Strictly's Oti Mabuse discusses dancing, praying, a good burger and true love
Strictly's Oti Mabuse talks to Gabrielle Fagan about seizing opportunities, counting blessings and keeping the balance in her hectic schedule
OTI Mabuse's bubbly personality, beauty and warmth have won over Strictly audiences since she joined the series in 2015, and she's definitely enjoying a sparkling year.
The South Africa-born champion Latin American and ballroom dancer is hot property – she's made a hugely successful debut as a judge on the BBC's The Greatest Dancer earlier this year, choreographed her first stage show (jazz-age musical, Ain't Misbehavin), and appeared as a guest presenter on The One Show.
The 28-year-old was recently revealed as the new face of Specsavers' Spectacle Wearer of the Year too (she's worn glasses since age 10).
Here, Mabuse talks about keeping well, how her husband and fellow pro dancer Marius Lepure keeps her grounded, and her hopes for the future...
How do you feel about your success?
"I feel like I'm living my dream. I've been very blessed. Around five years ago, so many doors were shut in my face. I was struggling to get a break – at that stage, I'd have been grateful for a free gym kit.
"But I have a passion for what I do, it comes from my soul, and I have a very strong work ethic so I never give up trying, but my heart would break when people said 'no' to me. Everyone always told me to be patient – I certainly learnt patience in that time."
Do you ever feel scared taking on all these challenges?
"I love to be outside my comfort zone. If it's scary, I think I should probably go for it. I mean everything I've done this year, I've been blagging it, haven't I?
"I've never done a lot of this stuff before – being a judge, choreographing a musical, never had such a huge opportunity to represent a brand like Specsavers, and then presenting on The One Show. For that, I had to sit up straight and not move – I'm usually so active and have bad posture, so both tricky things for me, but I loved it. It's been an amazing year of firsts for me."
What keeps you going through the tough times?
"I have lots of favourite quotes and sayings, which remind me who I am and motivate and push me on when I'm tired. I always tell myself, 'Never a failure, always a lesson', and a tattoo on my left forearm reads, 'Strength through Perseverance'."
What does Marius, your husband, mean to you?
"Everything. He's amazing. He's like the calmness in the storm, because I am crazy and I have crazy people around me. I love that he doesn't get crazy, doesn't get wild. He's always the one who says, 'You can do this, calm down'.
"He believes in me. He's the first person I call if something major is going to happen to me. He's the person whose arms I can't wait to be in when something amazing or bad has happened. We want a family eventually, but I'm still actively dancing and I couldn't do that with a baby, so we're going to wait a bit.
"Marius is having such a great period in his career in Latin and Ballroom and is now one of the top trainers in Germany. He travels abroad a lot, but we cope with the absences because we know we're both dedicated to our careers – we want to succeed – and we always come home to each other and spend as much time together as we can."
Does he worry about the 'curse' of Strictly?
"No, he doesn't need to. I'm married to Marius and that's it. If it ever happens to people on the show, then they have to deal with it in the best way they can. But look at Gemma [Atkinson] and Gorka [Marquez], who met on the show and are going to have a beautiful baby. That's been amazing and we're all really supportive of them. It's not a curse if it's true love."
How important is it for you to lift the Strictly Glitterball trophy?
"It's a dream of mine, of course, but I feel that although I haven't actually ever lifted the Glitterball, I've succeeded as though I have – it's opened so many doors for me to other amazing things.
"Also last year with Graeme [Swann], although we didn't get far in the competition, I got such an amazing friendship out of it that it made me feel as though I'd won... making friends on the show is one of the best parts."
There were rumours of rows and tension between you and Cheryl when you were working on The Greatest Dancer – how did you really get on ?
"We never bothered about or got irritated by that negative coverage about us not getting on. We knew we got on, and there wasn't any need for that stuff.
"It's about being honest and saying there's nothing in it. If anything bad was said about her, I would be always be there to defend her, and I knew she would defend me too. She's got my back and I've got hers. We work really well together.
"I knew from the beginning that Ellie Ferguson [the series' winner, who Mabuse mentored] had something special. A shy 14-year-old, she reminded me a little of myself as a teenager. I tried to give her a sense of believing in her own strength."
How would you describe yourself?
"I'm ambitious, driven, funny and love to have a good time, and really, really love to laugh. I like being around people who will keep me safe and make me laugh. I'm strong, and was even as a kid when people called me 'four eyes' for wearing glasses. I even had glasses taped onto my head when I played basketball so they didn't fall off.
"But I used to think, 'I'm happy and if you're going to bully me about wearing glasses then that's your problem, not mine'. In South Africa, we girls tend to be talkative, snappy and sassy."
How do you look after your health?
"I'm so active with dancing, which for me is like a daily workout. I'm not a gym fan, I'd rather do a dance class with people, but I do Pilates. Giving up meat for a month made me feel good and I may eat less in future, although I love burgers so who knows!"
How do you look after your wellbeing?
"There are moments when I'm so busy, it could all get a bit too much, but I always take time to meditate and pray – I have a strong faith. I count my blessings, feel enormous gratitude for what I have, and just hope that someone has their arm around my shoulder.
"I always try to be happy and see the positive side of everything. The only thing that could get me down is if I felt I didn't give 100 per cent my best."
"Relaxing's important and for me, that's sitting with Marius, both wearing our onesies, having burgers and popcorn watching TV at home, or we'll go to a musical or a movie."
:: Oti Mabuse is the face of Spectacle Wearer of the Year, Specsavers' annual search for the UK's proudest specs wearers aged 16 and over. To be in with a chance of winning £10,000, visit Specsavers.co.uk/loveglassescomp (closes June 30). For each valid entry Specsavers will donate £1 to anti-bullying charity Kidscape.