Strictly’s Motsi Mabuse insists she will judge sister Oti just as harshly as the other professionals after ‘favouritism’ row – The Sun

DEBATE was raging from the moment South African dance queen Motsi Mabuse was hired as the surprise replacement for Darcey Bussell on Strictly Come Dancing.

How could she fairly mark her pro dance sister Oti in her new role as a judge on the country’s most famous panel?

The uber-competitive rival pro dancers started moaning behind the scenes about the choice because they feared it could result in biased scores.

There was also anger that veteran hoofer Anton Du Beke had been overlooked yet again. But as soon as Motsi explains why she would never give her younger sibling an easy ride, it becomes abundantly clear this is a woman not interested in any of the usual showbiz games.

“One of the main points everywhere in my life is fairness,” she declares passionately.

“Coming from South Africa and being treated unfairly all your life because of your skin colour, that’s been a huge point.”

Yes, Motsi is a woman who has had to fight for where she’s got to, often against seemingly impossible barriers. So while the 38-year-old is fiercely proud of her equally successful sisters — including Phemelo, who runs a business in South Africa — she won’t let that get in the way of work.

Motsi explains, in her strong South African accent: “We have to speak about Oti doing her journey and if she gets to a point where she has a chance to win this and she feels I only want it because my sister is there, then it wouldn’t be such a big thing for her to celebrate. I wouldn’t want to take that away from her.

“I really need to be fair and she’ll get what everybody else is getting. We’re on different paths and it’s important. I don’t think anybody should be bigger than the show and it’s important that everybody is very professional.”

Besides, the pair have been in this exact position before when Motsi — full name Motshegetsi — judged Oti on Let’s Dance, the highly successful German version of Strictly, in 2015.

“We did go through it. The main point is that I’m not judging Oti. We’re never judging the pro dancers. They are brilliant, they are beautiful and they’ve done what they need to do to get there. But then again she’s used to me saying something about her dancing because I’ve taught her from the minute she could walk. I’ve always been by her side.”

This is Motsi’s first interview since getting one of the most coveted jobs in British TV completely out of the blue. While she is a household name in Germany, near anonymity here meant she was able to audition in secret for the show, which launches next Saturday.

She was offered the role without having sat alongside the remaining three judges and only told a handful of people, including Oti, 29, who she swore to secrecy.

On how she told her sister, she recalls: “It surprised us so I just gave her a call and I was like, ‘Do you know what happened?’ She was really excited. Family is very important to me so we always celebrate together.”


Comingfrom South Africa andbeing treated unfairly, one of themain points everywherein my life is fairness

With her new role on Strictly and the birth of a baby girl with second husband, Ukrainian dancer Evgenij Voznyuk, 35, in August last year, Motsi has had a lot to celebrate recently.

But that wasn’t the case in her younger days, while being brought up in the hell of South African apartheid in a township called Mabopane, close to the capital, Pretoria. She also suffered after the suicide of her beloved older half-brother, Neo, when he was just 18.

Reflecting on the tragedy, Motsi says: “You start to value life more. I always say to my friends and my family, ‘Let us live in a space that if we never see each other again we don’t have bad energy there’. It’s important to me. I celebrate life every day. I just wake up and say, ‘Thank God. I have a bed. I have my husband. I have my baby’.”

Motsi concedes that going on to success in the German ballroom dance world and eventual TV stardom makes for an “amazing” story.

“I had a minute on holiday where everything just settled down and the emotion came through,” she says.

“I was like, ‘Wow, Jesus, girl!’ The fight to dance and then make a career and then to somehow land in TV . . . I can just say it’s destiny, because I would never have thought, once I left South Africa, I would be sitting here talking to you. Being here, it’s just beautiful — and it’s my story.”

Motsi knew she wanted to dance even from when she was a little girl — but for a long time any type of real progression was impossible.

“You were just totally kept down in such a way that you’re made to feel that actually you don’t even exist, even if you see yourself in a mirror,” she recalls.

