Reigning champion Joanne Clifton: 'Kevin told me to leave Strictly!'

Joanne Clifton
(Image credit: Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment)

Reigning Strictly champion Joanne Clifton explains why she's decided to leave the hit BBC1 show

Strictly 2016 winner Joanne Clifton, who lifted the glitterball with celebrity partner TV presenter Ore Oduba, has announced that she’s leaving the nation's favourite Saturday night show to concentrate on her musical theatre career, with a starring role in the UK tour of Flashdance The Musical.

In an interview with TV Times News, Jo reveals it was her brother, fellow Strictly pro dancer Kevin, who gave her the confidence to leave.

"It was one of the toughest decisions of my life – Strictly is the biggest show on TV!" said Jo, 33. "But I have always wanted to do musicals and I’ve been taking acting and singing lessons for the past three years.

"Kevin was the first person I spoke to about it. He was a little hesitant, but then he saw me in the UK tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie and he got a bit emotional. He told me he was so proud and said it was the right decision to leave. It was at that moment I knew I could follow my dream."

Jo’s fellow pros Natalie Lowe and Oksana Platero – who partnered Judge Rinder last year – are also leaving. The three will be replaced by established ballroom stars Dianne Buswell, Nadiya Bychkova and Amy Dowden.

"I know Dianne, she’s got a huge personality and will be great," said Jo. "Nadiya trained at the same school as me, she’s a brilliant dancer, absolutely stunning and a lovely person."

Jo’s also a fan of Len Goodman’s replacement, new headjudge Shirley Ballas. "Shirley taught Kev and me as children," she said. "She’s a big name in the ballroom world; she won so many titles and taught lots of champions. She's the perfect choice."

Meanwhile, Jo can’t wait to slip into leg-warmers to revive 1980s  hit Flashdance. "It’s such an iconic role, I’m so excited!"