Words by Alison James Pic © David Fisher, REX
Joanne Clifton and her big brother Kevin are unique. They are of course the only pair of siblings strutting their stuff on Saturday night TV, but here’s the really unusual thing – according to Joanne, they’ve never argued.
“We’ve honestly never had a row,” says Joanne, who was World Professional Ballroom Champion in 2013. “Not even when we were little. There’s only a year and 11 days between us, and we’ve always been very close.
“We’d stick up for each other when our parents told us off. I was always on Kevin’s side even when I knew he’d been naughty – and he was naughtier than me. He was a bit of a rebel whereas I was quite good because I’d learnt from his mistakes.
“I’ve always looked up to him and been inspired by him. He’s my big brother who’s always looked after me, looked out for me and I love him loads. All big brothers should be like Kevin – he makes me laugh more than anyone else and I can talk to him about anything.”
Kevin (32) and Joanne (31) started dancing together when he was just five and she was four.
“Our parents have always been involved in the dancing world – they’re former European Latin champions and run the Clifton’s Dance Academy in Grimsby – so it all seemed very natural to us,” Joanne goes on.
‘We’d stick up for each other when our parents told us off. I was always on Kevin’s side even when I knew he’d been naughty!’
“I remember our first competition very well – I was dressed like Alice in Wonderland while Kevin looked very smart in trousers, shirt and a bow tie. We competed for about ten years and won a number of national junior and juvenile titles together. I was the one who decided we should split. It felt weird doing romantic dances with my brother plus I wasn’t sure that I wanted to carry on dancing – I was into singing and music as well as dance, still am as a matter of fact. But then when I saw Kevin with a new partner I was a bit jealous and decided it was what I wanted to do after all.”
The dancing world is very competitive, so surely there must have been some sibling rivalry between them as they both competed with their respective partners?
“Not really,” Joanne replies. “I went in for Ballroom dancing, you see, whereas Kevin specialised in Latin. We weren’t competing against each other. Even if we had been, our mum and dad drummed the importance of family into us – that’s always mattered more than any dance competition.
“We’ve always been really supportive of each other. I remember filling up when I saw Kevin dance on stage for the first time after he’d stopped dancing competitively. He looked so happy and I found it very emotional.
“Then once when I was dancing in a competition in our home town of Grimsby, Kevin turned up as a surprise and he started crying during my waltz. I was so touched by that – I mean he’s a bloke and doesn’t cry easily.”
Naturally it’s Kevin that Joanne’s turned to for advice during this, her first series of Strictly.
“I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty when Thom Evans and Iveta Lukosiute were knocked out in week five – yet Scott Mills and I were still in,” she explains. “Kevin told me not to worry about that. He reminded me that Strictly’s not a straight dance competition; it relies on the public vote. He and his fiancée, Karen (Strictly pro Karen Hauer) have given me loads of encouragement, too.
“I can’t tell you how much I love being on the show. I knew it would be good but it’s surpassed everything I’d hoped for. Everyone is so nice – the pros, the celebs, the production team. The only thing I didn’t particularly enjoy were the results shows, while me and Scott were still in the running. When you hear that music, your stomach turns over and your legs give way. It’s worse than being judged in a professional competition.”
‘Our parents always drummed the importance of family into us – that’s always mattered more than dance competitions’
So what’s harder? Being in Strictly or competing professionally?
“The most challenging part of Strictly is taking an absolute beginner – like Scott – and teaching them enough in just four days to dance a proper waltz, Samba or whatever for a minute-and-a-half before an audience of millions.
“Taking this into consideration, I’m so proud of Scott, and so proud he and I made it through to week six of my very first Strictly. We’ve become very good friends.”
It’s Christmas in a few weeks, of course. Will all the Cliftons be celebrating together in Grimsby?
“I’ll be at home with mum and dad, but Kevin and Karen are going to New York to spend it with Karen’s parents as Karen doesn’t get to see her family very often,” Joanne replies. “Kevin and I see our parents every weekend when they come down for Strictly. They’re really proud of Kevin and me.”
We bet they are!
- Strictly Come Dancing is on BBC1 on Saturday and Sundays. The final will be on December 20.
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