Unleashing his inner rock star...

Kevin Clifton is temporarily hanging up his dance shoes to play rock legend Stacee Jaxx in hit jukebox musical Rock Of Ages. What’s On recently caught up with the Strictly Come Dancing 2018 Glitterball winner to find out more... 

Last year ended on an enormous high for Kevin Clifton. As Strictly Come Dancing fans will know, Kevin and his dance partner, Stacey Dooley, won the TV show’s public vote, meaning that he finally got to lift the coveted Glitterball trophy after coming so close on a couple of previous occasions. 

Unassuming and ever so modest, Kevin was genuinely surprised by the result: “I didn’t think for one second that we were going to win. I thought it was going to be another  runners-up spot, so when Tess called out our names, it was just total shock. My legs kind of gave way and I screamed. I’d always thought that if it did ever happen, I’d be cool, calm and collected. Instead, I just lost control and started crying!”
What makes the win even sweeter for Kevin is that he nearly didn’t make it to the Strictly dancefloor.

Having been rejected twice, his opportunity only came when the producers upped the ante and decided to make the show bigger - increasing the number of dancers from 14 to 15 and finally giving Kevin the break he needed to showcase his dancing prowess. “I feel like I snuck in through the back door a little bit to get into the show. This five-year journey has been one of trying and trying and just never giving up.” 

As many of the show’s dancers and celebrities hit the road with the Strictly Live Tour, Kevin is living another dream - playing Stacee Jaxx in the UK tour of acclaimed jukebox musical Rock Of Ages. So just how rock’n’roll is he?

“The truth is I’m not really rock’n’roll at all, but I’ve always fancied myself as a wannabe rock star. I always felt before Strictly that I dressed the part all of the time. I would wear leather trousers, big boots and a long leather coat. I had this long black hair and wore eyeliner and makeup all of the time. I love rock’n’roll music, but when it actually comes to acting up like a rock star, then not anymore. Even at the Strictly wrap party, I left early because I wanted to get home and have a cup of tea.”

So how does Kevin plan to tackle a role made famous by Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise?
“I’d actually seen the musical quite a few times before the film came out, so Tom Cruise was one of the last people I saw as Stacee. I’ve seen the show both on Broadway and in the West End, and in all honesty it’s my favourite show. Stacee is quite over the top and flamboyant. He’s really self-obsessed, so I need to tap into all of that a little bit and be as pretentious as I can about it all. As far as rock icons are concerned, I went over to Paris to visit Jim Morrison’s grave because I thought that would be a really cool rock’n’roll thing to do, and I want to tap into a bit of him. As for over-the-top flamboyancy, I’ll probably look to the band The Darkness. Between them, they play into the Rock Of Ages ethos quite nicely.”

Kevin is no stranger to musical theatre, having made his debut in Dirty Dancing in the West End - but how will his vocals stand up to belting out the show’s repertoire of rock’n’roll classics, including Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive and Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is?

“I’ve always loved singing, and I used to have a lot of singing lessons when I was doing Dirty Dancing, even though I only had to do backing vocals in that particular show. As for my vocal range, I can get up quite high, which was one of the reasons I was interested in doing this. The thing I need to focus on is the maintenance of the voice, and that’s something I’m continuing to work on so that I can sustain doing seven or eight shows a week.”

It would be fair to assume that Grimsby-born Kevin was always destined for a career in dance - both his parents were dance teachers, while his sister, Joanne Clifton, won Strictly in 2015. She’s since carved out an impressive career in musical theatre.  

“My first dance class, so I’ve been told, was when I was about four years old. I just started joining in as I was watching what was going on in our parents’ dance classes. I was just stood at the back trying to copy them. And then at some point I started to go to one of the classes. I guess I’ve never really known any different, but there was never any pressure. It was just a normal part of life - wake up, eat breakfast, go to school (or work, as I got older) and then go dancing. It’s always been a normal part of my day. I just loved to dance, but I’d always wondered about musical theatre, especially as I got older. Dance is something I’ve always done, but with musical theatre it was more of a conscious decision, something that I was leaning towards; well, either that or becoming a rock star, so this has all worked out nicely.”

Although obsessed with dancing and intrigued by musical theatre, Kevin did have his eye on one other career for a period of time: “I wanted to be a wrestler - like, a WWE wrestler. That’s what I thought I’d be, but I would never have looked the part.” 

Kevin most certainly does look the part as a Strictly dancer, though - so will he be returning to the hit BBC One television show in the autumn? 
“I hope they’ll ask me back, but they don’t make any decisions until a couple of months into the new year. They normally have an initial conversation with you around February or March, and then, if they want you, you get offered a contract later in the year. If they still want me on the show, then yes, I’d love to be there.” 

Kevin stars as Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages at Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, from Tuesday 12 to Saturday 16 February.

He will then be bringing his Burn The Floor tour to the region in the spring. Visit here for further details...

Feature by Patsy Moss