AJ and Chloe - meet the Strictly stars from Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 February 2017
Photographs & copy; Copyright Ken McKay 2013
The last year has been a ‘whirlwind’ for the Cheshire couple who are the youngest ever professionals on Strictly Come Dancing, writes Paul Taylor.
A few short months ago, AJ Pritchard and Chloe Hewitt were just one of many couples dancing in the British Open Championships at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens.
By the end of the year, the Cheshire pair were household names, after AJ partnered Olympic gymnast Claudia Fragapane to fourth place in the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing, and Chloe established herself among the Strictly professional dancers, and as a pundit on Zoe Ball’s BBC Two Strictly spin-off It Takes Two.
And 2017 is off to a flying start as the couple join the cast of the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour, packing out the biggest arenas up and down the UK until the middle of February.
‘It’s been one fantastic whirlwind,’ says AJ. ‘It’s been crazy.’
Chloe adds: ‘It’s been the most surreal experience of my life. From being a little girl, dreaming of being on the show...I guess my dream has come true.’
Though, at 22 and 21, AJ and Chloe are the youngest ever professional dancers on Strictly, their partnership is already ten years old.
Chloe - who grew up in Nomansheath, near Malpas, with her mum Louise, a receptionist, and dad David, a farmer for the Duke of Westminster - began dancing lessons aged seven, and remembers watching the very first series of Strictly when she was eight.
‘As soon as I saw it, I was, like, I want to be on that show,’ she recalls.
Chloe took lessons at Pritchard’s Dance and Fitness in Burleydam, near the Shropshire border, run by AJ’s dad Adrian, a former world amateur dance champion, and mum Debi.
Meanwhile, AJ (it stands for Alex Joseph) wasn’t quite ready for dancing.
‘I used to be into quad-biking, snowboarding, anything extreme or dangerous to get the adrenaline going,’ says AJ. And dad was not exactly keen for AJ to follow in his dancing footsteps, knowing the relentless hard work and potential disappointments in store.
But when, at the relatively late age of 12, AJ did decide to take up dance, Chloe became his partner, and neither has looked back.
‘We work fantastically well together,’ says AJ. ‘We never used to bicker, though there may be the odd heated debate about a step.’
The pair danced their way to a string of big titles, including winning the British National Under 21 Latin Championship an unprecedented three years in a row. That meant lots of time away from school. Luckily both schools, Brine Leas School, Nantwich, in AJ’s case, and Bishop Heber High school, Malpas, for Chloe, were very understanding. But it also meant hard work, discipline and self-denial.
‘You have friends going to parties, and those are things we had to sacrifice,’ says Chloe. ‘Dancing always comes first. In the end, most of my friends gave up asking me.’
AJ adds: ‘We have sacrificed a lot, but it’s all worth it in the end. It was mutual. We both wanted the same things. We wanted to win. We wanted to be the best in the world.
Both are single, and despite being inseparable for ten years, they have not allowed their dance partnership to blossom into romance.
‘It’s always been so clear and precise what we’ve wanted to do,’ explains AJ. ‘We’ve had a goal together, and that is what has been key.’
The couple were talent-spotted to take part in Britain’s Got Talent in 2013, reaching the semi-final stages.
‘Simon Cowell was so nice to us, and the whole show was great,’ says AJ. ‘It was a big eye-opener seeing the other side of TV.’
Then in May last year, Strictly producer Louise Rainbow saw AJ and Chloe competing in Blackpool.
‘She didn’t know who we were or what our background was, she just said “I want them”,’ says AJ. ‘Obviously we leapt at the chance.’
They say they were welcomed into the Strictly fold by the more established professional dancers.
‘Kevin (Clifton), Anton (du Beke) and Brendan (Cole) said that when new blood comes in, it gives them even more adrenaline and more reason to do that extra spin on a turn,’ says AJ. ‘It keeps everybody on their toes.’
As for AJ’s celebrity partner Claudia, he says: ‘She was so nice and easy to work with. Because she is an Olympian she could keep going all day long. We trained ten to 12 hours a day.’
Chloe says: ‘I loved Ore (Oduba, BBC sports presenter and series champion) from day one. I knew he was going to be a bit the underdog, but when he came out with that jive, everyone realised he was possibly going to be in the final, even win it.
‘Ed (Balls) is lovely. He brought a lovely vibe into the group and made sure everybody was together. He was like the dad of the family.’
As for singer Will Young, who quit in week three of the contest, Chloe says: ‘It was a big shock that went through the team. But, as we said at the time, he has to do what’s best for him at what was maybe a difficult time for him.’