After learning their craft in Birmingham, TV dance stars AJ and Curtis Pritchard are looking to make their next big career leap – as the new Ant and Dec! David Johns talks to AJ about his grand plans after quitting Strictly
AJ Pritchard is known to millions as the boyish, good-looking pro dancer from Strictly. His brother Curtis shot to fame in Love Island and then the Greatest Dancer. Individually, the two brothers who grew up in Stoke and learned to dance at classes in Brum, are hugely talented. Together they are planning to make an even more formidable TV team in a splash which they hope will see them become the ‘new Ant and Dec’. Quite an ambition!
We caught up with AJ just before he shocked millions of Strictly fans by announcing he was quitting the biggest show on TV for the next stage of his career with Curtis. The brothers had been touring the UK together in their new AJ Live show before the coronavirus lockdown struck, forcing them to postpone and reschedule the final four dates for later in the autumn.
Fortunately for the brothers, they were able to bring the show to their hometown Stoke and the Regents Theatre before the virus kicked in. “Coming home is awesome,” said AJ. “We both have such great memories of growing up in the place and also attending dance class in Birmingham. This is where we developed our passion for dancing which we had always had right from a very young age.”
HAVE A QUAD BIKE!
AJ says he knew he would become a professional dancer as early as he can remember – despite what his dad Adrian, himself a highly regarded professional dancer and teacher, told him. “He said ‘you will never dance – and here’s a quad bike instead!’, explained AJ. “But by the age of 12, I had made it clear that I was going to dance and become a proper dancer. While other youngsters were playing sports or computer games, I was dancing. My dad obviously helped me tremendously, as he did Curtis, and we went to dance classes in Birmingham.”
Like all youngsters who turn raw talent into a big success, AJ had to put in the hours and make sacrifices to reach his goal. “There was lots and lots of travelling back and forth to lessons in Birmingham and to a studio in Solihull. Then there were all the competitions I competed in. It was all hard work but I loved it and I made loads of friends along the way too.”
Together with local dance partner Chloe Hewitt, AJ represented Britain in dance competitions around the world, winning the National Youth Latin Championships for three consecutive years between 2012 and 2014. A year later, the duo became British Open Youth Latin champions and European Youth Latin champions. An appearance on TV’s Britain’s Got Talent saw AJ and Chloe reach the live semi-finals. Bosses at Strictly Come Dancing were looking for an exciting, new home-grown pro dancer to join the show and called AJ in for an audition. The rest is history as he became one of the most popular stars on the BBC show, reaching the semi-final in 2018 – believe it or not, his first and only appearance in the last four!
AJ’s decision to quit Strictly came as a ‘bolt from the blue’, according to TV bosses. They were said to be surprised and shocked – understandable in view of how AJ had become a mainstay of the show. Of Strictly he says: “I’ve loved my time on Strictly. It’s an amazing entertainment show. Strictly allows everyone to see dance in its pure form being performed by celebrities who have never danced before but who become great dancers as the series goes on. It’s a huge workload for everyone – the celebrities, of course, but also the pro dancers who are having to teach, rehearse, choreograph, perform and bring out the best in their celebrities.”
TAKING A TOLL
In the end the 18-hour days, strung out over more than six months of the year for the past four years confirmed AJ’s desire to take his TV career in a new and different direction. He happily says that leaving Strictly means he can now avoid performing his ‘dance from hell’, the samba. “I love doing the tango and pasodoble,” he adds. “But the samba is my own personal nightmare!”
Having become such a familiar face on our screens, a more permanent move into TV presenting seems the obvious course for AJ – he’s already done daytime slots with Lorraine Kelly on ITV’s Lorraine show. Now he’s keen to expand on that, saying: “I want to do lots more daytime TV and maybe have a game show and my own show.”
He says he would love to bring an all-singing, all-dancing ‘Bruce Forsyth Saturday night feel’ to TV and, together with brother Curtis, emulate the success of Ant and Dec. Despite deciding to say goodbye to the nation’s favourite Saturday night show, it feels like we will be seeing plenty more of AJ in the months and years ahead. As they say, watch this space!