We’re used to Strictly stars undergoing transformations. Perhaps a heartwarming tale of a male sportstar getting in touch with his emotions or a female celeb showing off her hot new bod after 10 weeks of shimmying around the dancefloor.
But we’re not so comfortable with a woman undergoing the sort of self-discovery that usually requires an Eat Pray Love or Wild-style pilgrimage. Where Cheryl Strayed spent three months hiking 1,000 miles alone, Louise Redknapp spent the same amount of time salsaing, waltzing and quickstepping her way to rediscovering a self she thought was long retired. She separated from her husband, moved out of her family home and is now about to star as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
The tabloids were stunned. How could a 42-year-old woman, with the kind of aspirational life they couldn’t have scripted better, want for anything? Was she having a booze-fuelled midlife crisis? Had she gone completely mad with her own sex appeal? She had almost certainly been led astray by fellow contestant Daisy Lowe, who appeared to be encouraging behaviour like wearing tight trousers, laughing and going outside after dark.
But, in a frank interview this weekend, Redknapp admitted that for all her life with handsome ex-footballer Jamie Redknapp and two cherubic sons looked picture-perfect, it had left her feeling like “a sort of Stepford wife”. She told Stella magazine: “I feel I’m coming back to who I really am. I have spent most of my life pleasing everyone else, worrying about being judged and thinking I should always do the right thing by staying at home, looking after my kids and my husband. I lost myself.”
She talks about being jealous of her husband as he seamlessly transitioned from professional footballer to pundit and television personality, and how appearing on Strictly caused her body confidence to soar.
Redknapp admits that she had turned down Strictly in the past, concerned that it would detract from her duties as a wife and mother. And although her appearance on the show was supported by Jamie, he was envisioning having a third child once the show was complete. But becoming a mother hadn’t just been limiting to her career – it was physically traumatic. She was diagnosed with endometriosis, spent four years struggling to get pregnant and she suffered with chloasma (facial pigmentation change). Her decision to eventually agree to Strictly was partly because she wanted to lose weight.
Redknapp was allowed to do all the shimmying she liked, in all the skimpy sequins she fancied, while she still fitted into the mould. But to dare to do it for her own gratification? That was not on
The catalysts came in the form of Lowe bursting into her dressing room to show off her “gorgeous body” and the realisation that her love of performing for an audience had not been extinguished – it had simply been dormant. “I wanted to go back to work on a stage in front of an audience,” she explained. “I actually felt physically sick at the idea that I’d never have that buzz again, that fulfilment I get from performing. And that is when the shit hit the fan. No one could understand why it was so desperately important to me.”
Because this is all wrong. Women are only supposed to admit that family life took it out of them a bit once their kids are grown up. Or after they’ve been divorced (and, ideally, cheated on). They need to earn that moment of self-exploration. That’s when the metamorphosis can happen – a career change, a new haircut or running a marathon.
Redknapp was allowed to do all the shimmying she liked, in all the skimpy sequins she fancied, while she still fitted into the mould – while she was still the “ex” pop star who had become a dedicated wife and mother. But to dare to do it for her own gratification? That was not on.
She didn’t just sacrifice her career to motherhood and family duties, she sacrificed an innate part of herself – the performer she had been since she was a child desperate for a stage-school scholarship.
Once the Pandora’s box had been opened, there was no going back. The change was irreversible. As Redknapp says: “I didn’t want to continue running around after everyone else and occasionally promoting a yoghurt or doing a little TV-presenting job.”
The promotional photos for Cabaret are telling. It’s not the first time that Redknapp has posed in a skimpy outfit, but the images couldn’t be further from the passive trophy wife, reclining on cushions for a lingerie advert that might as well have the words “I put on something special for when my husband gets home” splashed across it.
This is Sally Bowles, staring down the camera, with flirtatious wit and steely confidence. It screams “woman reborn”. With regards to her marriage, a divorce isn’t imminent. They are not living together, but they speak daily and she has explained to her sons that she’s trying something new but she hasn’t gone anywhere. Perhaps they will reconcile; perhaps not. But, either way, it will be a very different Louise Redknapp making that decision.
In a way, it probably would have been more acceptable if Redknapp had copped off with her dance partner – the affair everyone expects. But the only fling she is enjoying is with herself, and it might just be her greatest romance yet.