Size 14 feet and all the poise of a ‘graceful fridge’. Dancing on Ice? No problem, says stand-up comedy star Darren Harriott as he prepares to get his skates on…
Being one of the celebs on the new series of ITV’s Dancing on Ice could well be the biggest challenge of Darren Harriott’s life so far. The Oldbury boy, who grew up listening to garage and grime and was part of a teenage gang before gigging his way around pubs and clubs to become a stand-up comedy star, views slipping and sliding on two wafer-thin pieces of steel as well out of his comfort zone.
For starters, Darren’s feet are so big that he’s had to have figure skating boots made especially. That means he’s been training in ice hockey skates which are very different, so he feels he’s already fallen behind the other celebrity stars.
Darren said: “My Dancing on Ice partner Tippy Packard made it to the semi-final last year, so no pressure. I’ve got the dance moves and the rhythm, so we’re just going for it. Everyone thinks ‘oh there’s the comedian. He just wants to make jokes.’ No, I like learning new skills and doing well so I’m going for it.”
WEIGHT FOR IT
Darren is dropping weight while training. He’s been doing intermittent fasting eating between the hours of 2pm and 10pm and he’s lost 20lbs since August. “I feel lighter on my feet,” he declares. He’s also doing his usual strength training six days a week – an hour of weights followed by 20 minutes in the sauna to soothe aching muscles. “I would normally do cardio too, but the skating training is enough on that score.”
As well as the skating itself, Darren – who likens his presence on the ice to a “graceful fridge” – says he finds the judges and the public vote daunting. “There are some massive stars that will get the fan votes, so we can’t be mediocre.” There’s a lift in the first performance and the dreaded head banger on the cards too. “It’s nerve wracking,” he adds. “This is live TV in front of millions. I think if any of us stumbles or messes up it will shock everyone and put the fear of God into us.”
Dancing On Ice is just the latest appearance on our TV screens for Darren, who seems to be popping up all over the place. After eight years in London, Darren says he will be moving back to his hometown this year. He says of growing up in Oldbury: “It was quite peaceful – working class but peaceful.
“There was a random mad window cleaner who would clean the windows without being asked to and then ask for money. Everyone paid him, but it was a bit mad. I’m moving back because I miss the familiarity of the place. It’s time – I want more space, maybe have a family and a garden. A garden! I don’t even have a balcony in London.”
After lockdown, Darren’s career started to take off with lots of TV. “I love TV, but I never expect it to continue,” he says. “I feel like I can always make money doing stand-up but TV might disappear. Hopefully the comedy won’t disappear because I’ve got nothing else! Some comedians used to be doctors or have qualifications – I don’t have any skills to offer.”
In his earlier years, back before a career in comedy was on Darren’s radar, he was involved in a local gang. It all started innocently enough – they wanted their own T-shirts, branding and sense of belonging. But over time they started carrying knives and one night the other members turned on Darren, beating him so badly he woke up in hospital on New Year’s Eve and knew it was time to get out.
He went to college and started doing stand-up comedy, supporting himself by working as a bouncer – not always the most exciting work, often directing traffic in a hi-vis jacket. Aged 17, he saw a flyer promoting a local variety night. It went well and he began gigging regularly. “It takes up your whole life. I spent seven years going as hard as I could gigging all over the country. I’d travel to Newcastle for a 10-minute gig and travel home again. It was wild. Digbeth coach station was my friend.”
Darren saw comics like Joe Lycett who started out at the same time who were flying and thought, ‘that could happen to me’. He moved to London, aged 26. “I was still living with my mum, so I needed an excuse to move out really. In London you can gig every night of the week, so the opportunities were easier and plentiful.”
Fast forward to today and Darren is a familiar face as team captain on Guessable, which is currently filming its fourth series, and as a series regular on The Outsiders for Dave hosted by David Mitchell. He is also co-host of Love Island: Aftersun. Other TV includes Britain’s Best Takeaway with Sara Cox, British as Folk, host of Live at the Apollo and Dog Ate My Homework, plus appearances on Backstage With Katherine Ryan, All Star Games for Comic Relief and Great British Bake Off Extra Slice among many others.
Darren also starred in Real Dirty Dancing presented by Keith Lemon and Ashley Roberts which aired on E4 in 2022 and saw celebrities competing to recreate iconic routines from the film – a surprisingly absorbing, completely binge watchable show. He says: “I’d never seen the film. I watched it and liked it. I like to challenge myself, so I thought, ‘yay, I’ll do that. Sure.’ They were a friendly lot, but we took it seriously too. We really tried. In honesty there was more time filming VTs to camera than learning the moves – it wasn’t Strictly. We learned to dance on grass in a field in Norfolk.”
A field is an infinitely easier environment than ice, however. So, what can we expect from Darren when he glides into the spotlight of Dancing on Ice? “Unless I get a pair of skates big enough for my size 14 feet, I may be dancing in my socks,” he jokes. “My family are already making bets that I’ll fall on the first episode!”