As the nation anticipates the final of Strictly Come Dancing, the Gusher speaks to local man Ben Cohen about his experience taking part in the show as well as his personal inspiration for taking part - his own charity.
How were you first approached to do Strictly and was it something you had thought about doing? “I was approached out of the blue. I initially said ‘no’ but then realised the exposure it would give the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation and changed my mind.”
What was your dance experience like before the show? “Nil”
How did you find the training compared to training for rugby? “I had a high work ethic when playing rugby, which is a transferable skill, and I called on this when training for the dances.”
How was it performing on a Saturday night knowing millions were watching? “Nerve-wracking”
The judges were quite critical of some of your dancing, was this disappointing after the efforts that had gone into the rehearsal? “You always want to be rewarded for your efforts, but I was okay with the criticism as it was constructive and made me a better dancer.”
Did you have a favourite dance/moment working on Strictly? “The whole experience was amazing. It took me out of my comfort zone and I learned more about myself, which is brilliant. Also, I think Kristina and I got five or six standing ovations and nothing beats that feeling.”
What will you take away most from the show?
“Learning to shed my inhibitions and do something completely out of my comfort zone.”
Who do you think will win the show? “Susanna Reid”
Do you think the exposure you have had will help with the Stand Up Foundation charity? “Yes, I hope so. It was good to let people know what I have been working on post-rugby and it has also increased the number of people who are aware now about the long-term negative effects of bullying, which was my aim all along.”
What’s the importance of setting up this charity and the work it does? “The idea grew very organically and started with the death of my father, who was beaten up while protecting someone who was being bullied. I was then hearing so many sad stories about people of all ages being bullied for being what was perceived as ‘different’. On leaving rugby, I decided to use my notoriety for something good, and set up the foundation with help from some very supportive individuals in both the US and the UK. We now work hard to raise funds to support organisations that do real ‘on the ground’ work to tackle bullying. We do this through selling our StandUp merchandise, making appearances and working in collaboration with other like-minded organisations.”
What are the charity’s plans for 2014? “We need to expand the StandUp brand so that everyone knows about us and are buying our merchandise so that we have the funds available to give grants to all the worthy organisations that come to our door asking for help.”
To find out more about Ben’s Stand Up Foundation charity, including details on how to get help, support it or make a donation, visit www.standupfoundation.com