John Whaite interview: ‘Strictly is less stressful than Bake Off’

Saturday night will see 2021’s Strictly Come Dancing finalists – John Whaite, AJ Odudu and Rose Ayling-Ellis – battle it out to take the glitterball trophy.

If John wins, it will be the second time he’s come out on top on a TV juggernaut, having previously been crowned winner of the third series of The Great British Bake Off in 2012.

John is partnered with Johannes Radebe in the Strictly’s first ever male same-sex pairing (boxing champion Nicola Adams and Katya Jones formed the first all-female couple last year, but had to leave the competition early due to Covid).

Ahead of this weekend’s grand finale, we caught up with John to find out how the Bake Off compares to Strictly Come Dancing, his methods for unwinding once the competition is over, and whether there’s anything he’s actually bad at…

Hi John! How has training been going?

We’re rehearsing for about ten hours a day. I’m eating so much I’ve actually put weight on during Strictly – I never really eat chocolate but I’m eating loads of chocolate bars right now. I just eat whatever I can, whenever I can, because we really need our energy levels, especially this week with three dances to learn.

How does being judged on Strictly compare to being judged on the Bake Off?

On Bake Off you wanted to be the best already. You needed to be the best baker that week to get star baker, and you were expected already to have those skills, whereas being on Strictly is different because we are learning from day one. We’ve learnt so many new skills, and we’re judged on our progress and our ability to learn from the professional. So I find Strictly to be very different from Bake Off in that sense. It’s less stressful actually. I’ve really enjoyed learning a new skill and spending time with Johannes. He’s an angel.

Have you had time to bake anything for Johannes?

A few little bits like brownies and pumpkin scones, but I barely have time to remember my own name right now. When it’s all over I’m going to make him something very special, a nice treat!

john whaite

You’re supporting the American Express Shop Small campaign, which encourages people to support small businesses this festive season. Why is that so important to you?

I come from a family of small business owners. Growing up my parents had a fish and chip shop, and my first job was in the chip shop peeling potatoes. My sister had a hairdressing salon so I was the Saturday boy who used to wash people’s hair and brushing up. It taught me how to stay calm when things go wrong – a ‘get up and crack on with it’ attitude. I also learnt how to interact with a diverse range of people from an early age. I’m passionate about small business and how vital they are for our economy and community.

Where do you get your drive from?

My mum went from working on a dairy farm to owning a fish and chip shop to opening a dry cleaning company. It made me think if she can do that – if she can do anything she wants – then I can as well. I get obsessed with things. I am passionate about whatever I put my mind to. And I truly believe that human beings are capable of so much more than we think. We’re not these monolithic entities that can only do one thing in life. That’s my mantra in life really: I can do anything I put my heart and mind to.

Please tell us there’s something you’re not good at though!

I’m not very good artistically in a traditional sense because I’m colourblind. So if you asked me to paint a mural on your wall, I think it would be painted over very quickly!

Strictly has been the ultimate comfort TV for people during the pandemic – has that been reflected in the messages you’ve been receiving?

Completely. Johannes and I have both been overwhelmed with messages of support. We’ve been really reassured at how important Strictly is. I think at the minute when the world is such an uncertain place, to see a group of celebrities acting a bit daft on the dancefloor – it really is heartwarming. The messages that I’ve received have really reflected that. It’s reassuring to think that we live in a world where two men can dance together, and only a very small handful of people have a problem with it. The majority of people see it for what it is and that it’s a beautiful artform.

Which messages have meant the most to you?

There’s been a lot of messages from straight men who say they were sceptical about our partnership at first, but when they watch it they see it is just about the dance and how beautiful it is. That hits me quite hard, because it’s nice when people admit they were wrong and that their way of thinking has been transformed by it. And I love it when people say things like ‘you’ve given me the reassurance I need to be able to come out’ or ‘thank you for doing this because my children can grow up in a world where it’s ok for two men to dance together’. That happens hundreds of times every single day. It makes me feel so comforted, to see that the world is becoming a much kinder place.

What TV shows do you watch when you want to switch off?

For all 13 years of our relationship, my partner and I have watched an episode of Friends before going to bed. We’ve got through the series countless times – it’s just one of those things you don’t have to focus on because you know it word for word.

What are your plans for Christmas?

We’ve booked a little cabin in Scotland – just me, my boyfriend and our dog. I’m going to go from the glittering sequins of Strictly to night-time in Scotland. After Bake Off I realised that I have to try and keep myself calm – being around nature does that. I love to photograph the night sky and go for long, cold walks around the Scottish highlands. So we’re shutting down the shop, turning our phones off and just trying to recalibrate.

Is it hard to get back to normal when you’ve been on such a massive TV show?

It is tricky – I think it can really affect people quite deeply. But I’ve found that the best thing for me is just to get back into a healthy gym routine, get back to walking the dog every day. I always find that going home, rearranging my bedroom and putting on a good few loads of laundry helps me to get back into the swing of life. Strictly’s amazing, it’s been the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life but it will leave a glittering hole in my heart, so I need to make sure that I fill that with reality.

And finally…do you get to keep your rhinestone T-shirt from last weekend?

That was one of my favourite outfits! It took the team eight hours to put all those rhinestones on, they’re incredible. Put it this way – they don’t offer it to me,  I’ll have to either ask nicely or sneak it into my bag at the end of the night.

John Whaite has teamed up with American Express to create a festive Shop Small Sandwich recipe especially for small businesses. The American Express Shop Small campaign aims to support small businesses by encouraging the nation to shop small throughout the festive season and beyond. From 4-15 December, American Express Cardmembers can get £5 back when they spend £15 at participating small shops. To view the Shop Small Sandwich recipe and for more info on the campaign, search Amex Shop Small UK or visit www.americanexpress.co.uk/shopsmall