Gorka Marquez addresses his reaction to losing Strictly
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It has not started very smoothly… “I cannot be looking at the screen,” insists Strictly Come Dancing’s Gorka Marquez. “But I can’t see you,” I protest. “No, we didn’t plan on visuals today,” one of Gorka’s several representatives, who I cannot see either, interjects.
We are trying to accomplish that modish phenomenon… the Zoom interview.
But with Gorka – like Bono, a one-name star – invisible and the signal coming and going, it is not going terribly well.
I had been warned interviewing Gorka could be “tricky”.
His ever-present reps had already laid down the rules: “Gorka has requested questions to be submitted in advance for approval. In addition, there are specific topics he will not cover.”
Oh? “Anything about his relationship with Gemma – he will not discuss or focus content on this.”
And? “Any gossip about the personal lives of any of his Strictly partners.”
I explained I never write questions in advance. That what I was after was a chat. Hmm. Could I send some sort of outline?
“Gemma” is Gemma Atkinson, the 38-year-old former star of Hollyoaks, Casualty and Emmerdale.
She has been Gorka’s partner since they met on Strictly in 2017, when she was one of the celebrity dancers.
Currently the drive time host of Hits Radio Network, Gemma is a regular on Loose Women. She is a social media queen, and almost all of it involves Gorka, who is six years younger.
But he does not want to go there.
Instead, I ask about that moment when he and his celebrity partner, TV presenter Helen Skelton, realised they had lost in the final of Strictly 2022, and his face fell not into a frown so much as a fury.
Many Strictly fans were shocked. Their steamy Mein Herr from Cabaret was considered by far the best. But they lost to 28-year-old Polish pro Jowita Przystal and her star pupil, the 32-year-old wildlife presenter Hamza Ahmed Yassin.
There was the inevitable Twitterstorm, with rumours of Gorka storming off, never to return. “I was upset in that moment obviously,” he says, “because you want to win it, and you have a celebrity who is improving so much and been through a beautiful journey.”
It was the second time Gorka had reached the final, he reminds me.
His shocked reaction on the night, he insists, images of which instantly went viral, “only shows that I love and care about the show. I think it would’ve been worse if I was laughing and enjoying not winning the show”.
When Gorka appeared to drop out of January’s Strictly Live tour, it only fanned the flames. “I didn’t drop out of the show,” he insists. “I never said I was going to do it in first place.”
Life he explains “is about finding the right balance between work and family. I want to spend time with my family, time with Gemma, time with Mia, because that’s very important to me”.
Mia is Gorka and Gemma’s three-year-old daughter. They announced their engagement on Valentine’s Day 2021. A wedding date has yet to be announced.
Gemma discusses his long absences on Instagram, where she has 1.8 million followers.
Just the day before talking to Gorka, she announced she was pregnant with their second child. A boy this time.
“Yes,” he says. I can’t see his face, but he sounds like he’s smiling. “Little mini Gorka.”
Does it make any difference to you that it’s a boy this time? “No, I’m just grateful to be able to have another baby and give Mia a sibling.”
Gorka reunites with fellow Strictly star Karen Hauer when their 19-date Firedance tour begins on February 23.
Hauer is a 40-year-old Venezuelan-American Latin dance maven and world mambo champion, and the longest-serving professional on Strictly.
They toured their first Firedance show in 2019, then came back in 2021 with a better version of the same show.
This latest touring Firedance promises to be the most spectacular yet. Karen joins us on Zoom to explain.
“Well, it’s lovely to be bringing the show back for the third year,” she says.
They had “such a lovely reaction from the audiences” last time, that bringing it back this year seemed a no-brainer.
“Reinventing it, reigniting it with new music, new choreography. If people saw it last year, they’ll see a completely different show this year, with some of our favourite moments still. I am just really, really excited to get going and get on the road.”
Is it a relief, after Strictly, for them to be back dancing with a fellow professional?
“There is a right time and a right place,” says Gorka. “When we do our show, it’s the time for us to do what we love to do, what we’ve been trained for and to showcase our capabilities and abilities to go and perform in front of the audience. On Strictly, we kind of step back and we take different roles.
“We are more just the coaches who are guiding and teaching someone to dance and taking care of them in their journey – they’re the ones who get the spotlight.
“Both of them are enjoyable, equally, but it’s great to be able to perform with Karen and showcase what we are capable of and what we love to do.”
They first met on Strictly when Gorka joined the line-up in 2016. There was a connection between the fiery Latin pair. So do they speak Spanish to each other? “Yeah, that’s how we talk,” chuckles Karen.
“No, we don’t like each other,” jokes Gorka. “We dance together because we have to, not because we want to.”
Karen laughs: “This is why it works, the fact that we actually get along really well professionally and outside of our careers as well. In this industry it’s really hard to find people that you click with, that you respect, and share the same passions.
“It’s just quite nice to have a show that embodies our friendship and how much fun we like to have, and also how passionate we are about our careers.”
There had been some online natter about Karen, how this year’s season of Strictly might be her last.
“Really?” she says, surprised. “I don’t know where these people are getting this information, but no, I’m not ready to go anywhere. And if I do go anywhere, I want to be on that judging panel.
“But there is no part of me that will ever, ever hang up my shoes.
“Unless they actually kick me out of Strictly, pull me out by my legs, there is no part of me ready to go at the moment. It was my 11th series that just went by, and I’m happily married to Strictly.
“She divorced the husband but married Strictly,” says Gorka referencing Karen’s three husbands.
Taking his cue, Karen quips, “I think Strictly’s my longest relationship ever.”
At this point the Zoom call without the pictures descends into a bad-signal muddle. Gorka vanishes, then comes back.
“Hello?” he says. “Can you hear me? Hello?” Can you hear me, I ask?
“Hello?” Gorka repeats. “Can you hear me now?” The PR comes back online.
“Can you hear us, Gorka?” Silence. So as I say my goodbyes.
It is a shame I could not see his face, but Gorka was not that tricky after all. Maybe next time I will suggest we meet in person and leave the laptops at home though…
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