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Strictly star Johannes Radebe reflects on how John Whaite partnership changed his life

Strictly Come Dancing star Johanne Radebe has reflected on the impact of his dance partnership with chef and author John Whaite, with whom he came second in the BBC contest in 2021.

With Whaite, the South African dancer and choreographer formed the show’s first ever male couple, winning over fans with their chemistry and mesmerising routines.

Last year Whaite, 34, revealed that he almost fell victim to the “Strictly curse” (where a celebrity falls for their dance partner while competing on Strictly), admitting that he fell in love with Radebe during their time on the show.

In a new interview with The Guardian, Radebe, 36, said he believed he and Whaite had left the world “a better place” after the world watched their performances on the series.

“I’ve seen what that has done for so many people, and I hear the stories still today,” he said. “That’s how I know that we’ve left the world a better place, just by doing what we do. It’s humbling, and it feels great to be part of history in that regard.

“I would have loved to exist in a world where I didn’t have to be ashamed of myself. There was never anything wrong with me, yet the society around me made me believe there was.”

Johannes Radebe (left) with his ‘Strictly’ dance partner John Whaite in 2021 (BBC)
Johannes Radebe (left) with his ‘Strictly’ dance partner John Whaite in 2021 (BBC)

He also shared that the support from the public did wonders for his confidence, at the same time acknowledging that he was the victim of homophobic bullying from trolls who branded him a “disgrace”.

“Thanks to John, as well,” he said, revealing that family members had stopped asking when he would find a wife. “My relationships have changed since then with people in my life that are close to me.”

He added: “I’ve created a world where [online bullying] has no impact on me any more. It’s not me that has a problem. If they’re willing to learn, come to House of Jojo; I’ll educate you. What I do, and how I live my life, can never be based on what other people think. I want to create a world that I see in my head – and it’s of love and of kindness.”

House of Jojo is Radebe’s theatre show, in which he is joined by a troupe of dancers who perform in costume to “roof-raising” music.

Johannes Radebe and John Whaite during the final of Strictly Come Dancing 2021 (Guy Levy/BBC/PA) (PA Media)
Johannes Radebe and John Whaite during the final of Strictly Come Dancing 2021 (Guy Levy/BBC/PA) (PA Media)

Last year, Whaite revealed that he spent time apart from his fiancé and partner of 15 years, Paul Atkins, after “falling in love” with Radebe. He has since got back together with Atkins.

“I fell in love with [Radebe],” Whaite told The Times. “I can’t speak for him – because I’m not allowed to, legally – but it felt like there was love there.”

Soon after, Radebe addressed Whaite’s revelation and said he was “keen” to emphasise “the platonic nature of their connection”.

“We have gone on to have such a beautiful experience together that it would be a shame if we were not friends after all that,” he told The Times.

“What we agreed is that, regardless of what life throws at us, we will always keep [this friendship] going. ‘We are friends for life,’ I always say to him. ‘I know where you live. You cannot get rid of me.’ I still speak to him.”

Johannes Radebe at a ‘House of Jojo’ photocall at the London Palladium, June 2023 (Getty Images)
Johannes Radebe at a ‘House of Jojo’ photocall at the London Palladium, June 2023 (Getty Images)

In Whaite’s interview, he explained that he discussed his feelings with Atkins from the beginning: “Paul of all people deserved to understand how I was feeling,” he said. “You go through life being told that you’ll fall in love with someone, you’ll get married, you’ll have children and that’s it.

“But love can’t just be directed to one person. The heart can easily split into two or three or four. And those loves aren’t mutually exclusive.”

However, the couple are back together, and Whaite says he now intentionally keeps his distance from Radebes as “I have to be mindful that there’s more than my own desires to consider here”.

“If it would be tricky for Paul for me to be in contact with Johannes, then it’s a sacrifice that I have to make,” he said.