AJ Odudu’s mum will be her plus-one on Strictly as she rules out romance on show

She’s the rising TV star set to make a big impression on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing.

And for AJ Odudu, a working-class black northerner who felt that the odds of achieving TV success were always stacked against her, it’s a dream come true.

Today, in her first interview about her big break, 33-year-old AJ reveals how she had to save up for train fares to get to London for auditions and search for them on a library computer because she couldn’t afford one of her own.

But her mum Florence, who worked several cleaning jobs to make ends meet, always believed in AJ and told her to stay focused on her dream.

Now, as she prepares to become a household name on Strictly, AJ says: “It’s all coming together now.

AJ is all smiles with her beloved mum Florence
Nathan Gallagher)

“It does feel like a long journey and I’ve had to work very hard and be patient, but these are dreams I’ve had all my life.

“When I was a little girl and said I wanted to be inside the TV, my mum really did believe that I could.

“She instilled that belief system into me. My mum will say: ‘ AJ, you’ve been presenting since you were eight years old’.”

AJ is proud of her Lancashire roots, but says life wasn’t always easy.

“Being born and raised in Blackburn, it was difficult for me to even ­visualise how I get to London to embark on a career in broadcasting and TV,” she recalls. “I had to save up for train fares and I didn’t have a laptop. Even finding out about opportunities was really hard.

“I would have to go to the local library to use the computers and even then, you would have to pay to use the internet.

“I think the class thing was quite a barrier – a lot of people don’t talk about it.

AJ is proud of her Lancashire roots
Nathan Gallagher)

“I was doing lots of work experience opportunities for free, which were amazing but also hard when you don’t have family in London as you are paying for hotels and travel.

“Then my accent often felt like a barrier. Early on, some people didn’t take me seriously – that was difficult for me to take.

“I felt like a lot of odds were stacked against me to begin with, be it financial, racial, class, gender… but I have been so lucky having my parents champion me and say that I can.

“And I think that’s what people really need to hear – that they CAN, regardless of their background.”

While trying to land TV jobs, AJ worked in a call centre, then in retail and later as a waitress. She explains: “I was juggling those while trying to get meetings and auditions and for those, you needed time and to look presentable.

“How do you look like a star when you don’t have the bank balance of a star?”

AJ’s big break finally came in 2013 when she began presenting Big Brother ’s Bit on the Side with Rylan Clark-Neal and Emma Willis.

AJ says it wasn’t always easy for her
Nathan Gallagher)

Then, in 2019, she presented backstage on The Voice UK and The Voice Kids and also appeared as a contestant on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.

Despite the lingering effects of the pandemic, 2021 has become AJ’s year as she has just won the second series of ITV2’s Celebrity Karaoke Club.

She has also been confirmed as the co-host of a one-off revival episode of The Big Breakfast, presenting alongside Mo Gilligan, for Channel 4 in September.

But it is Strictly which will push her into the mainstream, and she couldn’t be more chuffed about it – especially as she’s been keeping it a secret for over two months. “I am over the moon,” she says.

“I haven’t been able to tell anyone and my code name was Marge Simpson, which I absolutely loved.

“I even had to keep it a secret from my mum, who has always loved Strictly.

“We used to have Strictly parties – that’s how much of a big deal it is in our house.

“Last year’s series was the perfect pick-me-up after lockdown. That’s what got me through!”

This year’s show will feature the first male same-sex couple with TV chef and 2012 Great British Bake Off star John Whaite, 33.

While AJ says “it’s been a long time coming”, she adds: “Strictly are amazing for really making these changes. It makes me proud to be part of it.

“We are starting to see a lot more diversity on TV and radio. Social media and different platforms have been a wake-up call to the world of television.

“If there isn’t a diverse range of people on TV, then people will make their own podcasts or programmes.”

AJ on Who Dares Wins
Channel 4)

AJ says she would class herself a “novice dancer” who has only ever practised her moves in nightclubs.

She adds: “Zero experience. I went to uni and studied English and politics so I don’t come from that background of training.”

AJ reckons she will be most excited to perform the jive because she is a “high energy” person.

Her mum Florence has already put her name down to be AJ’s plus-one in the Strictly studio every week and the star has ruled out finding love on Strictly, which is renowned for both making – and breaking up – couples.

“I am really enjoying being single,” she laughs. “I spent lockdown being single so I can’t get in a romantic entanglement now. I’m enjoying working hard and loving life.”

AJ adds that while she is passionate about certain issues, she is “also all about having pure unadulterated fun sometimes and just having a laugh”.

“After a big job I like to raise a glass and enjoy life and the great people within the industry, whether that’s karaoke with Emma Willis, a night out with Maya Jama or a champers with Tom Allen,” she says.

So how will AJ celebrate her big Strictly news now that she’s free to tell everyone she wants about it?

“My career has been very bumpy so I don’t celebrate anything usually until its happening,” she says.

“But tonight, I think I’ll open up a big bottle of champagne.”

Originally from https://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/aj-odudus-mum-plus-one-24712366

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