Strictly professional Johannes Radebe, pictured with partner Catherine Tyldesley, says the show has given him the courage to be himselfCredit: BBC Pictures ‘Digital Picture
Because being chosen to perform the daring dance with a man has finally given the pro the courage to reveal he is gay.
And Johannes, 32, says he has Strictly to thank for convincing him to embrace his sexuality – something he could never have done back home in South Africa.
He said: “I’ve always known. I’ve always been proud. I’ve always been myself, regardless of what was said to me and where I come from.
“I grew up in a country where homosexuality was frowned upon.
“The society around me pointed to me and said, ‘There’s something wrong with you. ‘But Strictly has helped me be a better person and accepting of myself. When I got to the UK it was beautiful – for the first time in my life I felt liberated. ”
Johannes and his celebrity partner, Corrie actress Catherine Tyldesley,got voted off the show last night after a disappointing cha cha cha.
In an emotional speech, he told the audience: “I need to thank Strictly for the opportunity – thank you.”
But Johannes has already secured his place as one of the stand-out stars of the series.
He only joined Strictly last year as a backing dancer,but stole the limelight on the results show last week, when he wore 4in heels while dancing with fans, and all because show bosses asked him to be himself.
Johannes said: “I’ve done Strictly a couple of times in other countries, but when I got here the production team told me to put on heels and strut around – and that’s my job!
“That’s huge for me, because that’s something that would never have happened in South Africa.
“It’s just people accepting you for who you are, no matter what you do. So now I feel more confident and comfortable because of my surroundings. ”
Dancing with another man when Johannes was on the South African Strictly in 2014 would also have been taboo, which makes him even more thrilled toperform the historic duet in the UK, particularly as it will be with his best friend and fellow dance pro,Graziano di Prima.
They will perform the romantic routine – which will not be a traditional ballroom dance – on Sunday night’s results show, to the sound of Emeli Sande song Shine.
The track has inspirational lyrics including: “Express yourself, it’s good for your health. Nothing to fear when truth walks beside you. ”
The move by the BBC show comes ahead of ITV’s Dancing On Ice series next year, inwhich bosses have announced that Steps singer Ian H Watkins will be teamed with pro dancer Matt Evers.
Johannes and Graziano, 25, have been friends since they met on the world tour of dance show Burn The Floor, and were thrilled when they were both hired for Strictly in the UK.
Johannes said of Sunday’s dance: “Am I proud to be a part of that? Absolutely. I’m happy to be a trailblazer. It will be one of the moments where we all sit back and go, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for’.
“Graziano is just as excited. We’re best mates, first and foremost – we love each other. Whenever we have a moment, we dance together. ”
Johannes may be surrounded by love on Strictly, but his childhood in the township of Zamdela, near Johannesburg, was a stark contrast.
As a flamboyant child, he was bullied from an early age, getting called names such as “sissy boy”.
The abuse reached a shocking peak when he was attacked with a baseball bat when he was 17.
Johannes said: “This happened in school, a fellow pupil. I was terrified. All I can remember was asking, ‘What have I done? What did I do to you? ’He said,‘ Well, you’re a fagot and disgusting ’.
“We ended up physically fighting because when somebody comes at you with a baseball bat, I don’t think you can just stand there. It was more jealousy – I was never there at school as I was usually away dancing in competitions.
“He was not a fan of me – he was punishing me for the fact that I am what I am.”
The constant love and devotion of his mother, Jacobeth, 60, ensured Johannes survived the vile abuse. )
He said: “I’ve had friends that have resorted to taking their lives because of how hard it was. I was very lucky in that I had my family.
“The bullying was tough. It was bad. There were times when I did not feel like leaving the house because I thought to myself, ‘What’s the point if I’m going be hassled?’
“I would get home and talk to Mum and tell her what I’d experienced. She said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. You go back tomorrow and you make sure that Johannes is happy ’.
“Without Mum’s love and support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“It was hard without Dad around, because he was the breadwinner.”
Before Johannes’s father died in 2001, he showed he accepted his son for who he was.
Johannes said: “The first pair of shoes he bought me were soccer boots, even though I told him,‘ I don’t want to play soccer, I want to dance ’. He still insisted. It was just to say, ‘This is what boys do’.
“The biggest thing for me was to see Dad being OK with what I was doing. That was when he bought me a pair of ballroom shoes when I was about 13. It reduced my mum to tears because for the longest time she was saying to him, ‘Let him be, let him do the thing he loves’. It was a humble moment for us because it said, ‘Dad is OK with this’.
“So I think about him every day, because I think he would have been very proud that it was the path I chose – and I made it work. ”
After starting dance classes aged nine, Johannes twice won South African championships, and after South Africa’s Strictly he signed up for Dancing With The Stars in 2018.
He said: “Now I look at the bullies and I think,‘ Check this out. I’ve risen above that and I wish I could see you now ’.
“To those out there trying to make something of their life and who are being bullied or feel they can’t be themselves, my message to them is, it gets better. You get older, you take charge of who you are and nobody will ever tell you who to be. Just hold out. ”
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Sadly, Johannes and Catherine have come to the end of the road on Strictly. But while they may not have won the glitterball trophy, they have made a firm friendship.
He said: “I worked her hard. I’m not the easiest to deal with because I’m a perfectionist, but she has taken everything on board like the perfect student.
“But I also feel like I’ve gained a friend for life. Now I think, ‘How have I lived without Catherine in my life?’ We had so much fun. ”
- Strictly Come Dancing: The Results is on Sunday at 7. 15 PM on BBC1.
Catherine Tyldesley is voted off Strictly Come Dancing by Shirley Ballas