Louie Spence interview
Louie Spence shot to fame as the exuberant, unashamedly camp star of Sky TV’s Pineapple Dance Studios when it was first aired in 2010, although he’d been well known on the UK dance circuit previous to this – both for his work as a dancer and his job as artistic director at Pineapple. The 42-year-old was born in Enfield, but his family relocated to Braintree in Essex when he was a young child. He studied at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts before pursuing a successful career in dance. Not only did he appear in a string of West End shows, but he also toured the world as a backing dancer for such pop acts as the Spice Girls, Bjork, Boyzone and Take That. He retired from full-time dancing at the age of 31, and then threw himself into his role at Pineapple. He has made numerous TV appearances, but it was the smash hit Pineapple documentary that turned him into a household name. Unlike other stars of reality TV shows, instead of fading from view once the series has ended, Louis is now enjoying an even higher profile role – as a judge on ITV’s Dancing On Ice. Ahead of this year’s Dancing On Ice finale, he sat down with David Hudson at The Ivy Club to discuss his career, fame and self-hating homophobes…
You must have an incredibly busy schedule as judge on Dancing On Ice and as Artistic Director of Pineapple Studios. How do you squeeze it all in?
Well, it’s just in-between the other bits I do. Before I became better known, I had done TV stuff before and gone to other jobs before when I was at Pineapple. Debbie [Moore – founder of Pineapple] would let me go away and come back. It’s just that I’ve been away for a bit longer this time. It’s good for business, as well. I am connected to Pineapple, and I love my job there. And you never know how long this is going to last. That [Pineapple] is a permanent job. This… show business… often isn’t permanent.
Are you glad to have experienced this fame at a slightly later age? Some people I’ve spoken to about fame say that it would have completely gone to their heads if they’d had it when younger.
Well, I never expected it to happen in the first place, so I wasn’t ever looking for fame. I think, when you’re a dancer, you are normally a backing dancer, so it’s not about being up front. It’s a great life, because you get to travel the world with the wonderful artists that I did, touring with pop artists. I was living a very glamorous life that took me all over the world and I mixed with wonderful people. In that sense, my life had already been absolutely full and when I went to work at Pineapple, I’d actually given up dance. I think I was 31, and I’d done everything that I wanted to do so I was quite happy to just have that sort of ‘normal’ job. It was a relief, in a sense, to have a wage coming in every month, and not have to worry about where the next job was going to come from. For me, I was never searching for fame. Being a dancer had been wonderful. And it has happened later on in life. And I really didn’t know what to expect. I have been surrounded by lots of famous people, so I have seen how famous people can be. Some of them are absolutely wonderful and some of them are total wankers… and I’m not going to say who! But you know… I’ve seen how it is. Yeah, I suppose anything that happens to you later on in life, you’ve got the beauty of having the experience of life.
Were you surprised to get the Dancing On Ice job?
Yes, because it came around really suddenly. It wasn’t like we’d been in contact with them and it had been an ongoing thing. There was an article in the paper saying that I was being looked at to do it, and that was the first thing I’d heard of it! It was in The Sun. Me and Jason [Gardiner] are good friends, so I was like [indicates picking up phone] “Girl, what’s going on? Apparently I’m going on the Ice – what’s going on with you?” And he said, “No, I’m still negotiating…” Now, I don’t know the actual ins and outs, and it’s not for me to say the actual ins and outs, but I believe that Jason decided that it wasn’t for him this year, so, it was his decision to move on and then they did come to me and say ‘Would you like to?”, and then we spoke about it and then, I’m there.
You have previously spoken about being good friends with Jason Gardiner. Has this affected your friendship at all?
No. Not at all. My friendships will always be a lot stronger than any job, and especially in show business. I mean, I’ve known Jason since the first day he arrived here, about 14 years ago. The thing is, people… they have a TV persona, and then they have their own personality. Obviously that persona is part of them, and Jason was encouraged to be very villainous, it was pantomime. Jason has got a very witty tongue, and it’s hysterical when you’re out with him as a friend, and if we’re out there sitting on Old Compton Street, in a window at Bar Italia or Café Nero, and we’re having a bitch about everyone who’s walking past, what they’re wearing, what they look like… it’s great, you know. So I watch Jason and I see that side of it when he says things. But a wider audience doesn’t know the other side of him, which is a gentle, kind, very loving person, and a very loyal friend. So, no job would ever affect our friendship. Our friendship is for life. I’ve been in constant contact with him over 14 years and something like this wouldn’t break up our friendship.
Dancing On Ice is live. Is that nerve-racking?
