IT’S been quite a journey for Oti Mabuse, from civil engineering to winning the Strictly Come Dancing glitterball trophy.

Oti joined the hit show - which returns to BBC1 tonight - in 2015, partnered with Olympic boxer Anthony Ogogo. She made an immediate impact - when you watch Strictly your eyes are drawn to her. There is something dynamite about Oti, whether she’s lighting up the dance floor with an electric jive or gliding by in the American Smooth.

In 2016 she gave us jaw-droppingly hot routines with actor Danny Mac, reaching the final. And last year she won the series, with former Emmerdale star Kelvin Fletcher.

Now Oti has announced her first ever UK tour, I Am Here - a translation of her name in Setswana, spoken in South Africa. “I’m so excited, it’s a dream come true to be the only Strictly female professional to headline her own show,” says Oti. “Performing on stage is something I feel so passionately about - and we all need something to look forward to right now! It’s such a hard time for theatres and live entertainment, and the pandemic has had a big impact on mental health, so we really need to look forward. I can’t wait to get on tour and share my story.”

And what a story! Oti was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and studied civil engineering at university before embarking on a career in professional ballroom dancing. After moving to Germany, where there were more opportunities to further a dance career, she won several world and European championship dance titles and is an eight times South African Latin American Champion.

I Am Here is described as a “whirlwind celebration of the influences and inspirations that took Oti on a journey from growing up in South Africa to following her dream”. From high energy Jives and pumping Sambas to South African traditional dances, it’s her life in dance. “I’m incorporating South African styles, to connect people with different cultures, choreography and music, and to show there’s more to South Africa than you might think. It’s a beautiful connection between South Africa and the UK. I’m bringing a bit of my home town to yours,” smiles Oti, who’ll be joined by world-class dancers and West End singers and musicians.

In 2015 Oti appeared as a professional dancer on Let’s Dance, the German version of Strictly. Her older sister, Motsi Mabuse, was also on Let’s Dance, as a dancer and a judge, and is now a judge on Strictly. Growing up in a family of strong women, raised by a mother who encouraged her daughters to reach for the sky, Oti is driven by a strong work ethic - something her celebrity partners on Strictly know all too well. She doesn’t take any prisoners in rehearsals, but she gets results.

Can anyone learn to dance?’ “Give them an hour with me and they will dance!” she laughs. “If they give time, and they’re ambitious and really want it, they can dance. You have to want it. I moved to a different continent and learned a new language when I was very young because I decided I wanted to dance.”

During lockdown Oti curated the Home Festival with fellow Strictly pro Karen Hauer, getting fans active in their living-rooms, and she’s the new presenter for hit CBeebies show Boogie Beebies. She’s a firm believer in dance as a life skill. “It should be taught in schools, early on. Anything that gets children moving is a good thing. Dance needs to be taken more seriously in schools.

“What I love about Strictly, and The Greatest Dancer, is that they encourage people of all ages to dance - to join a class or just give it a go. And when boys see contestants like Jonnie Peacock (Paralympic sprinter Oti was partnered with in 2017) and Graeme Swann (former England cricketer, her 2018 partner) learning to dance and looking strong, and the all-boys groups on The Greatest Dancer, they’re inspired. It’s a beautiful thing.”

As the reigning champion of both Strictly Come Dancing and The Greatest Dancer, Oti is a tough act to beat. “Both shows were public voting so I’m really happy they chose me - and I had an incredible dance partner in Kelvin, and Michael and Jowita (Greatest Dancer 2020 winners) came all the way from Poland to do the show. They should take some credit,” she says.

So what of this year’s Strictly? With Covid safety rules in place, it will be very different this year. At the time of our interview, Oti had yet to meet the celebrity contestants. “I’ve been in a bubble with the professionals, we have pre-recorded the professional group dances. We’ve got some amazing dances, we’re really trying to create the Strictly experience we love,” she says.

There are 12 contestants instead of 15, there’ll be no Blackpool and Bruno Tonioli joins the judging panel remotely from Los Angeles. The celebrity line-up includes comedian and actor Bill Bailey; Olympic champion boxer Nicola Adams; Max George from The Wanted; Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith; actress Caroline Quentin and Good Morning Britain presenter Ranvir Singh.

Whoever is paired up with the whirlwind that is Oti Mabuse is in for the time of their life.

* Oti Mabuse’s I Am Here tour is at Leeds Grand Theatre on June 10, 11 and 12, 2021. For tickets go to