When England rugby star Ben Cohen decided to take to the dance floor it wasn’t to relaunch his career.
His prime motivation for taking part in BBC 1’s Strictly Come Dancing was to promote his charity, and that’s why he has also agreed to take part in the hit show’s tour of the UK which comes to Leeds First Direct Arena next month and then Sheffield.
“When I was first asked I said ‘no way’. I’m not a natural dancer and I couldn’t really think of anything worse than going on national television. But then I realised it was a great way to promote Stand-Up.”
Ben, who lives in Northampton with his wife Abi and twin daughters Haritte and Isabelle, six, set up the Ben Cohen Stand-Up Foundation after retiring from rugby in 2011.
The anti-bullying and homophobia charity was inspired by the death of his father, Peter Cohen, who was murdered after he stepped in to protect someone at a brawl in a nightclub owned by Ben’s brother Justin.
“Dad’s death had a profound affect on me,” says the 35-year-old who was part of the England World Cup-winning squad. “I decided I wanted to do something to help break down stereotypes. But bullying doesn’t just happen to the gay community, it happens everywhere and it is everyone’s responsibility to stand up and do something about it.”
He saw Strictly as the ideal way to promote his charity, but he actually surprised not only the judges, but himself with his dancing prowess.
“I surprised myself with the fact that I could learn to dance,” says Ben, who danced with partner Kristina Rihanoff.
“I still don’t see myself as a dancer, but I had a great time and it really took me out of my comfort zone.”
Despite donning sequins, fake tan and showing off his torso, Ben didn’t get any ribbing from his former rugby colleagues.
“I think Strictly is so big now and has been around so long and people just love it.”
His daughters were proud of their dad’s performance, and although he never thought he’d win, there is one performance which bugs him still.
“When we did the Charleston we got a standing ovation from the audience which was amazing, but then we just got 27. I couldn’t believe that score. We worked so hard and there was so much in the dance I just felt that our effort should have been rewarded.”
The Charleston was the dance which saw Ben in the dance-off with fellow contestant Mark Benton and ultimately voted off the show.
“I wasn’t disappointed to go, it was either that week or the week after, but I did feel we were under-scored.”
Needless to saw Ben and Kristina won’t be dancing the Charleston when they appear in the live show next year.
“I’m looking forward to taking part in the tour,” says Ben. “The pressure will be off and we can just enjoy what we are doing, although I don’t really know what to expect. We are dancing the Salsa and the American Smooth.”
Although he is looking forward to the tour after it’s finished Ben says it is unlikely he will keep dancing.
“Taking part in Strictly was one of the hardest things I’ve done. We were training ten hours a day, but I really enjoyed it.”
Live tour visits Yorkshire arenas
Ben Cohen will be joined by Abbey Clancy, Suzannah Reid, Deborah Meaden, Mark Benton, Natalie Gumede and Nicky Byrne in the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour 2014.
They will be at Leeds First Direct Arena from January 24-26.
The tour then moves on to Sheffield Motorpoint Arena on January 28 and 29.
For tickets, visit strictlycomedancinglive.com or call 0844 875 8758.