There is a universe in which Kelvin Fletcher is playing Aladdin in pantomime in St Helens right now, as he had planned.
But careers can turn on small moments, and for the former Emmerdale actor one such moment came when Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing landed awkwardly during the Strictly Come Dancing launch show.
The injured Laing pulled out, and Fletcher quickstepped in.
And over 13 weeks, his athleticism, enthusiasm and natural style made him the nation’s favourite dancefloor hunk, and he lifted the glitterball trophy with partner Oti Mabuse in front of 11 million viewers on Saturday.
St Helens’ loss was Strictly’s gain.
Fletcher is still in a post-final frenzy, touring TV studios and doing interviews as he starts to turn his mind to what the future – and his new level of fame – hold.
After joining Emmerdale as Andy Sugden at the age of 10 and staying for two decades, he says he was keen for Strictly to let people see him “in a different light”.
His competitive streak is also clear from his parallel career as a motor racing driver, which saw him win this year’s British GT4 ProAM championship (ahead of Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, among others).
Before the racing season starts again, he will take part in the Strictly arena tour in January and February.
But it’s clear that acting is his first love. “That’s where my dreams still lie,” he says.
Where were you when you got the call asking you to go on Strictly?
I was at home, I think. The call came completely out of the blue from my agent who said, ‘Kelvin, I’ve got some news. The BBC have been in touch and would you be interested in joining the show as a late replacement? But we’ve got to be quick.’
So within an hour or so, contracts were being sent and I was having chats on the phone with producers, and I think I was in London the next morning for a medical.
I got to rehearse for I think a week or so. And then it was the opening night, and it’s just been the most amazing journey on the best show on TV, and Oti is just an incredible person to share the stage with.
Were you even on standby?
No. They do have a standby, I think, and it wasn’t me. I wasn’t expecting the call. I never thought it was an option.
So it had never been floated?
No. It couldn’t have been any more of a curveball than it was. I’d just finished my first feature film at the end of July and I knew I had a few days left on that to do. Then I was going to go into my first pantomime, and that was my few months of work. Unfortunately I had to pull out of the panto.
How did you feel when the Strictly judges swooned over you?
To get comments, it didn’t bother me at all. I don’t really take offence to anything. The worry sometimes in this day and age is that we’re so quick to take offence. And then people don’t say things, and does that mean you can never give a compliment, or it can only ever be a compliment based on a technical thing that can either be correct or incorrect? Can we not give comment on something that is subjective?
The judges’ critique was first and foremost the most important, and a few comments saying that I was… I can’t remember what they were… indulging in my masculinity and looking slightly buff or whatever, for me was absolutely fine.
What would you like to happen next?
I don’t know. I never did this show with an expectation that something would happen. To do the show in itself is a huge privilege. I was very eager for people to see me, who I am, because not many people have seen that. They’ve seen me play a character for so long.
And if things come on the back of this then then amazing. But that wasn’t the reason why I did the show. First and foremost I wanted to do the show to learn to dance, get spray tanned every week, get a different costume every week, get sequins put onto you. It’s been an amazing experience.
But absolutely I am an actor and that’s where my dreams still lie. British drama at the minute is probably some of the best it’s ever been. So I very much I want to be a part of that, and that’s hopefully now where my journey will continue.
Would you rather do straight acting than musicals?
I’m a massive musical theatre fan. Growing up, I went to the theatre an awful lot to watch musicals and never did I think that I would get the chance to participate in the West End. Can you imagine how incredible that would be?
So I’d love to do West End. But it’s something that would feel quite alien to me because the elements of dancing and singing would feel quite new. I wouldn’t say no to anything at the minute.
You have starred in your first film, We Go In At Dawn – what is it about?
It’s based loosely on a true story and showcases the real jeopardy that was D-Day. According to the plot of this particular story, one of the handful of people who knew of the imminent strike had been captured as a POW in occupied France. The Germans were unaware of his position – they just thought he was a pilot.
So my job as a spy was to infiltrate occupied France on my own and retrieve this guy at all costs because should they find out who he is and extract the information, it could jeopardise the whole thing. I think it comes out in March next year.
Are there similarities between racing and dancing?
The nerves. Maybe my heart rate is the only similarity. I don’t know what my heart rate was just before I was about to dance, when it [the announcement] is: ‘Dancing the samba, it’s Kelvin Fletcher!’
And it’s the same with racing. Up until that first corner, when the lights go green, it’s just intense. When you get through the first few corners, you kind of settle down and get into your groove. Same with a dance.
Are you going to keep racing?
Yes, it started out as a passion and now it’s become very much another career path. The season starts in March onwards so I’ll be very busy with those racing commitments, and hopefully I’ll be juggling that with my acting commitments as well.
I’ve got a few goals for 2020 – what I want to do in a racing capacity. We finished this year and with a championship title, so we want to do it again. We will see if the glitterball can give me a bit of luck.