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Strictly winner Ellie Leach reveals the truth about her relationship with Bobby Brazier as she launches her West End career


Ellie Leach remembers what her proud mum said during Strictly Come Dancing and her eyes begin to fill with tears.

‘Yeah, she’s right. I think it’s wonderful,’ says the ex-Coronation Street star who became the youngest-ever winner of the Strictly glitterball last year. ‘I fell in love with dancing and the whole experience changed me completely. I saw myself change and I thought, “Actually, I quite like this version of myself.”’

She’s still coming to terms with her new-found fame, the day’s headlines are full of rumours of a romance with her fellow finalist Bobby Brazier, and Ellie has arrived early to rehearse a new play that is possibly her biggest challenge yet, but it is the memory of her mother’s words that prick her tears today. 

Karen Leach travelled down to Elstree from their home in Audenshaw near Manchester to support her daughter every weekend, and with the series coming to an end, spoke lovingly of the transformation she was seeing in her girl: ‘She’s maybe just falling in love with herself.’

We’ve heard talk like this from Strictly winners and their families before, but in the case of this previously shy, self-effacing 22-year-old it absolutely rings true. A year ago she was facing the end of her time on Coronation Street with no other job to go to. ‘That was scary.’

Ellie and Bobby made their first public appearance together at the Hadestown play press night at the Lyric Theatre in London on Wednesday evening

Ellie and Bobby made their first public appearance together at the Hadestown play press night at the Lyric Theatre in London on Wednesday evening 

Former Coronation Street star Ellie Leach, 22, from Manchester, was the winner of last year's Strictly Come Dancing with professional partner Vito Coppola

Former Coronation Street star Ellie Leach, 22, from Manchester, was the winner of last year’s Strictly Come Dancing with professional partner Vito Coppola

Ellie also ended her five-year relationship with the dancer Reagan Pettman. Then came Strictly and an intense pairing with professional partner Vito Coppola, of which more in a moment.

Millions of us watched as she grew in strength and courage, overcoming injuries and errors on the way. A sizzling paso doble in week five was the visible turning point in a Strictly journey that led to a young woman with no dance training scoring a perfect 40 in the final.

‘All I wanted to do was have the best time, learn something new and make my family and myself proud. I achieved what I set out to achieve.’

Her father Al was watching too, with her younger sister Daisy. ‘Strictly’s changed my life,’ she says. There is dramatic evidence to prove it, as Ellie is about to take on a challenge she wouldn’t have thought possible before: a lead role in a hit play, as femme fatale Miss Scarlett in the fast, fun and funny murder mystery Cluedo 2, which is remarkable for someone who’s never acted on stage before. 

‘I’ve never done anything like this. Nothing. This is my stage debut.’

Yes, she did join Coronation Street as a child actor aged nine and played the troubled Faye Windass until last year, but that left no time for the theatre. 

And while this play is based on the classic board game, which is 75 years old this year, it’s also a sequel to the hit show Cluedo and was written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the BAFTA-winning duo behind Birds Of A Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart.

The show’s director Mark Bell is best known for The Play That Goes Wrong, so this is another huge challenge. ‘I feel how much I’ve grown and I think people can see that. My body’s changed, that’s obvious,’ she says, having lost pounds and grown fitter, leaner and stronger thanks to the hours and hours of training. She looks like a dancer now. 

‘But the most important thing is that Strictly’s changed the way I look at things. Before this I was scared to say yes to offers, because I’d worry, “What if it doesn’t work out?” 

‘Even a year ago, if you’d said to me, “When you finish Coronation Street you’re going to do Strictly and then be offered to do a play in the theatre,” I’d have said, “What? No! Absolutely not!” But I’m doing it. That’s because I’ve opened my eyes and thought, “Well, what is there to be scared of?”’

She didn’t have much time to think about it, in fact: Miss Scarlett was originally going to be played by another ex-Corrie actress, Helen Flanagan, but she had to withdraw for health reasons. 

Ellie's next challenge will see her make her stage acting debut as Miss Scarlett in the play Cluedo 2 directed by Mark Bell, best known for The Play That Goes Wrong

Ellie’s next challenge will see her make her stage acting debut as Miss Scarlett in the play Cluedo 2 directed by Mark Bell, best known for The Play That Goes Wrong

Speculation about Ellie and Bobby began in early January when insiders reported they had become close performing Strictly Come Dancing Live! (pictured with Robbie Kmetoni and Kai Widdrington)

Speculation about Ellie and Bobby began in early January when insiders reported they had become close performing Strictly Come Dancing Live! (pictured with Robbie Kmetoni and Kai Widdrington)

Ellie was asked to step in and started preparing even while she was still on the road with Strictly, which she says helped her deal with what was happening. ‘I was learning my lines so I didn’t focus too much on the fact the tour was ending. It was very emotional.’

Has she been able to catch her breath since winning Strictly? ‘Ha! No, I’ve not had a chance to relax yet, but the adrenaline just pushes me. I’m excited to do something new and be in a new environment, and when you feel like that you don’t want to stop.’

Is she nervous? ‘I am! Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is very scary. But I’ve learned that if you don’t push yourself you won’t grow.’

The chemistry between her and Vito on Strictly was extraordinary, prompting speculation they were lovers, but she insists they’re the best of friends. ‘We’ve built an amazing bond and friendship that’ll last forever.’ 

