Strictly Come Dancing's Laila Rouass: 'Anton's dance steps keep me awake at night'
Laila Rouass is best known as serial schemer Amber Gates in Footballers' Wives - although she also played a geeky paleontologist in the TV drama Primeval. She has been married and divorced twice and is now resolutely single.
Laila, 34, lives in London with her two-and-a-half year old daughter, Inez, and has been partnering Anton du Beke in Strictly Come Dancing.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and who would be with you?
I'd be in Morocco, somewhere in the Sahara, with my daughter. It's a beautiful country, the people are welcoming, the food is fabulous - and I have roots there. My father is Moroccan and I have fond childhood memories of holidays there.
Call me Lady: Laila Rouass was awarded a knighthood from the King of Morocco in 2001 for helping to bridge the gaps between Morocco and India
Tears on the dance floor: Laila Rouass and Anton Du Beke feel the strain on last week's show
Who has been the greatest influence on your life?
Aside from my parents, I'd say my English teacher Mr Casey. I grew up in the East End of London and my school wasn't noted for producing the Einsteins of this world, but Mr Casey really brought out the best in his students. We were petrified of him, but his lessons were pure magic. He was like a second father to me and he fired my imagination. Thanks to him I achieved straight As in English.
How did your childhood affect the person you are today?
My mum, who comes from Goa, wanted us to develop our minds when we were kids, so she used to turn the electricity off at weekends so we couldn't sit watching the telly. I'm the eldest of seven, and it forced us to talk to each other and to read books. It was a great exercise and it turned us into resourceful and articulate people. We weren't thrilled at the time, but now I realise Mum was very clever. I'm also adaptable, street-smart and open to new cultural experiences, which is because we travelled a lot when I was a child.
Which famous person is your all-time greatest crush?
Mohammed Ali. He's much more than a boxer. He's also a passionate idealist who fought for his people. I respect him - and, of course, he was very handsome in his younger days.
Your favourite TV show?
Only Fools & Horses. I love the humour, the chemistry between the characters, and the fact that they are so utterly believable. Everything, down to the tower block where they live, rings true. It made me laugh as a child and still does. It is one of the few shows on TV that appeals to every age group.
What was the greatest surprise of your life?
Finding out I was pregnant. I went to the doctor's with back pain, thinking I might have a kidney infection, and he told me I was three-and-a-half months pregnant! It was the most welcome but unexpected news I'd ever had.
Have you had your heart broken?
I find it very difficult to throw myself body and soul into a relationship, so I haven't allowed myself to become vulnerable. Promises have been made to me and not delivered. Someone purposely hurt me. But it has left me disappointed rather than heart-broken.
Do you have good luck rituals?
I don't, as such, but I say my goodnight prayers. I was brought up a Muslim and I respect the religion I was born into, but I don't practise it. However, I do believe in thanking God for my happy life.
Fiendishly difficult: Anton's complex choreography gives Laila sleepless nights
Do you have any regrets?
Not at all. I'll make mistakes until I'm 100, if I live that long, but I certainly wouldn't allow myself a second's regret.
When did you last cry?
I've turned into such a wuss since Inez was born! I blubbed when she dislocated her elbow recently, mostly because she was so brave when they wrenched it back into place. She didn't even whimper. I wept tears of pride.
What item would you never throw out?
My very first babygro, a little white towelling one that my mum kept and passed on to me. I wore it when I was a newborn, so did Inez.
DID YOU KNOW?
Laila made her acting debut in 1999, in Senso Unico, an Anglo-Italian film about a Pakistani girl in Italy. Her ambition is to star in a Quentin Tarantino movie
What keeps you awake at night?
Bloody dance steps! I can't get to sleep because they're whirling around in my head. There's so much to remember. Are your legs in the right position? Is your back straight? Are you smiling and is your head at the correct angle? And that's before you've even started mastering the actual dance. It looks disarmingly easy, but, believe me, it's fiendishly difficult. Thankfully, Anton is a dream. But he's no pushover. He's an absolute perfectionist, so he's a hard taskmaster.
What is your greatest fear?
Death. I fear dying before Inez is old enough to be independent. Before I became a mum, I just thought of death as part of life's natural cycle. Now my whole perception of it has changed. I can't imagine how my daughter would cope if I wasn't here.
What's your proudest moment?
Being knighted by the King of Morocco in 2001. I worked in India for five years and I was honoured for helping to bridge the gaps between Morocco and India. Unfortunately, nobody bows or calls me Lady Laila, though.
What kind of hostess are you?
I like to think I'm fun and relaxed. I don't drink myself, but I love seeing my guests enjoying a glass of wine. (I grew up not eating pork and abstaining from alcohol and the habits have remained.) I don't strive to be the life and soul of the party, but I hope I create an atmosphere in which everyone has a happy, convivial evening.
What is your biggest vice?
Chocolate. I eat it until I'm sick.
What book are you reading?
You're joking, of course. Since rehearsals for Strictly began, I haven't had a moment's spare time. But when I can, I intend to read a biography of the 19th century aristocrat, Lady Jane Digby, who led a scandalous life of romantic adventure. She was considered very promiscuous in her day and had lots of affairs.
- Strictly Come Dancing is on Saturday on BBC1 at 6.25pm.
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