He comes across on BBC Strictly Come Dancing as the Mr Nice Guy of Dance. But is Pasha Kovalev really as nice in person? Image editor Ruth Supple caught up with the 36-year-old, Siberian-born professional dancer prior to his new tour, It’s All About You, reaching Corby this month and Northampton in April to talk love with Countdown’s Rachel Riley, who he partnered in Strictly 2013, lifting the glitter ball trophy with Caroline Flack in 2015 and how it isn’t the winning that counts . . .
Q: Tell me about your new tour, It’s All About You.
Pasha: The tour starts this month and we have 74 shows across the UK, so it will be coming to a theatre near you! I am really looking forward to it. I was born to perform, love being on stage and the excitement of a live show is a wonderful feeling.
It’s All About You has a lovely storyline as you will discover when you come to see it. It’s about love - we’ve all been in love; every single person falls in love at some time in their life. If people love Strictly, they will love this show as it has a similar styles of dancing in it. We’re bringing a singer along for the first time in one of my tours and it’s feel-good entertainment for the entire family.
Q: BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing has had a number of high profile love stories come out of the show where dancers end up with the celebrities, including your own story of you and your now-girlfriend, Rachel Riley. What is it about dance which makes people fall in love?
Pasha: I think it’s the same thing about life when people fall in love. It’s only a small percentage of Strictly partnerships who end up together; it’s more high profile because the media pay attention to them. I think you never know when or where you are going to meet the person you fall in love with - it could be through dancing or at the bus stop!
Q: You’ve been in Strictly since 2011 and had great success with all your partners, reaching the finals twice and winning the glitter ball trophy in 2015 with Caroline Flack. When do you find out if you will be in Strictly 2016 and what do you think it is about your partnerships which makes it look like you get on with each one of them so well?
Pasha: We find out closer to springtime - usually the end of March or beginning of April - if we are going to be in that year’s Strictly. I would love to be asked back again because it’s a great show and I enjoy being in it. I really have only good things to say about the people I have been partnered with on the show and about the show, so I can see why it’s so popular all over the world.
It’s all about seeing the celebrities develop from not being able to dance at all at the beginning and it’s very glamorous and beautiful.
Q: Compared to some of the professional dancers on the show, you look like you are not as competitive but just enjoying being in Strictly. Are you really as nice in real life and did you genuinely get on with your celebrity partners?
Pasha: That’s nice of you to say I’m nice. Worrying is not my style in life or predicting what is going to happen. You have to deal with what’s in front of you. I have enjoyed dancing with every partner I’ve had in Strictly and creating the best possible dancer out of them, whether or not they reach the final; it’s the same story. It’s about improving and that’s the highlight for me.
Q: It must be very rewarding for you to see how much your celebrity partner improves throughout their Strictly journey...
Pasha: It’s definitely great to watch back and see where every celebrity started and how they’ve improved over the period of time they were in the show. It’s fantastic and I am pleased they have achieved that with my input because I love dancing. I don’t think there’s a reason to be negative in life and if you enjoy what you are doing and have, instead of what you want to have, then that’s the best way.
Q: Your last partner was BBC’s weather presenter, Carol Kirkwood, and you again looked like you had a great friendship...
Pasha: Carol is so down-to-earth and exactly what you see is what you get with her. She is always happy and thinking about about other people before herself. She is generous and hard working and, for me, it didn’t matter how far we got in the competition. It’s about the whole process. If you give up on anything in life that will show and Carol never ever gave up, and put hours and hours of hard work in, even when she has to be up so early every day for her job. I definitely know she danced her best dance on the last show she was in and that was a great achievement because it shows how much she improved all the way through.
Q: Strictly Come Dancing has made stars out of the professional dancers. How do you cope with being in the spotlight away from TV?
Pasha: It definitely puts you in the public eye. I don’t really think about myself as being a celebrity though some people may. I’ve kind of got used to people coming up and asking me for a photo or my autograph in the street now.
Q: You were partnered with Countdown’s Rachel Riley in Strictly Come Dancing 2013 and then ended up as a couple in real life. Are you still together and are there any plans for you to get married?
Pasha: Rachel and I are still good but no, there are no plans for our wedding at present.
Q: Do you still dance together?
Pasha: Yes, Rachel loves dancing and we go salsa dancing together sometimes. I don’t get enough time though but enjoy dancing with her when I can.
Q: When you are not dancing, do you have any hobbies?
Pasha: I don’t really have a big hobby like collecting stamps or playing golf, but I go skiing one time a year. The rest of the time I like to do normal things like most people - watching a movie, relaxing at home, playing computer games...
Q: Do you worry about getting an injury skiing which could potentially ruin your career as a dancer though?
Pasha: No. I think if you worry about something you won’t do things. I am a safe skiier so there is no need to worry, I’m not doing anything particularly crazy, and everyone needs their legs, not just dancers. You could be run over crossing the street.
Q: Is Strictly Come Dancing as big in Russia as it is over here?
Pasha: Ballroom dancing is still very big in Russia and they have openings to this kind of things in Russia. Historically and culturally, ballet is very big and gymnastics. I started dancing because my mum took me to a dance competition when I was seven. I saw about 18 beautiful girls dancing and I was hooked!
Q: What is your favourite dance and why?
Pasha: I am fond of Latin dancing because it is so energetic, powerful and dramatic. I love each dance though and how it each one has a different story and emotion behind it. When you put them all together they make sense for people and are all very special in a different way.
Q: Everyone on Strictly seems to talk about it being like being part of a big family. Do you think that is true and is it competitive between the couples?
Pasha: I have never been a competitive person in my relationship to other people; it’s about perfecting my own performance and making changes to make my body dance better. Competitions are subjective and the judges may be looking more at technique or the story behind a move. With Strictly, everyone starts in the same boat with their celebrity partner, who has never danced Ballroom and Latin.
I genuinely like watching how the other competitors do and everyone gives out tips and tricks to help encourage them to do the best they can. At the end of the day the show is about entertaining the people watching at home and keeping them happy.