AJ and Curtis Pritchard: ‘Whatever happens on his side of the door stays on his side of the door’

The dancing brothers recreate an old photograph and reflect on Strictly, Love Island and living together

Curtis (on the right) and AJ Pritchard in 1999 and 2021. Later photograph: Pål Hansen/The Guardian. Styling: Andie Redman
Curtis (on the right) and AJ Pritchard in 1999 and 2021. Later photograph: Pål Hansen/The Guardian. Styling: Andie Redman

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, AJ and Curtis Pritchard have established themselves as the hard-grafting good guys of reality TV. Spending much of their childhood and teens working as professional dancers and representing Britain in world and European championships, they are now primetime fixtures: AJ first appeared on screens in Britain’s Got Talent in 2013 and has since competed as a professional on four series of Strictly Come Dancing and as a contestant on I’m a Celebrity; Curtis’s career blossomed as a finalist on 2019’s Love Island. Next month, they star in Cinderella for Wolverhampton Grand’s panto. They live together in south London.

Curtis

Growing up in the countryside in Cheshire, we were always getting dirty in the garden. Before we started dancing, we were into extreme sports and we’d do everything together – build dens, rob Dad’s toolbox, saw wood. Typical lads really.

As teenagers, we could have got drunk. We just didn’t. My school mates were partying while I was representing our country in Russia. There were parties in the dance world, though, plus a couple of people I fancied. I was a bit mischievous. At one major competition when I was a teenager, nobody could find me for a few hours. I was with a girl. I ended up being late for a competition round. My dad absolutely bollocked me.

There’s always rivalry between us, but never jealousy. AJ is 15 months older and such a great big brother, always looking out for me. It was amazing having someone slightly older on my side at school. The odd few people would take the piss out of us for performing, but we’d always have each other’s back.

I suppose that kind of mentality carried on into our 20s. Back in 2018, on Boxing Day, we were on a night out in our home town, Nantwich. We hadn’t seen each other in ages – AJ was doing Strictly and I was doing Dancing With the Stars in Ireland – so we went to this upper-class place, a nice club. We were dancing, minding our own business. Then someone pushed me as hard as they could. As I turned, a load of people went to grab AJ. I stood in front of him. There were eight lads – and I just took a beating from them. My face was smashed up. I had a flipped cartilage and had to have a knee operation. I couldn’t walk for a while. It was fight or flight, but I’d do that for anyone in my family. I’d sacrifice my life. Without hesitation.

Fame hasn’t changed mine and AJ’s relationship, but at times it has been hard. When I went on Love Island, I didn’t know what to expect. According to the papers, I was the fat one. Obviously not nice. I was a bit more overweight than the lads in there as they were shredded. I got into good shape, but then I just ate cheesecake every day – five slices with every meal. It was stressful – sometimes we slept for three hours a night. But I loved it. It was an all‑inclusive, paid-for holiday – and I came home and made more money than I had in my entire life. Now I’ve got all these incredible opportunities.

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Me and AJ live together, but I’m going to move out, because while it’s fantastic, I’ve had enough. It’s his place, so I’ve always got to ask if I can bring anyone over. He pays all the bills. I’m 25 and I don’t want to have to ask my older brother: can I see this girl? Can I bring her back home? He’s also so clean. He has to have everything perfect.

We do get on each other’s nerves. We hate each other. We drive each other mad. But we’ve always got each other. And I’m only moving around the corner.

AJ

Our parents ran a dance studio, Pritchards’ Dance & Fitness Academy, from our house. When I was a kid, I’d go to bed upstairs, wake up in the morning and come downstairs to dance. I had a very clinical routine. Everything was scheduled so I could move forward: the same lunch at the exact same time, TV at the exact same time. All my clothes were folded and ready to go. My pencils would be sharpened before school. When you’re trying to compete for No 1 in the world, everything has to be ridiculously detailed; I apply that to my everyday life. Even when I’m making a cup of tea, it has to be perfectly filled to the top. If I know everything is clean and in the right place I know that I won’t waste any time grabbing it. Everything is 100% efficient.

Mum and Dad thought this approach was a positive thing. I know it might sound weird, but it’s kept me going. It’s a fallback. I can go back to my quiet place, sit down in my room and everything is perfect. If you’ve got a clean mind, a clean body, everything is easier to get the task at hand done. Me and Curt couldn’t be more different. Whatever happens on his side of the door stays on his side of the door, so I don’t have to see it.

I never wanted to rebel growing up. Maybe I’ll have a midlife crisis. I’ll probably just buy an expensive car. For me, life is about rewards. The first two years of Strictly, I refused to pay for coffee in London. I come from the north and I’m not paying for anything. I get the underground. Claim back all my expenses. Not buying a coffee for two years has meant that I had a deposit to buy a flat. I always buy my own birthday or Christmas presents. If I want to get a new bag, I’ll go to the gym for four weeks straight, and I’ll eat healthily and won’t touch sugar. Then I can buy the bag. As I’ve always been focused on dancing and my career, I never had that many friends. Curtis was always very sociable – and it’s still that way. If I want to go out, I end up bringing his friends, so it’s quite simple for me.

On the night Curtis got attacked, I was just thinking: what’s best to do in the moment? It wasn’t a winnable situation. Curt’s 6ft 3in and I’m 5ft 7in – to pick him up and escape with eight people frantically kicking and punching, it wasn’t going to work. I had to get the kitchen staff to step in and call 999. Afterwards, both of us talked about it – if you don’t talk about things like that, it festers. I like to keep my emotions bottled up and away from people normally, but with this it really helped to open up. Of course you question their motives – was it jealousy? We’ll never know the answer.

From being a nobody to suddenly being on TV with 12 million people watching on Strictly was quite a lot. It was the same for Curtis. When me and Mum and Dad watched him walk into the Love Island villa, he was wearing white jeans. We thought: he’d never normally do that – so he must be happy. Like me, Curtis is very honest, but when he broke up with Amy on Love Island, it was stressful; it’s a high-pressure situation, he looked sunburnt, he looked dehydrated, and the way it came out was brutally honest.

People said he’s not genuine – why would you make coffee for everyone, why would you hold the door open? Well, that’s Curtis! It’s the way we’ve been brought up, to help each other and help other people. It’s much easier to be kind than not.

Contributor

Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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