THERE’S no denying that 2019 was a belter of a year for Oti Mabuse. A dance captain on the BBCs The Greatest Dancer with an act finishing in first place, choreographing jazz-age musical Aint Misbehavin, guest hosting The One Show, starring on Celebrity Gogglebox, then emerging victorious on Strictly Come Dancing with Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher (and his famously filthy hips)
And nobody, absolutely no one, is more agog about this meteoric success than Oti herself.
Oti won the 2019 series of Strictly Come Dancing with Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher
This is not a joke. I still pinch myself as to what happened last year, says the South African dance pro.
The whole time was like she widens her eyes behind her wide-rimmed specs What?! Honestly. It was a blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed year.
So whats on the agenda for this year?
Its 2020. New year, new goals! says Oti full name Otlile clapping her hands. She is, its obvious, a woman with unapologetic drive. I love being ambitious, Im very goal-orientated. Theres a difference between competitive and ambitious. I dont care for competition. I love rising to challenges. [It] makes you think smarter and faster.
Oti admits she even contemplated going under the knife to shrink her natural 28GG breasts
Theres plenty to keep the 29-year-old busy, not least the new series of The Greatest Dancer. Oti hails her colleagues fellow dance captains Cheryl, former Glee star Matthew Morrison and new recruit choreographer Todrick Hall, plus hosts Alesha Dixon and Jordan Banjo as great dancers. Theyre also friends.
Yep, even Cheryl, who was last year reportedly clashing with Oti during filming.
What other people say about things they dont know about, thats not something that we can control, says Oti, playing down any fuss by describing Chezzas attendance at the Strictly final as a lovely surprise.
We get on and were really good friends, she adds. Shes cool and shes been in the business so long, shes obviously doing something right. Theres something to learn and respect from that.
The champion is set to star on the new series of The Greatest Dancer
When Oti joined The Greatest Dancer last year the prospect of breaking free from her Strictly family and appearing on television doing anything other than dancing petrified her.
Ive come from being a dancer and now all of a sudden they ask me to have an opinion on other dancers. Thats like scary! I was scared of what would come out of my mouth. The pros call it: Doing the Oti, when you say something, realise what youve said and are like: Oh no! Thats not what I mean!
When her Strictly journey started in 2015, the eight-time Latin dance champion had insecurities over the curves that have since made her #bodyinspo. Before she realised the Strictly wardrobe was all made-to-measure, she panicked that nothing would fit.
I did look completely different in terms of my chest, my stomach, my bum and my hips, explains Oti, who was reduced to tears during her first Strictly fitting because of her natural 28GG chest, which she has previously admitted is a very, very rare size in the dance world. Oti admits she even contemplated going under the knife to shrink her assets.
The eight-time Latin dance champion once had insecurities over the curves that have since made her #bodyinspo
I did once think about a reduction because big boobs or even wearing the wrong bra would cause me back ache, neck strains and lower back problems, she explains and although she eventually decided against surgery because she doesnt like pain and couldnt fathom taking six weeks off work to recover, Oti supports anyone who chooses to cosmetically alter their natural looks.
If you do it and it makes you feel good, theres nothing wrong. Ive spoken to a lot of women who have had breast augmentations and it makes them genuinely feel good. We all should have that right and be entitled to do things that make us feel good, she says.
Theres no doubt that Oti has found peace with her physical self. Her Strictly routines scream self-assurance and body confidence, which undoubtedly contributed to her sizzling chemistry with Kelvin, the last-minute replacement for Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing who quit due to an injury shortly after training began.
After the couples saucy rumba to Aint No Sunshine by Bill Withers, Craig Revel Horwood described it as filth, while his fellow judge Motsi Otis older sister who replaced Darcey Bussell commented: Hold on Kelvin, thats my sister, stop it!
Inevitably, some viewers took to social media to speculate that the couple were teetering into Strictly Curse territory, but today happily married Oti laughs off any suggestion that her relationship with 35-year-old Kelvin, husband of actress Liz Marsland, was anything more than platonic.
Theres nothing there. Were acting and were doing it through dance and if people want to assume what they want to assume, then thats on them, she says. The way we think of it as dancers is that its technically two bodies that are trying to move as one. Thats how I work and thats how I choreograph, and my celebs understand it. This is the job. We want to win!
Fortunately for Oti, her Romanian-German Latin and ballroom dancer husband of six years Marius Lepure, 37, gets this more than most. She says during her most gruelling periods of work, when she goes tunnel-visioned professionally, he is her ultimate supporter, both emotionally and physically.
If Im tired, hell be like: Let me give you a foot rub. He says: Let me help you so you can actually go to work and because hes a dancer, he fully understands what a rumba is he told me that you have to make it look like a rumba otherwise youre just two friends on the floor and whats the point?
The couple married in Denmark in 2014 when Oti was 23, shortly after getting engaged and she insists committing to marriage at such a young age was a no-brainer.
He was, and we still are, each others everything, she smiles. Youre in a new country, and its just the two of us so it will always feel like its just the two of us against the world. And he proposed, so I [couldnt] really say no!
How has Marius, who has been a backing dancer on Strictly and now judges global dance competitions, handled his wifes rise from ballroom dancer to household name?
Hes loved it. I do feel like Marius married a woman whos identical to his mum. That sounds weird, but he loves strong, ambitious women who know what they want and go for it and because he grew up with that, it was automatically an attractive trait to him.
Oti, who grew up in the township of Mabopane, close to the South African capital of Pretoria, took up ballroom and Latin at the age of four, following in the footsteps of Motsi, 38, and their middle sister Phemelo Mitchell, 37, who also dances.
