Emma Barton is sitting on a stool, sipping a black Americano, having her hair and make-up done. This is a huge relief. At one point, we thought this wouldn’t happen.
First, the day of our cover shoot changed, then Emma was poorly, then there was an issue with the clothes (she likes red, and black leather, not pastel colours), which involved an emergency ASOS delivery.
But thankfully, after a 5.30am alarm call, the Strictly runner-up has travelled from her Surrey home to our London photo studio, and sits here in the flesh, having her peachy skin and saucer-like blue peepers made to look even prettier.
Equally a relief is that far from being a demanding diva in real life, the leggy 42 year old is sweet, funny and smart.
Far sharper than her Enders character Honey Mitchell, Emma has a loud and lovely laugh – which comes out frequently, despite her confiding, ‘I’m not great with photoshoots, I’m not good at standing and posing.’
Dressed down in black leggings, New Balance trainers and a faded grey T-shirt, single Emma – who divorced her lawyer ex-husband in 2005, and once dated TV’s Stephen Mulhern – opens up about her latest job dazzling the nation on the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour…
Have you got your head around your Strictly success?
I’m still on cloud nine. I’ve watched every series and always wanted to be asked.
As the years went on I thought it would never happen. It was everything I wanted, and more.
I was very lucky to have the king of ballroom, Anton du Beke . We are great mates and laughed a lot.
The show is huge. I couldn’t believe it when Miley Cyrus re-tweeted us dancing to one of her songs. Wow! It took a while to digest that. I sent a screenshot to Anton, but I’m not sure he knew who she was.
Are you being reunited for the Strictly Live Tour?
Anton is doing his own tour at the same time, so now I have Graziano Di Prima.
I feel very fortunate to have had two partners. You don’t get any choice in who you get, it’s about height – I’m nearly 5ft 9in – and personality.
Graziano is a very handsome, talented Italian and a sweetheart. It’s very hard work looking at him every night! But I feel like I’m cheating on my darling Anton.
Have you lost weight, with all that dancing?
I’ve changed shape. It’s amazing. I thought I was OK before, because I went to the gym and did Pilates, but nothing works like dancing for eight hours a day – I’m more toned and have more energy.
I went on a five-mile walk recently and wasn’t out of breath.
Balancing the show with playing EastEnders’ Honey must have been tough…
I’m a workaholic, anyway. It worked well because I was tired from dancing and Honey needed to look drained and sad for the storylines, so no make-up was needed!
I love playing Honey, she’s a likeable, funny character. Over the years she’s come out of her shell, she’s less ditsy and has grown up. She’s a good person, even if she is a pork pie short of a picnic.
So you’re not leaving EastEnders?
Nope. After the Strictly tour, and a holiday, it’s back to Walford’s Minute Mart for me.
The sequins come off and the tabard goes back on. It’s like putting on an old pair of slippers when I go to EastEnders , it’s like I'm home.
I celebrated my 600th episode last month, so 2019 was a good year for me.
Are you close to the children who play your on-screen kids, Janet and William?
I am very maternal towards them. We’ve had Grace [who plays Janet] since she was a few weeks old, a baby in my arms. She’s known me all her life. I feel like her surrogate mum and she calls me ‘Mummy Emma’.
Perry [Fenwick, who plays Billy] is ‘Daddy Pel’. I get on really well with Grace and Freddie [who plays William]’s families. They trust us with them.
Neither Perry nor I have kids of our own, so it’s lovely. They came to watch the Strictly rehearsals. Grace loves singing and dancing.
Would you like kids of your own?
I love children. Who knows? What will be, will be.
I need to have a willing partner first, which I don’t have! But there are other options out there, I know.
I’m not dating anyone at the minute. No wonder I’m still single, actually. I have the worst wind ever. It’s horrendous! Everything causes it. I can’t control it.
When I started doing Pilates I was worried I’d go in class – imagine my fear over breaking wind on live TV on Strictly! I clenched all the time and managed to not do it once. I warned Anton in advance, I’d better warn Graziano now.
Following your 2014 Celebrity MasterChef stint, do you have a killer dish to impress dates?
I wouldn’t want to cook on a date, I’d want to be taken out!
I did that show because I thought I could cook. But it was so difficult, scarier than Strictly because you don’t want to upset anyone’s tummies.
Afterwards, I said I would never complain at restaurants or send food back again. But I do cook the best roast potatoes – I made them for my family this Christmas.
What would you tell your younger self?
Save and invest. Always have a little pot for rainy days.
There was a time a while ago when I didn’t work for a few years. That’s acting. So don’t get excited and buy lots of shoes.
What are your best traits?
I’m positive, kind and generous.
I get terrible road rage, I hate bad driving and bad manners.
Do I give people the ‘V sign? I shout a lot worse than that! Then hope they don’t hear me.
Biggest perk of fame?
Meeting people. I was starstruck meeting Tess and Claudia, I had a big girl crush on them.
And when I met Barbara Windsor I nearly wet myself. Babs from Carry On! Now she’s a close pal and I was one of ‘Barbara’s Revolutionaries’ when I ran the Marathon last year, raising cash for dementia.
I also lost my uncle to vascular dementia two years ago. And I’m a patron for the Down’s Syndrome Association. It’s lovely to get asked to do these things because of so-called ‘fame’.
Weirdest place you’ve been asked for a selfie?
In the toilet! I agreed, but afterwards I thought, ‘Why did I do that?’
Describe your perfect night in…
Watching a Carry On film in my pyjamas, eating some cheesy puffs with a bottle of Pinot Grigio. I’m common as muck.
And of course I watch EastEnders. My parents are massive Emmerdale fans, though, so when I’ve taken them to soap awards Dad always asks for selfies with their cast.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Charlize Theron. I love her short hair and wish I had the balls to cut mine. I’d have to ask EastEnders first, though.
Do you ever stop smiling?
You very rarely see me in a mood or cross. Life is too short, you’ve got to enjoy it.
I have the best job, I have wonderful family and friends, there’s nothing to moan about. Treat people as you like to be treated – that advice goes a long way.
The Strictly Come Dancing UK arena tour runs until 9 February, including a relaxed performance’ on 5 February for those with autism and sensory needs. Strictlycomedancinglive.com
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