Dancing the samba in an open shirt, Charles Venn’s gloriously ripped abs were on display and he oozed with confidence as he and Karen Clifton scored their highest ever marks on Strictly , two 10s and two nines.
He is in the best shape of his life but Charles admits for the first time that he was once so consumed with anxiety and hypochondria he could not swallow food.
Speaking about the health anxiety he began suffering in his teens, Charles says: “I remember getting so nervous about getting a heart attack. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was bulimia, but I would chew the food and then spit it out.
“I literally just wanted to taste it. I really love food but at that time I didn’t want to ingest it. I thought it would clog my arteries. Health anxiety is a problem I’ve had since I was young.
“The very first time I ever came across it I was about 14 or 15 and I just felt like my heart was pumping. It’s a very powerful, psychological thing. It makes you feel like you’re literally about to die.
Charles and Karen on Strictly Come Dancing
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“I thought I was about to have a heart attack. I’d feel the slightest thing and I’d start panicking.”
He had no idea what he was suffering until he found a forum for people with health anxiety.
He says: “They were like me, with the same paranoia. They would all, like me, go to the doctor’s thinking they were gonna die.
"But, thank God, nothing was physically wrong with me.”
Pointing to his head, he says: “It’s all up here. When it happens, it’s frightening.”
He is talking about it now to help other people struggling with their mental health.
“People might look at me and think I am so able bodied and the picture of health, always smiling, but we all have our issues.”
The 45-year-old shows off his rippling abs
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The 45-year-old Casualty actor, who grew up in West London, has learned how to deal with the anxiety over time, using mindfulness and practising breathing techniques.
Working with professional dance partner Karen, 36, has whipped Charles into incredible shape, although he was already a regular in the gym before Strictly.
Under Karen’s tough regime, Charles says he is the fittest he’s been in 20 years.
At their dance studio in North London, he says: “I’m certainly no stranger to the gym. I’ve lost a bit of weight, in all the right places.
"I’m definitely very lean, the same that I was in my 20s. All of these dances are very physical, but I’d say I am definitely in very good shape.
“When you’ve got a tough taskmaster like Karen, you can’t mess about.”
Charles Venn as Jacob Masters in Casualty
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His infectious laugh echoes around the dance studio when he recalls how much head judge Shirley Ballas loved his samba last Saturday.
“Oh my goodness. I was looking at her and thought, ‘Wow she’s really enjoying this’.”
But what do his four kids think about their dad strutting his stuff on TV?
He says: “I was an embarrassing dad until now. I spoke to my daughter yesterday. I asked her, ‘I’m not an embarrassing dad any more am I?’ and she said, ‘I know. Your samba was so good, Dad’.
"I say to them, ‘Your dad has the moves’.
"At first they were a bit wary of me doing the show, because of the embarrassment but now it’s cool to do a shirtless samba. They say, ‘He’s my old man, he looks good’.”
Head judge Shirley Ballas loved his samba
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It’s clear that Charles and Karen have a strong bond but he laughs off any chance of being struck by the Strictly Curse.
He has been happily married to Zoe for five years, and they have been together for 20. He says: “It’s never been an issue for us. My wife loves Strictly.
“She was trying to do the samba with me last week. She was saying, ‘Work those hips, baby’. If anything being on the show can help a relationship.
"Zoe likes the results, seeing her man’s physique.”
Charles and Karen have been in the bottom two three times and he believes it was because viewers didn’t “get” him.
He says: “In the very early stages of this competition people weren’t able to get me.
“A lot of it was like, ‘I just don’t take to the guy, he comes across as arrogant’.
“They just didn’t warm to me. Because it is a popularity contest as well. But over time people are getting to know me and a bit about what I am like, my life, who I am.
“I am common as muck. I’m a regular local boy from humble beginnings.”
Charles Venn with the Mirror’s Rhian Lubin
(Image: Philip Coburn/Daily Mirror)
Growing up on a tough estate in West London, Charles knows how easy it is to take the wrong path in life.
He believes young people caught up in London’s gang violence lack role models.
Charles says: “It is very sad. I know as a young man I had influences in my life that stopped me going down that channel.”
He knows how lucky he is to have ended up dancing for millions every Saturday.
But after those three appearances in the bottom two, he admits: “The third time it was very emotional, it was horrible.”
Charles says he is the fittest he’s been in 20 years
(Image: Philip Coburn/Daily Mirror)
Karen, who is sprawled on the floor like a starfish, exhausted from rehearsals, chimes in: “Being in the bottom two is one of these things that we’ve learned so much from and we are stronger for it.”
After last week’s performance, which saw Karen score her first 10 after seven years on the show, they are feeling positive about tonight’s Tango to Eleanor Rigby.
Charles says: “We’re really tired, but elated and blessed to still be in the show.”
- Strictly, tomorrow 6.50pm, BBC One.
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