Professional dancer Katya Jones burst onto our screens on Strictly Come Dancing eight years ago – now, it’s hard to imagine it without her and her dazzling choreography. Russian-born Katya, 35, tells OK! (after apologising for being full of cold) about whether there is a special someone on the scene these days following her 2019 split from ex-husband Neil Jones. Her fellow pro Neil has since moved on with Love Island star Chyna Mills, and they’re now parents to baby daughter Havana.

She also opens up about what it’s like to be at the heart of one of the biggest shows on TV and, somewhat surprisingly for anyone who’s seen her bubbly on-screen persona, declares that she’s a total introvert at heart..

Katya, we love you on Strictly. Will you be back in September?

I don’t know yet, but hopefully we’ll find out very soon. Fingers crossed! Can you believe that the upcoming series would be my ninth? That means I’m coming up to a decade on Strictly. I still think of myself as a ‘newbie’! What have been your favourite routines over the years? Oh, I can’t choose! I love doing it and there have been so many brilliant routines over the years. I’m in touch with all my old dance partners – this show gives you these beautiful friendships. I met [sports presenter] Mike Bushell for breakfast the other day and I saw [actor] Nigel Harman recently. I spent the weekend in the Cotswolds with [former footballer] Tony Adams’ family and I even went to see [swimmer] Adam Peaty qualify for the Olympics.

What are co-hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman really like to work with?

Literally just how you would imagine. What you see is what you get. Clauds is just hilarious, supportive, really warm; Tess is always checking in on us and making sure we’re comfortable. They’re lovely and a great team. Who’s the strictest judge? Does anyone scare you? Nobody. I always tell my celebs that whatever they say, it doesn’t really matter. If I tell them they did good, they did good! The judges have their job to do and I have mine. Nobody puts fear into me. On that note, Craig Revel Horwood is brilliant. I went to see him do Dancing With The Stars in Australia when I was over there.

Katya Jones in a short sparkly dress being lifted by partner Ed Balls at Strictly photoshoot 19 Jan 2017
Katya and Ed Balls' Gangnam Style became one of Strictly's most iconic performances

You perform on Strictly alongside your former husband, Neil Jones. Is that ever awkward?

No, not at all. Neil and I have always made it clear that we’re still good friends. Everybody knows that. It’s truly nice to see him so happy in life. You’re from Russia. How long have you called Britain home? I left home at 18 when Neil and I started dancing and I’m 35 now. We travelled all over the world doing competitions. I can make a home anywhere. But the UK’s definitely become home now. Us Strictly pros, most have left our homelands to fulfil our dreams and don’t have family here – that’s why we connect, we’re in the same boat. I go home for New Year, and family come over for Strictly to see me dance. I miss my family, but I think it was harder on them to let me go as a teen.

Does anyone else in your family dance?

My brother, a professor, is actually quite a good dancer. And my mum, Tatiana, took up dancing just before she turned 60 – she always wanted to dance. Four years on she’s competing on an international level, she’s planning on going to the World Championships in Buenos Aires as she’s learning the Argentine Tango. Now I know where I get it from!

Strictly pro dancers and former couple Katya and Neil Jones pose in dance outfits in 2019
Katya told OK! she's 'very happy' for ex-husband and fellow Strictly pro, Neil Jones

Do you have an alternative ‘family’ here?

I have several people who have become like family. At the start it was Neil’s family for sure, who I’m still in touch with. Nowadays, my best friend [Olympic snowboarder] Aimee Fuller. I am also very close to Janette Manrara. I spent a week at her’s recently and I see adorable Lyra [Janette’s daughter] regularly.

Your Strictly co-star Amy Dowden was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. How is she doing?

Amy seems to be doing so well. Obviously there’s no sign of disease any more, and we are all there for her and supporting her. Amy came and surprised us on the Strictly tour, the cheeky monkey. Hopefully, we’ll see her back on the dance floor soon. It’s where she belongs.

Do you have any big ambitions?

Yes, to move to Australia and live in the rainforest! Look, you can do it all. You can work for six months, travel for six – it’s all in our hands. I think I’ve been getting that work life balance right. People asked me why I didn’t do the pro tour... I want that balance. I work hard for seven months of the year, and for the rest of the year I want to explore the world and do other things that make me happy.

Katya with her 2018 Strictly partner, comedian Sean Walsh
Katya with her 2018 Strictly partner, comedian Sean Walsh

What about love? Is there anyone on the scene?

Absolutely not. Just my piano and my padel racket. Of course, I’d like to find The One. I’m really open about it. But dating in the modern world is interesting. It can be quite difficult. I’m on Hinge [dating app]. People don’t communicate in person any more. I’d love to go back to meeting someone in a pub, like the old days.

You’re sometimes portrayed as a bit of a man-eater.How does that make you feel?

Whatever anyone wants to make me into, opinions don’t define me, so I don’t connect with them or make life decisions based on that. I just live my life and enjoy it!

Can you tell us about the numeracy campaign you’re supporting, why’s it important to you?

I’ve been a National Numeracy Ambassador for a few years and I love it. Being a dancer, people don’t necessarily expect me to be friends with numbers! Hopefully, someone like me who isn’t a maths genius but speaks positively about how maths can make life a little easier, [is] more relatable. It’s like dancing – I always hear people say, “Oh, I can’t dance.” People make that decision instead of having a positive mental attitude towards it. We can all improve at something. One phrase I absolutely love is, “Be a permanent student in life.”

Strictly's Katya in a group of girls posing with Amy Dowden on Amy's wedding day
Katya and friends on pal Amy Dowden's wedding day

What else are you learning?

Piano’s always been a big passion. I played as a child, then took it up again during Covid. I’m very into boxing, it’s definitely the closest thing to dance, as it’s also a full body and mind workout. I’m currently training to take part in a padel tennis competition, which is extremely challenging for me! How were you at school? I’m an introvert by nature, and I was a total teacher’s pet. My family’s very academic – my brother’s got a PhD in physics and maths. I was the least advanced in that area. I hated performing, which is funny now. I have an old photo of Dad trying to comfort me, I was in tears as I didn’t want to dance in front of people! Being an extroverted personality while performing is something I’ve learned.

Do you have a philosophy you live by?

Be a verb, not a noun – always be moving and evolving. And remember, everything works out in the end.

Katya Jones is an ambassador of the charity National Numeracy and is supporting National Numeracy Day on 22 May. See