PUBLISHED: 10:10 16 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:37 20 February 2013
Denise Van Outen, Basildon's former Big Breakfast presenter and West End star, talks to Essex Life about her Essex childhood, family life and fighting for the Strictly title
When Denise Van Outen and partner James Jordan performed their Charleston at Wembley arena to Walk Like An Egyptian by the Bangles it became one of the iconic dances of the hit BBC TV show Strictly Come Dancing. And for Denise, who earned her big break onTVas a presenter on Channel 4s Big Breakfast before becoming a stage star on the West End, this was one of her career highlights.
Even ifI was kicked out at that stage,Iwould have been ecstatic because that was honestly, one of the highlights of my career, the cheeky mum from Basildon cheerfully offers.
Its been 15 years since Denise exploded onto the nations consciousness alongside Johnny Vaughan on The Big Breakfast. Much has changed since then and Denise is now a happily married mother of one who enjoys the quiet life in rural Kent.
Yet at 38, this mother to two-year-old Betsy is still as glamorous as ever. she is still a household name, having landed parts in Chicago and Legally Blonde in the West End as well as appearing in a host of television dramas, but her wild days are behind her. Instead, she gets to live vicariously through others as the long-time narrator of reality juggernaut, The Only Way Is Essex.
Its an exaggerated version of what really goes on and how people are, but that corner of Essex really is like that although where Im from Basildon, its not that glamorous!'
'Essex is a fantastic place, with its own set of rules. Its a completely different world'
Growing up, I dreamed of going to all the clubs and bars featured in the show.I aspired to have the lives of Lydia, Amy and co. As soon asI was told about the whole concept of the series,I knew it was going to be a hit. Essex is a fantastic place, with its own set of rules. Its a completely different world. I was delighted when it won at the Bafta Awards but Iwasnt shocked. It really is true, the only way is Essex.
Denise remains a strikingly popular figure and at the time of going to press she remains a strong favourite to lift Strictlys glitterball trophy. But her stints on the West End only part-prepared her for the vigorous Strictly schedule.
Of course, I had six months in Legally Blonde: The Musical, she says, so Iguess that was good practice for really getting back onto the stage, as it were. There were some mutterings that her stage school training has put her at a distinct advantage Denise was educated at the Sylvia Young Theatre School but she admits to finding the shows preparation even more intense than on West End projects. 'The workload [on Legally Blonde] was still unrelenting, but at least there was a repetition in what Iwas doing. With Strictly, you seem to be changing between routines all the time sometimes even in the same week!
At the turn of the century, during The Big Breakfast years and after, Denise was never far from the glare of the press, particularly during her high-profile relationships with Jamiroquai singer Jay Kay and dodgy guitarist Andy Miller.
Happy ever after
These days, shes settled happily into family life. she met hubby Lee Mead while working as a judge on the BBCs Any Dream Will Do and married him in April 2009 in the salubrious, sun-kissed setting of the Seychelles. they had Betsy together in May 2010.
But settling down hasnt dulled her work ethic. Denise is an entertainer in
the most modern sense a fashion designer,TVpresenter, radio host and actor; shes even tried her hand at music having released a total of seven singles and regularly raises money for breast cancer charities.
However, she admits to having enjoyed getting back into a regular schedule like her days on The Big Breakfast, like her run in Legally Blonde. 'It has been really good for me to get back to such a full-on project, such as Strictly Come Dancing, she says, But it takes a huge amount of dedication and practice, and while that can be difficult in terms of being away from Lee and Betsy, were in contact every day. Overall, the show has been an incredible experience.
Its all a learning process and Ive taken so much on board in such a short space of time'
'I thought it would be hard work and a huge amount of pressure before it began, butnothing can really prepare you for what follows. And because
every week is a different style and a different routine, its sometimes easy to overlap the way you perform a move, so at times youre whole decades apart in the way you perform a dance! But its all a learning process and Ive taken so much on board in such a short space
And, by the sounds of it, its an experience shes thoroughly enjoyed. 'The fact the people are so special makes it all the more enjoyable. Were a great family and it can be heartbreaking when couples leave. Iwouldnt say there has been any major rivalry naturally people want to do well, but we want others to receive adulation and to pull off the routines more than anything else.