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Culture, Theatre

Strictly Graziano

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believe foph4e

In 2018, Graziano di Prima became a part of Britain’s best-loved TV show when he joined the cast of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Six years on, he’s touring with his own show, Believe: My Life on Stage, which – through the medium of breath-taking Latin and Ballroom dance – takes us on his journey from the vineyards of Sicily to the sequins and sparkle of professional dancing. In person he is warm, open and charming and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to find out more…

Have you always danced?

As a kid I couldn't control it. I didn’t want to dance, because I was shy, but by the time the music would touch my body I couldn't control myself and then I would stop and my family would come across and hug me and I would be happy and proud. I didn’t know I’d be where I am now. I didn’t know I would be here talking about my show with you. My family changed because of dancing, everything around me changed because of dancing.

And now you’re bringing your story to the stage with Believe. 

I’m still buzzing, and I want somebody to pinch me because I never thought in my life I could be able to tell my story on stage. I come from a small town in Sicily, my family works in the vineyards. I knew at around 12 years old if I wanted to dance I had to sacrifice because I knew what my family were doing for me. They were very honest; they would say listen, you cannot have the Nike shoe, we spend so much money on lessons. They did everything they could possibly do to let me dance.

So not a Billy Elliot situation? 

Absolutely. His dad wasn't, let’s say, there for him and for me it was different because without my parents I wouldn't be where I am today – especially my mum. But, let’s say I had two lives; one was the vineyard and the other one was dancing. School was another story: teenager time was hard because I was being bullied…the only guy that used to dance, long hair. 

Really?

It was very tough, very tough. 

That surprises me because you seem so self-assured.

Growing up wasn't easy because boys would start dancing because their mum told them to, and then after one lesson they would regret it and I was aways the only one left. School wasn't easy because, ‘Oh, you’re dancing, you have long hair, blah blah blah’. My mum was so strong, she helped me so much. She used to say that the person who would bully you is not the first one, there’s always the big guy behind. Be strong and fight back. So, in front of this little guy who was miming me dancing I said, ‘come on, you making fun of me?’. The group realised that I wasn't afraid of them so that was my first lesson. And, these people now are the first people that when I go back to Sicily and they see me in the bar, they offer me coffee because for them it’s like they still remember. 

Do they know how famous you are now?

I think they know I’m doing a TV show, but I never mentioned it. 

What gave you that confidence to ‘Believe’?

I wanted to dance, I believed I could, but not because I was the best one. There are moments where I went back to teaching, I went back to the vineyards helping my dad, but by those failures I realised I have to keep going. I think for every person, if you believe in something you really think that you are good at and you want to try, then don’t listen to anyone else, do your thing.

You know I was a twin, and there is a section in my show where I do a number for my brother that didn’t make it. I was premature, we were born at seven months, and he didn’t make it. They pulled me out and they thought I was dead too, because I wasn't breathing so they checked my heartbeat, and it was there. The first few years of my life until I was seven or eight, every six months I had to go back to hospital to check if I would walk or I could talk. By the age of six or so I was dancing, so I remember the first time I went back with a diploma from the dance school and my mum would say remember you are lucky; you are a lucky one.

Believe also stars your wife, Giada Lini. How did you meet?

I was working but the job ended and I thought I’d go back to Sicily and stick with teaching and helping my dad in the vineyards but weirdly, that was the moment this TV show [in Italy] asked me to join and that’s when I met Giada. From there, in one year, my life changed completely. I danced with her, I fell in love with her in the first year. After this TV show I received a call from a very good dance company to tour around the world and I asked her to dance with me. By that time , one year is passed of my trying to make her understand that I was in love with her – nothing! I said, ok I tried my best, now I’m going around the world. So I went for six months, and I was so happy because I’m living by dancing, I’m travelling the world, and I started to learn English. She started to call me, and we became very close. Then when I went back to Italy she was waiting for me at the airport and from there we started to be together. That was my highlight, I had the love of my life.

So, how did Strictly come about?

Strictly wasn't on my radar because, for me, it was too far. I didn’t know anybody in the UK, I had never been to the UK before. Obviously I knew about the show; it was like something too big and unachievable. My wife and I did the world tour – Australia, Japan and then we came to London and on the last day the producers told me, we need to talk after the show. So I sit at the table, and they say listen we got two news: a good news, and a bad news. I say give me the bad news and they said I don’t think we’re going to work together again. Then he said do you want to know the good news? I said yes and he said Strictly asked me about you – I fell from the chair.

I remember your first season on Strictly and you were very much a type: the Sicilian. Now I’m talking to you and hearing your story, it’s like two different people… 

When you join a new TV show you know what they expect from you and that’s good. You know what the people want, and you give it. But, with experience and over time, I’m growing, I’m learning every day. It’s been five years and I think this is the turning point where I want to say my story; I’m not just a guy who needs to open his shirt and dance, I have a family and I know my values; that’s basically what I would like to say on stage. 

Graziano di Prima’s Believe: My Life on Stage will be at The Oxford Playhouse on Wednesday 27 March. For further information, tickets and the opportunity to book a meet and greet visit oxfordplayhouse.com

Image credit: Pamela Raith Photography

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