No. I think, for me, because I’ve done so much live work – such as West End shows and doing concerts, you know, so you’re used to that sort of adrenaline rush. It’s exciting. Sometimes you can fluff what you’re saying. It doesn’t come out in the way that you wanted to say it, but you know what? Shit happens. That’s live TV. But no, it doesn’t bother me.
You spoken before about having speech impediments – that’s why I asked about whether doing live TV made you nervous?
Impediments? It’s impediment – just the one, darling! No, it’s fine. I think, also, through Pineapple, that people know me, and they take the piss out of it, and it’s part of who I am. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, it’s who I am. I’ve never had a problem with having a lisp.
Did you ever suffer any bullying when younger?
No. I was called a poof, all that sort of playground stuff, but I was brought up on a council estate. My parents moved from Enfield to Essex when I was five, and there were loads of young families that had moved out there, so there was this big community and we all grew up together. Everyone knew me and how I was. I’ve always been camp. I mean, I’m not constantly camp, but once I get going… I’d make people laugh, and people always laughed, not at me, but with me. Well, sometimes they’d laugh at me, but usually with me, and I think coming from a community like that, all growing up together, as I say, people just knew me for who I was. I had a wonderful upbringing. I know that sounds wanky, but my parents never tried to say that I couldn’t dance, or I couldn’t put on the ballet tights, or I couldn’t do this or that... they didn’t try to change me. They couldn’t give a shit as long as I was happy. I had three sisters. We were very much loved and we were very much happy. We were a very open family and we talked about everything. I mean, we didn’t talk about me being gay at a young age, even though I knew. I mean, I knew when I was five. Literally. I fancied the ice cream man. I put in my autobiography, I fancied Mr Whippy! I mean, I didn’t know what it was, but every time that bell would ring, I’d have to run out and I would just stand there while people bought their ice creams.
You’ve commented before about reading homophobic Tweets. Does stuff like that ever get you down?
People just want you to reply to their Tweets for a reaction. They’ll only have about three followers. I have over half a million followers. People will write the most vile things. Sometimes I don’t even like to say to journalists, because they will sensationalise it and turn it into a headline, but no, it doesn’t bother me, and they are very much in the minority. Tweets like ‘You gay motherfucker – I hope you die of AIDS’, and all that, I just block and delete. I actually feel sorry for those people because their ignorance is just beyond belief. Getting a bit more into it, their ignorance… they’re the kind of person who could contract something like AIDS because they’re the type of person to think that something like that couldn’t touch them. Because they’re so naïve and narrow-minded, they don’t understand the way the world works, and the way people work, and the fact that they are as likely to come into contact with HIV as any gay man, do you know what I mean?
Do you ever pick up on any nasty comments from other gay men?
There was… about two years ago… what newspaper does The Pink List?
The Independent On Sunday?
Yes. There was something, and I didn’t even read it. It said something about me giving a bad name to gays or something for being camp. Stephen Fry actually then said ‘How dare you say this, I think he’s great a person, etc’… the thing about that is, it’s one person, or ten people, making a judgment on me, and they don’t even know me. And the fact is, these people are supposed to be choosing gay people and they’re being discriminatory towards someone who’s simply in the public eye and being themselves. So, they are trying to say ‘let’s celebrate gay people’, but then they’re trying to say ‘right, you can’t be like that because you’re not really like that’, well I’m sorry but I am. I am really like this. What you see is a huge part of who I am. Yes, I’m not sat here doing the splits now, or doing back flips, or mincing up and down, but that is a huge part of who I am, and how dare you actually tell me who I am, and how dare you say to anyone out there, gay, straight or whatever but especially gay, that we need to conform. We will be who we want to be. We’ve fought for equality for years and years and years, and yet, now you’re turning around and saying that I have to conform. Go fuck yourself, you fucking homophobic homosexual! Does it bother me? No. This is actually the first time I’ve spoken about it. I’ve never spoken about it before. I go home to my wonderful husband. We love each other so much, and have a wonderful relationship. I’ve got my wonderful friends. That’s the sad aspect. That’s someone who’s got something missing in their life. That’s how I feel about it. If this all ended tomorrow, my life was perfect and wonderful before this happened.
These people to me, I don’t believe they have what I have. If they had what I have, they wouldn’t have to go out there and say and do the things they do. For gay people to tell other gay people how they should be, and to try and make us conform, you know… gay, bisexual, transgender, whatever, that’s your life. If you’re happy and happy with who you are, don’t deny yourself and don’t give a fuck what other people say.
Dancing On Ice is on ITV on Sunday nights. Louie Spence’s autobiography, Still Got It, Never Lost It! is out now.
Photo: © Nicky Johnston/ITV
Posted: 27 February 2012