NEW Dancing On Ice judge Oti Mabuse opens up about the pressures of being a judge, starting a family and why her parents never expected her to do so well.
She’s one of the most successful Strictly Come Dancing professionals ever, having lifted the Glitterball trophy an unprecedented two years in a row.
However, for months, speculation has been mounting that Oti Mabuse will not return to the dance floor later this year.
And now that the 31 year old has taken her seat on the judging panel of ITV’s Dancing On Ice – making her debut this evening – does this mean we’ve seen the last of her on Strictly?
The BBC show’s bosses are so worried, they’re already drawing up a list of possible replacements, but according to the woman herself, she simply can’t make up her mind.
“I really love Strictly and we just had the final and all that emotion. Did you see me [during the final]?
“I looked a mess. My make-up was off. When everybody was coming down the stairs, I was like [pretends to cry]. It’s been such a big part of my life.
“The best part of my whole dancing career has been Strictly. So I don’t know yet, I really don’t.”
Oti originally announced in April 2021 that she planned to make last year’s series, in which she was paired with ex-England rugby union player Ugo Monye, her last, but backtracked a month later.
“I don’t know why I said that, but I will take it a season at a time. I don’t know what came over me,” she said.
Now, she adds: “This is the thing. You can say something… then you walk on to that floor and see your whole family and there’s so much love and passion that you kinda go: ‘It’s amazing to feel amazing.’”
Oti has been brought in to Dancing On Ice to replace John Barrowman, after it was announced that he would not be returning to the judging panel, following his apology over historic allegations of flashing on the set of Dr Who.
She will appear alongside old hands Ashley Banjo, 33, and Olympic ice-skaters Jayne Torvill, 64, and Christopher Dean, 63. But the South African reveals she almost turned down the role.
“I had to think about it for a long time, only because…” she starts to laugh.
“Do you see what I’m dressed like? [For our interview, Oti is in a massive puffer coat, jumper, scarf and woolly hat] I get cold! A lot. So the ice and the cold…
“But I love the show. I’ve always watched it. I’ve always tweeted about it. I’m a dancer and I’m a great lover [of ice skating] but not a great skater.
“The pros do such a brilliant job. It’s nice for me to come into their world and experience that. So I’m jumping at it.”
She describes the job as a “massive opportunity,” and it’s certainly another big tick for the star, whose career has gone from strength to strength since she joined Strictly as a professional five years ago, before landing judging stints on BBC’s The Greatest Dancer and ITV’s The Masked Dancer.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, to be honest, that this massive opportunity has come my way, but it will. I met Ash when we did The Greatest Dancer together. And the last time I saw Christopher, he was dressed as a beagle on The Masked Dancer!”
Asked whether judging or competing is more difficult, Oti laughs: “I don’t get nervous when I’m judging. I don’t get nervous dancing with another professional.
The best part of my whole dancing career has been Strictly.
“But if I don’t know what a celeb partner is going to do on live TV, I’m going to get nervous. I love both, but to be able to sit on that panel and affect people’s lives is exciting for me.”
One of the people whose lives will be affected by Oti’s decisions is her ex-Strictly pro pal Brendan Cole, who is one of the favourites to win DOI.
But rest assured, the 45 year old, who left the BBC1 dance competition in 2017, won’t be getting any special treatment.
She also predicts that the Kiwi, who was famous for rowing with the Strictly panel over their critiques, will be a bit calmer now he’s a contestant.
“We worked together for two years. Brendan is such a big character, but I won’t be biased. He’s got one of the best professional skaters in Vanessa [Bauer], so there’s this expectation that he’s going to be amazing.
“Before he knew I was doing it [being a DOI judge], he told me: ‘People think it’ll be easy, but it’s really difficult. And people expect that I’m going to be great, but I’m struggling.’
“I don’t think he will argue with the judges. That’s something that he did on Strictly because he was defending his partner. Now he’s the one learning the new skill. He’s grown up and he’s gonna take [the judges’ comments] on board and try to get better.”
While she might find judging easier than performing herself, Oti takes her role on the panel very seriously.
“There’s so much responsibility,” she admits. “You are responsible for what people think of the show, and you want everybody to have the best journey
“But not everybody’s going to have the same length of journey – you are the one who’s responsible. I’ve been on the other side when I didn’t think I deserved to leave.
“Now people are gonna say that about me if they don’t think I should have voted them out.”
Her life journey to this point has been an inspirational one.
She grew up in the township of Mabopane, close to the South African capital of Pretoria at a time when the country was still bitterly divided by Apartheid.
Brendan is such a big character, but I won’t be biased. He’s got one of the best professional skaters in Vanessa [Bauer], so there’s this expectation that he’s going to be amazing.
She took up ballroom and Latin dance at the age of four, following in the footsteps of older sister Motsi, now 40, and their middle sister Phemelo Mitchell, 35, who was previously a pro dancer on the South African version of Strictly.
But because of their skin colour, the sisters struggled to find a teacher who would teach them, and had to travel to school on separate buses from white children – often past burnt-out cars and buildings torched in riots.
Oti and Motsi, who has been a judge on Strictly since 2019, previously credited their parents’ drive for their success.
Their 67-year-old mum Dudu, a kindergarten teacher, took on extra part-time jobs to afford to send her dance-obsessed daughters to competitions and even learned to sew so she could save money by making their costumes.
Their lawyer dad Peter, 69, was just as supportive.
But Oti, who has gone on to become an eight-time South African Latin dance champion, admits that even her parents didn’t predict how well she and Motsi would do.
“I don’t think my mum expected it,” she says. “I don’t even know if my dad did. They thought we were gonna dance until we were 16, then become lawyers or engineers and get married and live in a townhouse and have babies.
