Motsi Mabuse has only seen this year’s crop of 12 Strictly Come Dancing hopefuls dance once – but she has an idea of who might lift the next Glitterball trophy.
“I’m thinking HRVY, I’m thinking Maisie Smith, I’m thinking Clara Amfo, I’m thinking Max George and Caroline Quentin,” Motsi confides.
“I’m basing it on their dance ability because I don’t know who’s popular and who’s not in the UK. And I think there are going to be a few surprises, and they will be Jamie Laing, and I think Bill Bailey.”
The plain-talking warm-hearted judge will be back on our screens tonight and can barely contain her excitement.
Having already experienced a same-sex pairing on the German version of the show, Motsi’s only surprise about boxer Nicola Adams being partnered with another woman this year is why it took the BBC so long.
“My thoughts on it happening in the UK are, ‘It’s about time,’” she declares. “Because I think Strictly is obviously a very popular show on TV.
“Our world is changing and we need to be more sensitive to each other and what is happening around us.
“And if we have such a big platform like Strictly Come Dancing, where we’re like, ‘Look, everyone, we are inclusive, we have everyone here and everybody is relevant on this planet,’ I think it’s a great message. It’s really important nowadays to give a clear message.”
Motsi, 39, says she loved Diversity’s controversial Black Lives Matter performance on Britain’s Got Talent last month, but she believes that Strictly is naturally diverse.
This year, more BAME celebrities will be pulling on their dance shoes than ever before, while her sister Oti and fellow South African Johannes Radebe are among the professionals. Mum-of-one Motsi also plays a key role herself.
“I think Strictly has spoken its words, and we feel very included,” she says. “I obviously wouldn’t want us to take the show and make a certain type of statement, I think we should just celebrate us being here. Us being representative is enough.”
Motsi knows that all the changes being made to keep everyone safe while making this year’s show amid the pandemic will make it feel quite different in places.
But she believes it will be a triumph, not least because of the huge amount of effort that has already gone into producing the BBC show in such difficult circumstances, and she is sure the viewers will appreciate it.
“If everybody’s got that mental motivation that we, as a team, can somehow influence the people out there and give them good vibes and say, ‘Obviously, it’s a tough time, but you’ve got this wholesome show where the whole family can sit down, relax and have a bit of a feeling that things are normal’, then we can make it through this whole coronavirus.”
On a personal level, the pandemic means that Motsi might have to wait a bit before having another baby with husband Evgenij Voznyuk.
But that said, she would love to provide a sibling for their two-year-old daughter.
“Adding to our family is one of our dreams and if it does happen, we’ll be very happy,” she says. “But I don’t want to have a family just to say I have a family. I’m hands-on everywhere, so it should be right. And with Covid and everything, I think we’ll see.”
The curvy beauty is renowned for her flamboyant outfits and Motsi plans to wear outfits that are every bit as daring as last year.
“Obviously I will shine,” she says. “This is a showstopper, we want glitz and glam. It’s Strictly Come Dancing!”
The South Africa-born dancer, who moved to Germany as a teen, was overjoyed by Britain’s reaction to her debut on the series last year. With her laughter, honesty and occasional tears, she became an instant favourite.
“I absolutely felt the love from the UK. I was just overwhelmed,” she admits. “It was different to arriving in Germany, where the dancer had to work hard to be accepted; to feel like you have to fight for love, and then coming to the UK, being yourself and people saying, ‘Hooray!’”
Motsi will move to the UK with her daughter ahead of the live shows, which start later this month. Her husband – a dancer from Ukraine – is working in Germany and will visit when he can.
Talking of family, Motsi found it terribly emotional to meet up with her sister Oti, 30, for the first time in months and not be able to pull her close.
“It was hard because we haven’t seen each other for a year, and we saw each other on Monday for the first time and couldn’t hug. Just to say hi, it’s so un-human,” she says.
Motsi also doesn’t think the new situation will make acid-tongued Craig Revel Horwood any kinder towards the contestants, saying: “Craig is Craig!” But she will miss the laughs provided by Bruno Tonioli on the weeks when he is unable to travel from the US.
“I will always miss Bruno, because he’s just so funny. I’m always in awe of how he can just get up and have that energy.”
With lots of other showbiz work off, Motsi thinks this year’s hopefuls will be able to focus more fully on the job.
“I think the quality of dancing will improve because of that,” she says.
Strictly Come Dancing launch show, Saturday, October 17, 7.50pm, BBC1.