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Simon Barnett’s winning moves

Dance floor champion Simon Barnett explains how he went from heckled to hero.

By Donna Fleming
Dance floor champion Simon Barnett explains how he went from heckled to hero with Dancing With The Stars.

Simon Barnett had to step way, way out of his comfort zone to compete on Dancing with the Stars New Zealand. He shaved his chest, had spray tans and wore clothes made of very little material that revealed his “dad bod”. But he didn’t take the wardrobe department up on their offer of a paper G-string. “I politely declined that one,” he says.

Those sacrifices – along with the many hours he spent rehearsing with partner Vanessa Cole – paid off in the end when Simon was named as the winner of the competition.

The delighted radio personality says their success was “90% Vanessa and 10% me”, and has paid tribute to Vanessa for her dedication, talent and brilliant choreography “designed to make me look good. She’s not just an incredible dancer, she’s an amazing choreographer and a fantastic teacher.

“Vanessa knows what she is doing and I just hang on. With 30 seconds to go on our Viennese waltz, I completely forgot everything. It was a moment of unbridled panic! But Vanessa was still moving, so I thought, ‘Oh, I’d better move.’ We floated across the floor – well, I followed!”

Simon and Vanessa earned a perfect score of three 10s for their final dance of the competition, a paso doble. It was a far cry from their efforts in the first week, which earned the pair three fours and the second lowest total of the night.

“That was horrendous. I wanted to leave after that,” says Simon. “I felt humiliated. My mouth was hanging open the whole time and it looked terrible. Everywhere I went after that, people greeted me with their mouths open. I was in the hardware store and some guy called out ‘Four, four, four…’ I really did want to leave but after that experience, there was only one way to go.”

Left: Simon and Vanessa’s final dance, a paso doble, earned them a standing ovation and a perfect score. Right: Simon says his victory was “90%” down to Vanessa.
Left: Simon and Vanessa’s final dance, a paso doble, earned them a standing ovation and a perfect score. Right: Simon says his victory was “90%” down to Vanessa.

Simon, who got his start on TV presenting What Now?, says Dancing with the Stars is the scariest thing he has ever done.

“I have jumped out of planes, I’ve flown in jets, but I reckon this would be the worst thing. The first night, I could barely breathe backstage. I will never forget standing there waiting for the music to start, thinking, ‘What on earth have I done?’I do live radio and have done lots of live TV before, and I have always suffered from nerves. But this was particularly bad, especially at the start.”

When he was first asked to take part in the TV3 show, Simon (48) said no. “My dancing experience was nil. My brother and sisters would dance at parties, and my wife Jodi loves dancing, but I was the guy standing in the corner with a glass of wine. You just couldn’t get me up on the dance floor.”

Jodi thought it would be a good idea, though, and Simon’s daughters – Sam (21), Sophie (20), Isabella (16) and Lily (15) – encouraged him to do it. “They said, ‘Go on, Dad. It will be hysterical.’ Hysterical was not the word I wanted to hear.” But always up for a challenge, he decided to go for it.

“I’m nearly 50 years old. I thought, ‘You are probably never going to be asked to do this again, so why not?’ I believe in making the most of every opportunity and living life to the fullest.”

Simon is extremely grateful for all the support he got from the public. “People have been fantastic, coming up to me and telling me how much they’ve enjoyed it. There was one lady who even voted for us 50 times in a week – that’s $50 – which was wonderful. I also got an email from an elderly lady who loved to dance, but who can no longer get out of bed. She said she lived for Sunday and Monday nights, and whenever she watched us dance, she had tears in her eyes because it was so beautiful. That was humbling.”

Meanwhile, Jodi was amazed at how adept her husband turned out to be on the dance floor. “After we did the rumba, she rang and said it was so beautiful, she couldn’t take her eyes off the TV screen. That was all down to Vanessa, of course, but it was so nice to hear. Now, though, I’ve got no excuse not to dance!”