“The fact that we left Africa [Motsi moved to Germany in 1998 and Oti followed in 2012]… Two black girls coming over to Europe to do Latin American dancing – you are the only black girl doing it and struggling [to fit in].
“I don’t think they expected for us to come out on the other side. They are super-proud.”
While making her parents proud is clearly important to her, Oti recognises that building a successful career means much more in terms of inspiring the next generation.
“We were raised to be super-strong, proud African young women and that’s always connected us to home.
“When you get the platform on any show, we have a whole continent at home with 54 countries full of young people watching us, thinking: ‘They look like us. They come from where we come from.’
My hope is that dancers are looking at us and saying: ‘Anything is possible.’ I’m hoping that the more doors we push open, the more people can come in and really take over.
“My hope is that dancers are looking at us and saying: ‘Anything is possible.’ I’m hoping that the more doors we push open, the more people can come in and really take over.”
For Oti, 2022 is set to be busier than ever. As well as Dancing On Ice, this month she starts working on the choreography of her first West End show, The Cher Show, with Arlene Phillips – who she describes as “an absolute legend” – and then there’s her new podcast, Oti Mabuse’s Dancing Legends, for BBC Radio 4, in which she explores the world of dance.
“I love chatting, but I love listening to people even more and finding out what’s their passion and what moves them.
“I got to speak to Misty Copeland, who was the first black principal ballet dancer, and I was super-fangirling. In every single episode, I try out a different style of dance and I learned that I am terrible at tap and ballet was difficult. But it teaches you empathy and patience.”
She also has ambitions for a radio show, more presenting, loose plans to work on a TV show with Strictly champion partner Bill Bailey, as well as a follow-up to her 2021 children’s book Dance With Oti: The Bird Jive.
But despite her jam-packed diary, she’s trying to remember that rest is just as important as work – especially when it comes to being with her family after being apart from them during the pandemic.
“I’m learning… The older I get, the more I’m learning the value of people around me, especially my family. [I’d always go:] ‘I’ll just do it next month,’ and then it got taken away.
“For me, that was really mentally hard because I work hard, I’m working to provide for my family and make them proud. And then when I’m done with work, I go home.
“When I saw we were on the red list [South Africa was put on the red list after the Omicron variant was discovered, before later being removed], that absolutely destroyed me… My parents are also getting older… I’m getting teary now.
“It’s been great [having Motsi work on Strictly] because she’s been in the same boat as me. We are the only family that we can see right now. We’re both really busy.
“Strictly is that one time that we can actually see each other face to face. There was a moment during filming the Christmas special when we just found out that we might not get home.
“She was over there [on the judging desk and Oti was on the dance floor] because we have to be socially distanced and we just broke down.”
Thankfully Oti was able to visit her parents in South Africa for the first time in four years at Christmas and made it her priority to switch off and refresh with her Romanian husband, Marius Iepure, 39.
The couple met in 2012 when he auditioned to be her dance partner in Germany.
He was the first person to try out and Oti was so taken with Marius, she cancelled all the other auditions.
I’m learning… The older I get, the more I’m learning the value of people around me, especially my family.
They were then both pro dancers on German show Let’s Dance, before tying the knot in 2014, when she was 23.
“Going home for Christmas, I learned to cut everything off, only because you don’t know how long you have with that person and I really want to appreciate that.
“When I’m not working, I just stay on my couch with my dog and my husband. We could watch Netflix all day long. I don’t even bother charging my phone.
“My husband is the most relaxed human being on earth and he calms the crazy in me. He understands my mentality. He understands the competitive side and pushes me, but he knows the real me at home, too.
“It’s that understanding that I really appreciate.
“Honestly, I do feel like I was a baby [thinking back on getting married so young], but being married to this beautiful man, I’ve learned so much. He’s taught me how to be patient and caring.
“And there’s nothing about that which makes me think I was too young. It happened at the perfect time.”
And while she met Marius – who no longer competes professionally but still teaches dance – at the perfect time, her busy professional life means it is not the perfect time to have a family.
“Not yet. I’ve still got my mind set on a lot of stuff. When women get to their 30s, it’s like: ‘Ooh, it’s your time.’ It’s not a question about timing; it’s about experience.
“Have I done all the things that I want to do? I’ve been working all my life. I want to travel. I started presenting. I want to host my own shows.
“I’m not saying you can’t do that [and be a mother], but right now I’m still at that point in my career where I want to do all these things, and when the time is right, it will happen.”
- Dancing On Ice starts Sunday 16th, 6.30pm, ITV.
In the make-up chair with Oti
What are your skincare heroes?
Harley Street skin expert Dr Tijion Esho gave me a pHformula cleanser, moisturiser and P.O.S.T. recovery cream. They’re amazing.
Any make-up bag essentials?
Maybelline eyeliner, Fenty lipstick and Bryony Blake lashes.
What’s your best budget buy?
I love Vaseline Intensive Care Cocoa Radiant Body Lotion.
And your best luxury buy?
The only thing I splurge on is my hair – the styling prices are ridiculous. That’s why I cut it short.
What’s your top beauty tip?
Use eye cream. Nobody tells you until you’re 30 and then lines appear.
Who’s your beauty icon?
Holly Willoughby and Alesha Dixon – she looks younger each time I see her!
Describe your beauty evolution.
I used to do contouring to make my nose look as thin as possible. Now, if I’m not working,
I only wear tinted moisturiser. I don’t like taking it off.
https://www.thesun.ie/fabulous/8213254/oti-mabuse-dancing-on-ice-strictly-brendan-cole/ I won’t be nervous judging Dancing on Ice, says Oti Mabuse as she vows no special treatment for Strictly’s Brendan Cole