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Strictly Come Dancing duo tell of their breakthrough year

Cheshire pair featured in latest series of BBC TV hit show

AJ Pritchard and Chloe Hewitt have been unveiled as two of the newest additions to the 2016 Strictly Come Dancing professional line-up

A young Cheshire-based duo have told of how they became the youngest professional couple to appear on hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing.

AJ Pritchard and Chloe Hewitt starred in the latest series of the BBC production, which was watched by millions each Saturday night.

At just 21, the pair headed to London to enter the Strictly bubble and haven’t looked back since.

AJ, of Nantwich, took Olympic gymnast Claudia Fragapane all the way to the semi-final, impressing with his drive to succeed and fast-paced choreography that took no prisoners.

AJ Pritchard was partnered with Claudia Fragapane in the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing(Image: Guy Levy)

Meanwhile, his dance partner Chloe, of Whitchurch – who wasn’t given a professional partner in the main show – charmed the public with her bubbly personality and infectious TV presence in the pro dances, as well as helping out Zoe Ball on It Takes Two.

Outside of Strictly, the pair are British and European Youth Latin champions, competing to a standard exceptional for a couple their age.

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For AJ, the dancing world was one he was discouraged from at first – but perhaps one where he was always destined to end up.

He said: “I didn’t start till the age of 12! My dad was like you’re never going to dance, I don’t want you to dance, it’s too much hard work and way too much effort down the line.

“I was more into quad biking and snow boarding – anything fast paced and dangerous, to get the adrenaline going.”

Claudia Fragapane and AJ Pritchard(Image: Guy Levy)

But AJ’s dad was only delaying the inevitable. He himself was a World Ballroom Champion, and it was only a matter of time before AJ got roped into the family dance school and it became clear he had inherited his dad’s ability.

Luckily for AJ, Chloe had been a student at the school since going along with a group of friends at seven years old. Four years later, AJ’s dad approached Chloe’s mum proposing the partnership.

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AJ added: “We both clearly wanted the same goals so we both worked very hard, and it was always very clear that the goal was to win, or to not bother trying at all, and that’s the way I’ve always worked. We’ve never wasted energy, all of our energy has always been put into our dancing, and we don’t tend to argue at all, so that’s always a bonus.”

AJ loves the intensity and powerful character of the paso doble, while Chloe’s favourite has always been the cha cha cha, precisely because she can be herself.

AJ Pritchard on his departure from Strictly Come Dancing with Claudia Fragapane and host Tess Daly(Image: Guy Levy)

AJ explained: “I think the best way to say it is that I’m very driven and go-go-go. Chloe can be more relaxed, which is more helpful to have the two opposites.

“It’s a very bouncing off dynamic. It’s always both of us trying to find the best way and if somebody comes up with a better idea then that’s the way to go.”

Chloe added: “Sometimes he can get a little carried away, but that’s where the personality thing comes in, because I know AJ has that side of him, I’m able to tell him he needs to stop and to calm down!

“Ten years dancing together and you become like an old married couple, always in each other’s pocket. It can be quite intense sometimes but obviously you work together to make sure it succeeds.”

AJ Pritchard and Chloe Hewitt were named The British Open Amateur Latin Under-21 Champions in 2015

Chloe and AJ’s success has taken them from dance school to the training room to the top of the competitive Sunday circuit. It was no surprise in 2014 when, while studying for their A-levels, they got the call from a Britain’s Got Talent Scout asking them to perform for Simon Cowell in Manchester.

The experience was a great one and the pair made it to the live shows. But for them, it was nothing more than an amazing experience and a by-product of their competition focus. As AJ put it, they walked in, did their performance, and walked out, to continue their rise to the top of the European Latin dancing world.

Strictly, on the other hand, has taken over their lives completely. Little did they know that during a competition in Blackpool in 2016, one of the Strictly producers was in the audience.

She wanted them immediately, and again the pair’s astounding energy and undeniable talent earned them recognition when they weren’t even looking for it.

AJ Pritchard on Strictly Come Dancing with Claudia Fragapane(Image: Guy Levy)

AJ said: “We were very focused on our competing so when Strictly came along it was a surprise – but a good surprise and a good shock!”

Chloe added: “At the moment we are just kind taking every step as it comes really – Strictly was a huge whirlwind, definitely a very unexpected one. We are very much people who take one step at a time and not get carried away with things.”

Both of them flourished under Strictly’s relentless schedule but the challenge certainly pushed them to their limits.

AJ explained: “For me I find the choreography very exciting, to make something that people are really going to enjoy. On Strictly I was doing a new routine every single week so it really kept me on my toes. The adrenaline was always there, you new you had roughly three days to turn it all around which is insane but we always managed to do it and always came out on top so that was the main thing.

Chloe Hewitt(Image: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire)

Chloe, who was partnered with TV presenter Gethin Jones for the Christmas Special, used the lessons drilled in to her since childhood to get the best out of her celebrity partner.

“When we were kids we were always taught to repeat everything about 10,000 times, so it becomes in your nature and it gets in your body and becomes more natural,” she explained. “For him he was wanting to do it again and again anyway so in that sense it was quite easy for me, but hopefully that’s what I can work on if I get a partner next year!”

For Chloe, who’s been watching with her family since she was eight years old, Strictly has been a dream come true.

She said: “Part of my love for dancing was the show itself – Strictly was a huge show for me on a Saturday.

“I loved watching it with my family and I remember watching it on the first night and being like ‘Oh my gosh I want to do that!’ So when you make your debut on the show and meet everyone it’s like a dream and you just have to pinch yourself and kind of say ‘yes you are on the show’ and it is as amazing as you thought it was!”

As for the future, the furthest they can see at the moment is a post-tour holiday, but until then there’s no doubt they’ll keep dancing.

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