THIS time last year AJ Pritchard was strutting around the Strictly ballroom, shimmering with sequins and preened to perfection on reality TV’s glitziest show.
Now, after sensationally quitting the BBC contest in March, the pro dancer is preparing to spend three weeks sleeping in the dirt in a dingy castle for the new series of I’m A Celebrity.
The Sun exclusively revealed that AJ will join this year’s line- up and last week we told how he joined a secret photoshoot for the ITV show.
Stars are officially sworn to secrecy before they enter the series.
But 25-year-old AJ dropped his heaviest hints yet that he was heading into the show in an exclusive interview with The Sun.
Speaking with his brother, ex- Love Islander and fellow dancer Curtis, AJ said: “I’m intrigued as to how it’s going to work this year, not being in Australia in the sunshine.
“I do like the sun, so I don’t know how the celebrities will take it. I think whoever wants to do that show would prefer it in a hot country.”
And in further broad hints, AJ added: “I’m the sort of person — for example coming off Strictly — I make decisions, then I just deal with them and I go with them 100 per cent.”
He said he was looking forward to doing something different, being “a normal person” and not just a dancer, adding: “I did four years of Strictly, which I absolutely loved, but it was definitely the right time for me to venture into new things.
“Strictly wouldn’t allow a lot of things to happen that I wanted to happen, so it meant you do have to do that leap, and for me it’s not a risk, it’s something I’m passionate about.”
One person who is happy AJ won’t be back on Strictly is girlfriend Abbie Quinnen, 24, who he began dating in 2018.
While they avoided the couple-splitting Strictly curse, AJ was forced to defend their relationship last year when he was pictured with his arm around dance partner, YouTuber Saffron Barker, during rehearsals.
He admitted: “Abbie’s much happier that I’m in bed and with her 24/7.
“When I do a job, I like to throw myself fully into it. She has now definitely got me a lot more.”
Despite seeing I’m A Celeb as a great opportunity, squeaky-clean AJ may struggle with getting down and dirty in the ruins of the reputedly haunted Gwrych Castle in North Wales with, among others, Corrie’s Beverley Callard, EastEnders actress Jessica Plummer and tenor Russell Watson.
He said: “I’m super-hygienic. It works in my favour, you see — everybody’s got to be hygienic these days.”
His 24-year-old brother Curtis, who starred in BBC show The Greatest Dancer this year, confirmed: “AJ’s OCD is definitely to do with cleanliness, keeping the flat and his personal space clean.”
Pressed on what he would fear most in the dreaded Bushtucker Trials, AJ pirouetted around the topic as if he was back in the Strictly ballroom, cryptically saying: “When I go to the next step I deal with it when I get there.
"I never really know. I like my extreme sports.”
So if the traditional skydive into camp returns for this year’s I’m A Celeb, expect AJ to be the first to strap on his parachute.
In his four years in Strictly he became one of the most popular pros, reaching the semi-finals in three consecutive series, with gymnast Claudia Fragapane, Radio 1 DJ Mollie King and Paralympian Lauren Steadman.
AJ announced he was quitting just three days after the UK went into the lockdown that has devastated the entertainment industry.
His nationwide dance tour, which also featured Curtis, was axed and the Stoke-born brothers, who have been dancing since childhood, faced an uncertain future.
Curtis said: “Our last shows were fully sold out and then it was gone, there was nothing. It was heartbreaking because AJ had worked so hard to create the tour.
“Then there was obviously a load of free time and now everyone’s getting back to work a little bit, but the theatres still aren’t open. It’s a real shame. It’s heartbreaking and sad.”
AJ said: “If you’re focused on what’s going to happen you’ll definitely get there in the end. It’s a scary time and I hope we can turn it around as quickly as possible.”
AJ is still an avid Strictly viewer and is backing Olympic boxer Nicola Adams and pro partner Katya Jones to win as the show’s first same-sex partnership.
He said: “I’m really excited to see Nicola perform because, out of all the celebrities, she just seems to have this infectious smile.
“It’s such a positive thing. She represents so many different people.
“She is an Olympian, she is an OBE, she has represented us all over the world and when I heard her name it brought back the memory of when I sat on my sofa in 2012 watching her win gold. She is a very inspirational person.”
AJ is certain that Nicola — who revealed on the brothers’ new podcast AJ vs Curtis that she was approached for a previous series — would have snubbed any offer from him in favour of a female dancer.
He said: “I would definitely have loved her, but I don’t think she would have wanted me. I think she wanted to make history.”
As did AJ, who admitted he is disappointed not to have had the “honour” of being in Strictly’s first same-sex partnership.
He said: “To be the first to do anything, you feel like you’ve got that extra special moment. For me, it’s just good that it’s happening.”
Unlike AJ, Curtis is single after revealing his break-up with girlfriend Amber Pierson this month.
However, a reconciliation with his previous Love Island girlfriend Amy Hart could be on the cards after AJ staged a surprise reunion for them on the brothers’ podcast.
Asked if there was potential for romance with his former “half-girlfriend”, Curtis said: “Who knows what the future holds? Listen to the podcast and judge for yourself.”
He added: “I was speechless when Amy came up on the screen. It was great to reunite with her, great to have a conversation.
“Actually we were going to meet up, go to lunch, but unfortunately we can’t now we’re in Tier 2 lockdown. Boris did get in the way.”
Curtis had a rough ride after his Love Island stint last year, struggling with body image issues after trolls mocked his 2st weight gain in the villa. But he denies that AJ’s six-pack worsened his insecurities.
He said: “He has always been quite ripped, to be fair. To be honest that doesn’t bother me too much because he’s 5ft 6in and I’m 6ft 3in.
“So yeah, he can be ripped, but he ain’t got the height.”
Curtis joined Weight Watchers after the show and in August debuted impressive abs of his own while on holiday in Turkey.
He said: “I had an unhealthy relationship with food way before Love Island. I don’t calorie-count, I pretty much eat whatever I want, it’s just in moderation now.
“It’s smaller portions and smarter choices, so if I want a McDonald’s and a chocolate bar, I’ll have one. I just know if I have a McDonald’s, maybe don’t eat another for dinner.”
As well as their podcast, the brothers last week announced AJ And Curtis’s Big Night Out tour for next September and October.
Fittingly, given AJ’s next TV role, the ambitious project sounds reminiscent of I’m A Celeb hosts Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.
He said: “It’s going to have a dance element, but we’ll focus on presenting and entertainment.
“There will be stand-up comedy in there — think a variety show with prizes available for all of the guests in the audience.
“We’re going to have them laughing at themselves, and we’ll laugh at them too, so I think it’s justified to give them maybe a couple of prizes.
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“Nobody’s ever done this before, so why not take it on the road and have that format of a gameshow in a West End show?
“This show is aimed that it could be adapted into a TV show, 100 per cent. That is definitely a thing we’re pushing.”
And on that show, there won’t be a kangaroo testicle in sight.
- Tickets for AJ and Curtis’s Big Night Out are out now on ajandcurtis.com.
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