Holly's dancing feat
After her bumpy ride so far on Strictly Come Dancing, Australian starlet Holly Valance tells Lisa Williams she's bruised but unbowed - and reveals who she thinks will win the famous glitterball trophy
ALTHOUGH the word 'journey' is frowned upon as a cliche when it comes to reality television, there's no better term to describe Holly Valance's experience on this year's Strictly Come Dancing.
The bubbly Australian has gone from dance-shy duckling to graceful swan during the competition so far, she's been the first competitor to bring in a princess (Beatrice) as a VIP guest, and she suffered a major setback when her professional dance partner Artem Chigvintsev had to take a week off due to injury, leaving Brendan Cole to step in for a week.
Not only that, but she found herself in the bottom two after last Saturday's spectacular broadcast from Wembley, although it was astrologer Russell Grant's turn to be booted out instead.
"That was a close one," says the 28-year-old former Neighbours star, somewhat breathlessly.
Although she's sad to see the back of Grant, who she now considers to be one of her friends, she's delighted to be able to keep on dancing, especially as Chigvintsev is back on his feet.
"When I found out he couldn't dance with me for a week, the first thing I thought was, 'I hope they keep him out of pain'.
"This is a game, it's not the Olympics, so nothing is worth your health, and I just counted my blessings that Brendan was able to step into the breach."
Chigvintsev only had three days between the doctors' all-clear and the Wembley show to get back into rehearsals - which might explain why they ended up in the bottom two, but Valance reveals that he's now "raring to go" and that their previous six weeks dancing together means they still gel on the dance floor.
"Artem can move an arm and I know he means for me to go one way or another," she laughs.
That doesn't make her immune to injuries though, and she admits that the vigorous training has left her just as battered and bruised as the rest of them.
"You do something every day. I've broken out in bruises, I've had a back spasm around my ribs for weeks now, which is just highly dull and driving me nuts because it just pinches in the middle of walking down the street.
"But everyone's got something - we're bruised and scuffed and things are going on everywhere."
The only remedy to the pain, she says, is a long hot bath, and - when she's not in the rehearsal studios - that's where you'll find her.
"I do probably two or three hot baths a day," she says. "I just have to soak and soak and stretch. If I get home on time or if I have a break, I just generally go and sit in one, and it's just heaven. It's the first thing I do when I get home."
Although tipped for success early in the competition, Valance has had a couple of shaky weeks and refuses to contemplate the possibility of winning the glitterball trophy, or even taking part in the final at Blackpool Tower Ballroom on December 17.
She says: "I can't think that far ahead. I keep it a week at a time because it's not up to me, I can only do the hours, then it's up to the people at home."
Fellow Aussie Jason Donovan and her new pal Chelsee Healey are the ones to beat, she reckons. But she insists the show isn't anywhere near as competitive as people might think.
"We're all going for each other. We're really supportive, it's a nice way to be. To get too competitive would be exhausting and it's hard enough as it is. It's nice having the camaraderie when we get to set."
Before Strictly, Valance's only dance experience was that which accompanied her pop career (she reached No 1 in the charts with her single Kiss Kiss in 2002) but she's loved it so much that she wants to keep it up once her time on the show comes to an end.
She says: "I might do some ballet. I've really been enjoying the balletic side of things, they are often my favourite moves, or I might go and do a salsa class with the girls one day."
Things might get busy once she's finished Strictly, as she's had "a bunch of offers, film-wise" since starting the show.
It's been non-stop for Valance since she started modelling to earn money after being turned down for a job at McDonalds at the age of 16.
She went on to play Flick Scully in Australian soap Neighbours for three years, then pursued a pop career. When her second album failed to make the same sales as her first, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue other acting projects and landed roles in TV series including CSI and Entourage, and in films including Taken and National Lampoon's Pledge This!
Now she's based in London, where she lives with her billionaire property developer boyfriend Nick Candy.
"I've got such a disgusting, wide, smug grin on my face all the time that my friends just want to slap me. I've never been so happy," she's said previously.
Candy has been in the audience cheering her on during her Strictly appearances, and she says London is now her home.
"As soon as I leave, I'm missing it within the day, and next year is going to be ridiculous with the Olympics. I just can't wait to watch it all unfold - in Australia we're all Olympic freaks. It's really fun to be here and I don't think I'll be going anywhere soon."
She admits she's amazed at how often she's recognised in the UK by Neighbours fans, even though she left Ramsay Street nearly a decade ago.
"I think it's great - that's where I started and I'm very proud of where I started. It's lovely that there's still a warmth around the show and it's made such a big dent over here, even though it's so far away."
But it's a rare occasion when Valance herself has time to tune in, especially now Strictly's got her on her toes.
"If it's on I'll have a little look-see, but generally I'm not around. I don't even know what time it's on to be honest. I don't know half the people now so I can't follow it!"
Who else is left in Strictly?
- Jason Donovan - Aussie screen and stage star who's been top of the leader board four times in eight weeks.
- Chelsee Healy - diminutive Waterloo Road actress who's scored the week's highest marks three times so far.
- Alex Jones - the One Show presenter has taken the judges' comments on board and topped the scoresheet for the first time last week.
- Harry Judd - A favourite with the ladies, he has scored consistently high marks in the competition so far.
- Robbie Savage - the former footballer didn't get off to a promising start but his popularity has grown.
- Anita Dobson - Not a high scorer, but the former EastEnders actress has only been in the bottom two once.
- Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturdays on BBC One