It was that experience of institutionalised racism in South Africa that gave her the strong and feisty character that is evident the moment we meet at the BBC’s Elstree Studios, where Motsi is surrounded by packets of Haribo sweets in the show’s modest production office.

She adds: “It makes you learn very quickly to love yourself. When you’re a child it’s not easy, but years later I realise it gave me the strength. Every time they say to you, ‘You can’t make it’, you just prove them wrong. I try to see the lightness of life, and that comes from having a hard time growing up.”

Motsi only vaguely knows the other Strictly judges, having met Craig Revel Horwood, 54, and Bruno Tonioli, 63, when she was Oti’s guest at a previous final. Head judge Shirley Ballas, 58, has marked her highly throughout her dancing career, meaning those hoping for a feud will be disappointed.

Motsi says: “I feel like it’s from above. There’s a reason why we should meet because we have a connection. Shirley’s been such a role model dancing-wise because she’s one of these strong, iconic women in that world. She was one of my best judges in my career and has been a real part of my dancing growth.”

Motsi has only heard of four of this year’s crop of celebrity hopefuls and will spend the weekends in London to film the show and travel back to Cologne, Germany, to continue working on the German Strictly.

It’s unlikely, therefore, that she will be pulled too far into the Strictly soap opera. I wonder how she feels about working with Anton Du Beke, 53, who was gutted to lose out on the judging job again.

“I think Anton is like a legend here in Strictly and everybody knows him and he’s such a great personality,” she says.

“There was a process of me being here and getting here, I didn’t make the choice, the choice was made and I think really Anton will always be an important part of Strictly. He’s a great guy.”

Refreshingly, Motsi has not taken the Strictly gig for fame. She doesn’t need that, given she’s a household name in Germany, who is spotted by every second person any time she steps out in her local shopping mall.

But she says: “In my normal life I don’t walk around with make-up. I’m just a mum at a dance school.”

Does she realise she is about to become one of the most famous people in the UK? She answers thoughtfully: “I’m glad with this situation that I have a bit of a time where I can just step out a little bit. It keeps you on track, because sometimes people can get addicted to this attention, so it’s good it gives me space.”

But she is also ready to bring her own unique brand of fierce fun and tough critique to the country’s most popular show.

She says: “It’s very important that I bring my kind of energy.  I’m really, really glad that Strictly decided to take something completely different and I just want to have fun. I’ve been watching from afar and now I’m in there.”

As if she can hardly believe it herself, she repeats with a quiet emphasis: “I’m in there!”

Curse? No, it's just life

AS someone who has wed two of her dance partners, Motsi is well placed to comment on the “Strictly curse” that has seen the show accused of breaking-up celebrities’ relationships.

But she believes this could happen in any job where you work closely together.

She says: “When people in all sections of life work so close, things happen – I mean, look at Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

“There are instances of musicians, they sing a song together, ‘Whoops!’ What’s happening with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga? It’s the amount of time you spend with a person where you work on a goal. So I don’t believe in a Strictly curse, I believe in life.”

She certainly talks from experience. Motsi married first dance partner, German Timo Kulczak, 42, in 2003 after they met at dancing’s British Open Championships in Blackpool.

They split a decade later and she went on to marry her next dance partner, Ukrainian Evgenij Voznyuk, 35, in 2017. The pair had a baby girl in August last year.

She credits dance for their relationship, saying: “He’s from Ukraine, I’m from Africa, and all that brought us to each other and now we have a beautiful girl, so we’re happy about that.”

But the show can have a negative effect on pro dancer couples too, as seen with the recent break-up of married dancers Katya, 30, and Neil Jones, 37.

The pair announced last month that they were splitting, ten months after she was caught snogging comedian Seann Walsh, 33, her celebrity dance partner, during last year’s series.

I ask Motsi whether Katya and Neil can still work together? She nods and explains: “It’s about professionalism and the best way is that everybody works towards a goal. They can make it.

It’s happened all the time in the dance world and you still have to keep going.”

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