The professional dancer talks lockdown, love and learning to be silly with Gabrielle Fagan.
Former Strictly Come Dancing star, AJ Pritchard is bubbling over with happiness – he’s not only working on a new stage show with his brother, Curtis, but is also in love.
The 25-year-old professional dancer and his girlfriend, fellow-dancer, Abbie Quinnen, 23, started dating 17 months ago but, he reveals, their time together in lockdown helped him realise she’s ‘the One’.
The couple quarantined at Pritchard’s family home in Cheshire with his younger brother, and former Love Island star, Curtis, and their parents, Debi and Adrian.
“It could definitely have turned into a real make or break being locked up together for 16 weeks, 24/7, but it was a really positive time,” says Pritchard, whose UK tour of AJ Live 2020 was put on hold because of the restrictions.
“For us it was really nice to settle into a nice homely regime, to realise new things about each other and re-find our love. It was so relaxed and easy, and that’s how you know you’re with the right person.”
Pritchard, who used the break to study social media marketing with social learning platform FutureLearn, opens up about why he left Strictly Come Dancing, the impact of being attacked in a nightclub two years ago, and how his relationship with Quinnen has changed him…
Do you regret leaving Strictly Come Dancing?
“No, I’m really happy that I left, although I loved it and miss all the friends I made. But I felt four years was the right amount of time to make an impact on the show and come away still having my own identity.
“Now I’m just loving working with Curtis – we’re so close as brothers as we’re only 15 months apart in age, and when we work together, we just spark off each other naturally. Our goal is one day having our own TV show together and following in the footsteps of Ant and Dec!
“We’re working on a new version of AJ Live which will be like a variety show and a mix of dance, comedy and entertainment. The courses on FutureLearn were brilliant for both of us. Curtis did a script writing course, so after a lot of brotherly bargaining, I’ve agreed Curtis will have his name in lights alongside mine this time!”
What difference has your relationship with Quinnen made to your life?
“I’m a bit of a workaholic and went from Strictly to pantomime and then on an arena tour, and would never have thought of taking a break. But having that unexpected 16 weeks off because of the virus gave me time to appreciate what I’d achieved and also look at the other great things in my life, like Abbie.
“Being in a really solid relationship with Abbie means nowadays, when I get home, I find it easier to really relax, switch off, be silly sometimes and just be myself. It’s made me realise how important it is to have that other side to my life.”
How does your brother get on with your girlfriend?
“He and Abbie get on really well and, I don’t know how he will take this comment, but for us, Curtis is our ‘jester.’ He’s such a ray of sunshine, always makes us laugh and is so positive in the way he approaches life.
“The three of us have been on holiday to Turkey all together, which was great. Curtis and I know each other so well that we know when the other wants time alone, and Abbie and I had plenty of time to go off for romantic dinners together.”
Are you thinking of proposing anytime soon?
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought that far ahead, we’re just enjoying every moment of being together and experiencing things together, which makes our bond even closer. But when we see what other couples do for their weddings on Instagram, we do talk about whether we’d do similar things at ours.
“Abbie’s amazing. She’s very warm, very kind, and always goes above and beyond in everything she does. We share so much. We met on my Get On The Floor live tour and I finally managed to pluck up the courage to ask her out by the end of the run!
“She’s worked with me on two shows and in panto, and she’s a brilliant dancer and good at choreography. She helped with a couple of my routines on Strictly and is in our new show.”
How do you look after your health?
“For me, exercise is a form of meditation and I find it very calming. I don’t think you can [always] be mentally healthy if you’re not physically healthy. I exercise every day, whether it’s weight sessions in the gym, runs wearing a 20kg weighted vest, or going for long walks.”
How do you look after your wellbeing?
“My brother and I were attacked in a nightclub two years ago, which really got to me and rocked my confidence. It took me quite a while to recover from it.
“But it made me realise how important it is to talk about things which affect you, and open up about them even if it’s emotionally upsetting to do that, which it was for me.
“It would have been so easy to lock myself away after that, but by talking it through I’ve slowly been able to come to terms with what happened and move on. I feel really passionate now that talking with family, friends, or a counsellor is the way to deal with negative situations and difficult times. All that helps keep mental wellbeing on track.”
What sums up your approach to life?
“My brother and I had a wonderful mentor when we were younger who helped fund our dancing career so we could travel the world. She once told us: ‘Grasp every opportunity you’re offered with both hands,’ and that’s something I’ve never forgotten and live by.”
Social learning platform, FutureLearn, has partnered with AJ Pritchard to inspire the nation to expand their knowledge. Visit futurelearn.com.
Photo credit: Ian West/PA.