When the Kiwi producers of Dancing with the Stars started their search for a brand-new panel of judges, they cast their nets far and wide. But they needn't have – in the end, all three experts, Camilla Sacre-Dallerup, Julian "Julz" Tocker and Rachel White, were found in Los Angeles ... and it turns out they've been best friends for years!
Wellington lad Julz, 30, marvels, "We all went for this job separately and signed agreements that we'd keep it to ourselves, then suddenly we turn up to the same screen test and we're like, 'What the hell?!' It's a dream because we don't have to pussyfoot around each other. I can say what I like and know they won't take it personally."
Danish blonde bombshell Camilla, 44, agrees, but doesn't believe their casting was a coincidence. The life coach and self-help author insists, "This is fate. My agent put me forward for the job last season, but it's only come about now because the timing is right."
Brunette beauty Rachel, 30, nods. "It's strange how some things happen. These guys are both amazing friends to me and it really feels like this was meant to be."
Former ballroom champ Camilla first met a 12-year-old Julz when she was touring New Zealand, giving lessons with her Kiwi dance partner and former fiancé Brendan Cole. She recalls, "Julian was a really talented kid and even back then, I knew he'd go far."
Indeed, fast-forward a few years and Julz turned up on her doorstep in London with several bags and a surfboard, eventually moving into the same building as Camilla, who became first his dance coach and then his life coach. "She's part of my family now," he says. "We must have been very connected in a past life."
Certainly, their friendship didn't fade when Julz moved to LA – because Camilla soon followed. After six years as a dancer on the UK version of Dancing with the Stars, she relocated to Tinseltown with her actor husband Kevin Sacre and reinvented herself as a full-time wellness guru.
In Hollywood, Julz has helped Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling with their footwork for La La Land. "That was surreal," he says. "I was literally shoving Ryan across the floor. He didn't know whether to hit me or thank me." He also regularly dances with good friend Goldie Hawn, who has texted Julz to congratulate him on his new Kiwi role.
But no matter how busy Julz gets, he's a regular at Camilla's dinner table as his dance studio is just five minutes from her house.
He was also the first person Camilla turned to when she had a meltdown over turning 40. She smiles, "It was his turn to be my motivator and convince me it was going to be fine. He's definitely in my life for a reason."
Meanwhile, Rachel – who was Josh Kronfeld's partner on the fifth NZ season of the show – had known Julz for years via a Kiwi dance partner. After he moved to LA, they started dancing together and their bond deepened to the point where Julz was MC at her wedding to a "stunning" NZ-born gym owner.
Rachel jokes, "I've got enough Kiwi guys in my life now, but they do bring out the more relaxed, fun side of me."
Julz and the Russian-Californian babe have now gone into business with a dance studio franchise, but before he signed on the dotted line, Julz insisted she undergo a goal-setting session with Camilla. Rachel says, "He made it a requirement to know Camilla and I'm so thankful we met. As well as an amazing life coach, she's a really special friend."
"Oh, you'll make me cry," responds Camilla. "But I feel the same. Rachel just slotted into my life and I knew she was meant to stay."
Relocating to Auckland for the show was a no-brainer for all three judges, especially Julz, who missed his homeland. He says, "I also wanted to come back to prove you can create a career out of dance. Growing up in a rugby family, I had a tough time being a dancer. I was bullied and was told so many times it wasn't an option."
Rachel tells, "New Zealand is so beautiful. If it was warm all year round, I'd live here already. I love how genuine the people are and how delicious the food is. I'm not supposed to have any wine or cheese as I'm on the Paleo diet, but
I can't control myself here!"
Camilla adds, "I loved this place from the minute I arrived. Brendan and I had a house in Auckland, and planned to spend time here once we retired from dance, so I was really emotional when I came back for Dancing. I'm so far from where I'm from, but I feel so happy and at home here."