We hear people talk like this on Strictly all the time, so how real is that? ‘Oh, 100 per cent. We got matching tattoos.’ They both have an unusual symbol on their arms: a cross between a bee and an aubergine with the word ‘resilience’. 

It’s a reference to the insect’s toughness and their Strictly backstage nickname as the ‘aubergine team’ (because of Vito’s love of the food).

‘We’re not getting rid of each other. But I’m moving on. I’m doing Cluedo and he’s so happy and proud of me.

‘This is a new chapter. We’ve had such an amazing experience together, doing Strictly and dancing every single day, now I’m excited to always update him on Cluedo rehearsals.’

Then there’s Bobby Brazier, the EastEnders actor who also made the final and told a red-carpet reporter the night before our chat, ‘Ellie is a sweetheart, look at her… she’s beautiful, she’s amazing, she’s good at what she does. She’s a good dancer. She’s a lovely, lovely friend of mine.’ 

Asked whether they could be more than friends, he said, ‘I don’t know. You’ll have to see what she says.’

The chemistry between Ellie and Vito (pictured) on Strictly was extraordinary, prompting speculation they were lovers, but she insists they¿re the best of friends

The chemistry between Ellie and Vito (pictured) on Strictly was extraordinary, prompting speculation they were lovers, but she insists they’re the best of friends

The pair lifting the Strictly glitterball trophy after being announced as winners

The pair lifting the Strictly glitterball trophy after being announced as winners

So, what does Ellie have to say about this? ‘I mean, people have their questions. We’re in the media. I’ve been on tour and there have been cameras everywhere,’ she answers carefully. 

That’s true. There were photos of the couple looking close during the tour and even one of Bobby holding her mother’s hand, which suggests he’s getting to know her close-knit family very well indeed. 

A fellow guest at the Malmaison in Birmingham even reported seeing Bobby knocking on her hotel door in his underpants the morning after a late-night tour party. 

Despite all this – and Bobby’s apparent readiness to declare himself – Ellie prefers to play things down. ‘We were all on tour together. We all spent time together, which was lovely. You’re exposed to people following you around, which is a bit strange. 

‘But I think, “Just take it with a pinch of salt.”’ A pinch of salt? That’s not exactly romantic. So we can take it they’re not about to announce their engagement? ‘No.’

She gives a little laugh, a down-to-earth Mancunian lass keeping her head in the eye of the storm, well aware of how odd it all feels. This time last year her 12-year job on Corrie was ending, along with a long-standing relationship, but then Strictly came along and saved her.

‘For it to come so soon was a shock. I couldn’t believe it. I suffer from impostor syndrome and I thought, “Really? Do you really want me?” But I’m so grateful that I had that experience.’

Now everything about her is the focus of interest on social media. ‘It’s strange, people do feel like they know you. It’s difficult, because being in the public eye we have to open ourselves up to people having opinions on us, our personality, the way we work. Looks is a big thing.’

This has been happening all her life, although it has intensified recently. ‘I’ve always been able to manage it because my family is so supportive. When I was younger my mum always kept me away from people who weren’t so nice. But I always had people who supported me and sent lots of love and kindness.’

Most of the comments she gets may be lovely but some are foul. ‘If there are a thousand positive comments and one negative one, you always focus on the negative. People always say you should try to ignore it, but sometimes you can’t.’

What would she say to those trolls if she met them in person? ‘“Don’t say something you wouldn’t like someone to say to your daughter or your sister or whoever. Be kind and think before you speak, because you might think it doesn’t affect people when it really does.” 

‘I think social media is quite toxic and quite negative in some cases. But I’m grateful that people do also use it to show their support and send kindness and spread love.’

She’s had to grow up in other ways too over the last year, including learning to live away from home. ‘My parents keep telling me how much they miss me but they’re also proud.’

Didn’t Karen once claim she did everything for her? Ellie laughs. ‘That’s true too. When I go home after this play she’s going to say, “What, you do your own washing, ironing and cooking now?” I’ll probably let her do some stuff for me for a while!’

It was Karen who sent Ellie to drama classes at a young age to help increase her confidence. ‘I used to be very nervous and shy, and wouldn’t really speak to people, I was like my mum’s shadow. I’m still a little bit nervous and shy, but Mum putting me into acting when I was four or five has probably helped me a lot.’

The cast of her new play includes all the old favourite suspects such as Professor Plum and Mrs Peacock. ‘It’s very funny,’ says Ellie with a smile. ‘It’s a murder mystery set in the 1960s. The way the characters intertwine is very interesting. When I read the script I thought, “This is going to be a lot of fun.”’

Like the original play – in which her character was brought to life by Michelle Collins – Cluedo 2 is a whodunnit that keeps people guessing right to the end. 

‘It is like a game, so as things happen the audience will be saying, “Ooh, I wonder who did that?” They can really immerse themselves in the story.’ 

It takes a lot of hard work to make a show like that look easy. ‘There’s a lot of technical stuff to think about and I’ve been getting a bit stressed about not knowing what to do, but the team has guided me.’ 

On the other hand, this is a young woman who learned a spectacular and challenging new dance every week for three months on Strictly and was watched by millions as she did it, through ups and downs, injuries and elations, until we learned to love her and, as her mother says, she even learned to love and believe in herself.

‘Maybe now I realise I’m a fast learner!’

  • Cluedo 2 tours the UK from Thursday until 27 July. Visit cluedo stageplay.com for tickets and venues.



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