It’s hard to imagine that Joanne Clifton ever has a down moment. Ask how she’s enjoying starring in the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie and she’ll tell you “she’s loving it.” As for the rest of the cast, “they’re just brilliant, like a family really” and the pretty rigorous touring schedule “just a joy”.
Still, Clifton has good reason to be enjoying life right now. The professional dancer and her partner, the sports presenter Ore Oduba, were the surprise winners of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing. The smart money was on Hollyoaks actor Danny Mac or Louise Redknapp holding the glitterball trophy aloft, but by the time the final came around viewers had fallen just a little bit in love with Ore who had no previous experience of either ballroom or Latin.
“It was absolutely crazy,” says Joanne, sister of fellow Strictly dancer Kevin Clifton. “Given that Ore had never danced before we said if we could make it to Blackpool then we would have done good. Neither of us entertained the idea of getting to the final.”
So much so that there is one notable absence on this year’s live tour. While Ore is there, he is dancing with Karen Clifton, Joanne’s sister in law.
“At least we are keeping it in the family,” laughs Joanne. “There is a little part of me which wishes I was there with the gang, but I’d already committed to the musical before the series even started, so my hands were tied.”
Based on the film of the same name, Thoroughly Modern Millie is the story of small-town girl, Millie Dillmount, who goes to New York City to marry for money instead of love – a thoroughly modern aim in 1922, but who is soon immersed in the flapper lifestyle.
“I really identify with her,” says Joanne, who left her home in Grimsby at the age of 16 to study in Italy. “She takes herself off to pursue her dream just like I did. Moving abroad was a big decision and of course I missed home, but I have always been very determined and I knew that for my career it was something that I had to do.”
Training with Team Diablo, the biggest dance school in Europe, Joanne, whose parents were also dance champions, picked up host of trophies before winning the World Professional Ballroom Showdance Championships in 2013.
“When I was little I had to choose between acting and dancing,” she says. “I never regretted choosing dancing, but having the opportunity to do both is just lovely. I know some people find the touring hard, but I have always been slightly nomadic and I love seeing different places.
“It was great to join Strictly and because I’d been away from home so much it meant that Kevin and I could become brother and sister again. Of course there was sibling rivalry, but really only from my side. I’ve always been really competitive. Kevin is much more laid back.”
For a professional dancer, some might imagine that learning a tap routine should have been a breeze. Not so.
“Honestly, it’s so different to what I’m used to. For ballroom and Latin you need really strong ankles, but tap is much freer and so that was a bit of a challenge, but I’m a great believer that you hav to push yourself.
“Now I’ve got my sights on the West End. I’ve always fancied being Glinda in Wicked, now that’s a part to die for.”
Thoroughly Modern Milllie, Grand Opera House, York, February 28 to March 5, 0844 871 3024.