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I'm a lot more nervous about dancing than playing football. I can do that with my eyes closed in fact some people say I did! ROBBIE'S BACK ON STRICTLY DANCEFLOOR 6 YRS ON; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: LAURA CONNOR

It seems only yesterday he was wowing fans with his cheeky charm, flowing blond hair and stunning tie-and-waistcoat combos.

And now, six years on, Robbie Savage is back for the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special and he's lost none of his sparkle.

While never the most technically perfect, the Mirror football pundit and ex-Premier League midfielder amazed everyone by making the quarter-finals in the 2011 contest.

So has his dancing improved since then? "Well, I knew I couldn't get any worse!" he jokes.

"It's obviously very nerve-racking. I haven't danced for six years.

"The good thing for me is I had the confidence. I am not the best dancer but the public kept me in for 10 weeks.

"By then I was looking at the standard and thinking: 'Wow! I can't believe I am here!' So it's amazing to be back."

Robbie, 43, is dancing with Diane Buswell who partnered Richard Coles on this year's show. The dad of two says: "The theme of the special is what we most love about Christmas. When I was playing football, I'd be on the road at that time. So the day I look forward to most is coming home to my family."

Robbie opens the Christmas show, which also features Katie Derham, Judy Murray, Kimberley Walsh, Colin Jackson and Jeremy Vine, with a performance set in a 1940s home where Diane longingly waits for her husband's return.

The former Welsh international, notorious for his robust tackles, adds: "Strictly is way more nerveracking than football. I could play with my eyes closed - and, to be fair, some people said I did!"

As part of their routine, Robbie lifts Aussie Diane, 28, an impressive six times. But he jokes the audience should not expect any knee slides this year after he broke his nose doing the risky move into the camera in 2011.

Despite a few more grey hairs, he is in good shape.

Has He goes to the gym daily and says it not only keeps him trim but also keeps his mind sharp.

dancing any Well, Recently, to encourage others to seek help, the ex-Leicester, Derby and Blackburn star opened up about his insecurity and anxiety.

couldn't any ROBBIE ON TO THE He sees a doctor once or twice a month, adding: "I go home, I worry. I am insecure, very insecure."

Robbie, married to wife Sarah for 15 years, says: "If I had a broken leg or any other physical injury, people would say 'Are you ok?'. But with mental health you can't see it and that's why I speak up as much as I can to help others."

He recalls that after his ex-cricketer pal Freddie Flintoff talked of his mental health battle on their Radio 5 Live podcast, they were inundated with calls.

"So many people said 'Thank you, Robbie, thank you, Freddie, because of you two opening up about your issues, I have been able to get help or help for someone in my family'."

Robbie has also spoken about dementia in the podcast - called Flintoff, Savage and the Ping Pong Guy (who is Matthew Syed). Dad Colin had a form of Alzheimer's at 58 and died in 2012 aged 64.

He says: "It's the family around those with Alzheimer's who suffer so much. Dad was the man mum wed and who I idolised. I'd look at him and think 'He's the same person'. But for years he wasn't."

He told his podcast pals his guilt over visiting Colin but thinking "What's the point?" because his dad didn't know who he was.

He adds that recent publicity about the link between heading in football and dementia, including Alan Shearer's investigation into the issue, is a step towards raising awareness. Earlier this year the Mirror revealed three of England's 1966 World Cup team have dementia or memory problems, along with at least 375 other players.

Robbie says: "Be- cause of what hap- pened to my dad, my mental health is important. That's why I am so open.

"The more we talk about it, the better."

Dancing seven hours a day in preparation for the new show was, of course, great physical and mental exercise.

And he got to meet the judges again - including Craig Revel Horwood.

He says. "I was most looking forward to seeing Craig because he hammered me so much. But it was an amazing experience.

"I've since had the chance to do other shows and turned lots of them down. "But for me, Strictly is special." |Strictly Christmas Special, Xmas Day, 6.30pm, BBC1.

laura.connor@mirror.co.uk

Christmas comeback stars

KATIE DERHAM

The BBC presenter finished fourth with Anton Du Beke in the 13th series of the show in 2015.

This year, Katie is partnered with professional dancer Brendan Cole.

She says: "I cannot wait to dust off the sequins."

JUDY MURRAY

The Scottish tennis coach and mum to Wimbledon winner Andy appeared in the 12th series, getting through to week eight despite low points. This year she dances with Neil Jones.

Judy, 58, says: "I promise to be every bit as bad and to enjoy it every bit as much."

KIMBERLEY WALSH

The Girls Aloud singer was one of two runners-up in the 10th series. Kimberley, who has had two boys since her first appearance in 2012, is once again paired with Pasha Kovalev, saying: "I loved my time on Strictly so much so it's going to be wonderful to be back."

COLIN JACKSON

The Olympic medallist came second in the 2005 series, losing out to cricketer Darren Gough. He's no stranger to the Christmas Special, after winning the competition a year later.

Partnered with Amy Dowden, Colin, 50, says: "I'm looking forward to dusting off my dancing shoes once again."

JEREMY VINE

The Radio 2 star appeared alongside Katie in the 13th series of the show, finishing ninth. The 52-year-old, dancing with Karen Clifton again, jokes: "Me? Dance again? Yes, yes, YES!!! Now where are those shoes?" Judy and, Katie

Has my dancing got any better? Well, it couldn't get any worse! robbie on his return to the ballroom

CAPTION(S):

BACK Judy and, top, Katie

STAR Footie days

2011 With partner Ola Jordan

FAMILY GUY Robbie with wife Sarah

PODCAST With Freddie Flintoff and Matthew Syed

Robbie with new partner Diane Buswell 2017
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 23, 2017
Words:1055
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