Their dad Peter, 69, is a driven like no-one else magistrate and their 65-year-old mum Dudu, a kindergarten teacher, bolstered her teacher wages with earnings from part-time jobs to afford to send her dance-obsessed daughters to competitions.
Dancing is a very expensive sport and Mum was selling flowers on street corners, says Oti. There was a time she was selling Tupperware and she even learned to make dance dresses so she didnt need to pay other people. She really taught me and my sisters to fight for what you want and that if you work hard, youll achieve your goals.
Although Dudu paid for Motsi to relocate to Germany, where ballroom and Latin dancers earn a salary for competing for a club or province, Otis highly academic parents curtailed her dreams of enrolling at musical theatre, insisting she study for a degree in medicine, accountancy or engineering while continuing dance as a hobby.
Oti dutifully plumped for civil engineering because it was more challenging (gulp!), and during the final weeks of her four-year course, when the hours of study became too much, she was forced to drop dance. The pain she felt was indescribable.
It didnt feel natural, it didnt make sense, sighs Oti. I was like: How can I stop? Ive been doing it my whole life, its what I know. I went home and told Mum: I dont think I can live like this.
Thankfully, Otis parents agreed for her to follow Motsi to Germany on the condition she return to South Africa to complete her degree after sourcing a dance partner, which she did after meeting Marius, who agreed to wait. Seven years on, the couple are still exercising patience because although theyre keen to start a family, now isnt the right time.
One day well probably wake up and be like: Its time! says Oti. At some point Ill want to give my nieces a few cousins, but its just not necessary at the moment. I was a baby for the past five years in this country and now Im learning how to walk on my own. For now, Im seeing how far I can take my career.
And who can blame her when you consider the financial perks of being one of the most independently successful dance pros in Strictly history? Last year, Oti splashed out on a new home in London, but confesses its a struggle to get her head around now being able to afford the finer things in life.
I went into a shop and thought: Im going to treat myself and I bought a pair of shoes, she says, looking sheepish. When her agent, who is quietly observing the interview, whispers the brand name (Christian Louboutin, FYI), Oti buries her face in her hands.
I felt so guilty I was like: This is not right! Oti, come on you can spoil yourself! But I was thinking I could have bought lots of pairs of 30 shoes with that money. My dad always says: Just be humble and always remember where you come from.
Oti, who after The Greatest Dancer ends is heading to South Africa for a few weeks to film a BBC documentary about her homeland, says the most notable change to her life is the responsibility that comes with being in the limelight.
So now I have to consider, whatever I do, theres going to be a little girl somewhere watching and will feel some type of way. Theres a responsibility that comes with being on TV. Im not just important to my nieces and nephew, Im important to kids I dont know. You just have to be you really, really be you.
In recent times, Strictly has been accused of racism after the elimination of black contestants early in the show. In 2019, BBC Radio 1 DJ Dev Griffin was voted off first, a week after scoring a clean sweep of nines. When asked about the race row, Oti holds up a palm.
I won though, she says, nodding towards the skin on her hand. So thats obviously not true. My hope, honestly, is for people to not be concerned with what you look like but how you deliver what you do and how you make people feel. The fact that I am black is irrelevant to my job. Im not here because of what I look like, Im here because Im a dancer and Im talented.
She is also enthusiastic, upbeat and so glass-half-full, her positivity is practically spilling over the floor at the north London pub were sitting in.
She has the word believe tattooed on the inside of her right wrist. On her left, another delicate inking reads: Strength through perseverance, a statement Otis family understand only too well.
When Oti was a baby, her older half-brother Neo born to Dudu when she was just a teenager, before meeting Peter took his own life at the age of 18. It happened shortly after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and South Africas racial tensions began to calm.
I dont [talk about it] out of respect for my whole family and my mum and just to keep that private, says Oti, shutting down when asked about the family tragedy. The fact Motsi, the former judge of Lets Dance, Germanys version of Strictly, wrote about it in her book Chili In The Blood: My Dance Through Life, which was published in Germany, matters not.
Sister, says Oti, pointing one way, Oti, she says, pointing to herself. Were different people. Point taken. This summer, Oti turns 30 and before we bid farewell, conversation turns to her hopes and dreams for her fourth decade.
Its probably the right time to invest in my body! she says, confessing shes neither a fan of the gym or eating particularly healthy, which is surprising to learn. With that incredible bod, we had her down as a lean chicken, fish and vegetables, pumping-iron kinda girl.
Im not that girl. Im like: Lets get fried chicken! Pizza! Ill never be like: Im off to the gym. I really like hot yoga, though. I go when I need to feel my body strength and to reset my mind, thats how I rest, [but] the whole gym thing is difficult. Im just not a fan!
As a young girl, I couldnt wait to turn 30 because every woman I saw [at that age] started to turn into who they always wanted to be, their dreams came true and they started to have the courage to become truly who they were destined to be. So now Im thinking: Oh my god, Im almost 30. This is so exciting!
Hold on a sec. Winning Strictly and The Greatest Dancer, and enjoying a happy marriage and a career rising faster than Shirley Ballas temperature during Kelvins hip-thrusting samba? Surely Oti Mabuse is already there? Not quite. Theres always more, she smiles.
- Watch The Greatest Dancer, Saturdays, BBC1.
Hair: Carl Campbell at Carol Hayes using R+Co
Hair assistant: Kiara Scorzelli
Make-up: Bryony Blake using Nars and Fenty
Make-up assistant: Melissa Collins
Styling: Kate Barbour