point.
“Now we’re five weeks in and I can see how much I’m improving. I need to set myself a higher goal and really, really push myself. What’s always worked for me in business is to try and be the best I possibly can be – whatever that is.
“But what I don’t know is how my best will compare with some of the other dancers’ bests who are also improving very quickly.
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“What I do know is that the amount I’ve managed to learn in five weeks has given me a taste for driving myself to get better and better and better.
“With a teacher like Aljaz, the sky could really be the limit.’
Whatever the outcome, Sara, 37, is loving the way she’s looking and feels far more body confident than she did.
“I was insisting on wearing dresses and costumes that gathered around the bust, allowing me lots of floaty-type motion around the tummy area,” she says.
“My body is changing because of Strictly, although I’m a bit gutted not to have lost more weight. After the first week, I got on the scales to see I’d lost 2lbs and thought, “Wey-hey! Get in! Here we go!”.
“But I’ve lost nothing since and according to my doctor, I’m at risk of type two diabetes unless I drop more pounds. People tell me I’m looking really good, though, and I can feel that the dancing’s toning me up.
“I can’t wait to perform the rumba with Aljaz. But it is tricky – like everyone says.
“I just hope my hips do what’s required of them!”
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