Actress Helen George is in no doubt about the highlight of her Strictly Come Dancing Tour, says David Johns. It’s being back in Birmingham – and showing off her moves!
The last thing Helen George expected on her return to Birmingham was to be dancing her way home. The Call the Midwife actress was one of the standout stars of the last series of Strictly Come Dancing – many of us thought she should have gone all the way to the final and won the thing! But Helen wasn’t too down after going out in the quarter finals, as her quick step, jive and pasodoble impressed the judges so much she was quickly signed up to do the Strictly Tour, which kicked off right here in Birmingham.
Not surprisingly, taking to the dance floor of the Barclaycard Arena was an emotional moment for 31-year-old Helen. For starters, she was reunited under the glitterball with her partner from the TV show, professional Aljaz Skorjanec. (The duo have an obvious chemistry…) And then there was the pride of showing off her ballroom and Latin moves to her home fans. Helen, who these days lives in London for her work, was ‘swept away’ by the reception she received in Brum, while admitting that the tour is a lot less stressful than competing for votes each week in front of millions of TV viewers. “It is TV and it is a show and I enjoyed my time on it. But I was quite tired as well. It was nice to go home and sit on the sofa for a couple of days,” she says. “There isn’t the same pressure with the tour. It is so much fun, a real laugh and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. It’s amazing to dance in front of an audience at a huge arena such as the Barclaycard. The audience makes you feel really at home on the dance floor.” Helen is best known for playing 1950s midwife Trixie Franklin in the BBC series set in London’s East End. With viewing figures of 11 million, the show has become a Sunday-evening smash hit. The success is something which Helen, originally from Harborne, could only ever have dreamed about as a child. The daughter of a politics professor and a social worker, the stage was far from a young Helen’s mind in her earlier childhood. She was into athletics and wanted to be a long jumper, but then went off that idea and instead set her heart on becoming the first female football manager of her beloved Aston Villa (she is still an avid fan). A pupil at Edgbaston High School, she says her career path changed when she decided as a 15-year-old that she wanted to become a musical actress after appearing in a production of Les Miserables. She had attended regular lessons at Brockway Morris School of Dance and become a junior associate at Birmingham Royal Ballet – she had posters on her bedroom wall of her hero and Strictly judge, ballerina Darcey Bussell. She worked in a local florist to earn money so she could go to Birmingham School of Acting and then the Royal Academy of Music, where she trained in musical theatre. Some singing engagements followed – performing at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena, singing backing vocals on tour with Elton John. Moving on to acting, her credits include appearances in Hotel Babylon, The Three Musketeers, Scar Tissue, Doctors and Hollyoaks, and theatre roles in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White, Into The Woods, and High School Musical.
But then came her really big break with Call the Midwife. She admits she was “petrified on the first day”. She says: “I turned up and there was Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris and Miranda Hart. But they were all so kind and generous and took the younger actors like me under their wing.” There’s no need for such panic on the Strictly Tour though – Helen’s got it well and truly sorted thanks to lots and lots of practice in the rehearsal room – although she did admit that she ended up with a black eye after “trying to rugby tackle” fellow Strictly Tour celebrity and TV series winner Jay McGuiness of The Wanted. Other famous faces taking part in the tour, which runs until 14 February, include EastEnders star Jake Wood, Georgie May Foote, Frankie Bridge, Countryfile’s Anita Rani and chef Ainsley Harriott. Helen said: “I had a brilliant time on Strictly, so I’m very excited to continue my journey and have the chance to show off some of my favourite dances to audiences on the tour.” Looks like there’ll be plenty of tens from Len then…