Strictly Come Dancing star and former Royal Marine JJ Chalmers says he is enjoying combining his military work ethic to learn how to dance and is embracing the glamorous side of life.
He credits his professional dance partner Amy Dowden and the way she trains him for building up his confidence on the dance floor. He knows that by the time they are in the wings with minutes to go until they perform, one more practice is not going to change anything. He said:
"You’ve either got it or you don't by that point and so actually I come in going all I need to do and all I can do is deliver the performance we’ve been doing in the training room.
“What we used to say was train hard, fight easy so it’s train hard, dance easy.”
When asked by BFBS Radio broadcasters Verity Geere and Richard Hatch about the infamous tan that goes hand in hand with appearing on Strictly, the veteran, who was injured by an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2011 and left with serious injuries, said:
“In fairness to the fake tan, all that time I spent in Afghanistan trying to top up my tan, facing the dangers of sunbathing.
“Why didn’t I know about fake tanning in the first place?”
The glamorous world of the BBC’s flagship show Strictly Come Dancing is a world away from the heat and dust of Afghanistan, but JJ is not letting that phase him. The rehearsing is, however, taking a toll on his energy levels. He said:
“My body is being worked in ways it’s never been worked before. I still maintain a good level of fitness but it’s muscles and posture and position – this ain’t marching, you know what I mean, you are everywhere.
“Having said that, the thing that aches the most … is your brain.
“I back my resilience and my ability to deal with situations but the huge overload of information at the beginning of the week, the steps, the new style, the posture. I need to come home at the end of the day and soak my brain in the bath just as much as my body.”
The Duke of Sussex made a surprise appearance in week four of Strictly Come Dancing to tell JJ how proud he is of him.
The former Royal Marine met the Duke when he competed in the Invictus Games, which Prince Harry founded.
JJ and Amy received the video call while they were training. Harry said:
“When I first met JJ, he was a shell of himself, but then to see you shine through Invictus and to feel like yourself again, that was a start of an amazing journey.”
He said he is “genuinely proud” of Mr Chalmers, adding:
“You are not a dancer – proving that you can actually do anything that you can put your mind to, which is amazing.”
When discussing Mr Chalmers’ training outfit, Harry also told him he was “definitely having an impact on society, especially when [he is] wearing those tight blue shorts”.
One thing JJ always has to fall back on is his military training and his experiences from life as a Royal Marine. For some of his fellow contestants, appearing on Strictly and performing live every week will put them in high-stress situations they have never experienced before. The situation is slightly different for JJ. He said:
“Stamina helps but really it’s that ability to dig deep within yourself and know what the stakes are.
“Obviously, the stakes of being a Royal Marine are slightly more severe but the whole process of you go home on Monday if you don’t pull it off at the weekend.
“The stakes are high if you want to stay in this process, get better and keep enjoying it.”
His strong relationship with Amy, has meant that the Invictus Games gold medallist does not feel nervous before going on stage. He said:
“It has been quite strange actually. My heart rate has barely changed going into the live shows.”
JJ describes the way his partner choreographs the dance routines as "a beautiful bit of storytelling and that he has learned so much about dance from her. He said:
“The other thing obviously she’s having to do is choreograph around my disability, around what I struggle with but actually ... it's about finding what I’m good at and just hammering into that.
“Turns out there are a few things I’m not that bad at.”
VIDEO: Inspired by his military career, JJ and Amy jive to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, originally performed by The Andrews Sisters in 1941
The People's Strictly
In 2014, former Royal Marine amputee turned actor Cassidy Little proved that you can be perceived as a tough guy and dance beautifully. He went on to win ‘The People’s Strictly For Comic Relief’, the first non-celebrity version of the show.
In fact, it was Cassidy who taught JJ how to dance while they were both in Afghanistan so that JJ could impress his now-wife during their first dance on their wedding day.
Military life and graceful dancing might seem like trying to mix oil and water, but JJ seemingly does it with ease. When it comes to support, the veteran turned celebrity says it’s like “two ends of the spectrum”. He said:
“Everybody thinks it’s hilarious, particularly all the guys I served with in the corps. Of course, it is, I mean, this is ridiculous.
“Not just in the sense that somehow Lance Corporal Chalmers has managed to go from Afghanistan to a ballroom but all the make-up, all of the stuff that now seems normal, is all very funny.”
However, after seeing him perform every Saturday, his family, friends and the people he served with are incredibly proud. He said:
“I’m here to do the best job I can and go on my own journey but I’m very aware, particularly from the veteran community, that you are an example of just what military service can do for an individual.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the opportunities and the mindset that has developed within me. I think this epitomizes what the armed forces can do for an individual.”
The armed forces community are backing him which JJ says is half the battle when it comes to Strictly. He said:
“The dance is only half of it. You really do need to have people behind you and I’m so grateful and I get so many incredible messages from whether it’s military charities or organisations and even just the lads in the regiment and what not around the place.
“A lot of them going 'I’ve never watched Strictly before but I love it'.”