Joanne Clifton is the name on everyone’s lips, not only for turning down Strictly Come Dancing 2017, despite winning last year, but mainly for jumping ship and turning her hand to musical theatre.

Which is why on Saturday night you won’t find her dancing in front of Darcey, Craig, Bruno and Shirley on TV, but singing her heart out to an audience of thousands in Flashdance The Musical, as the lead Alex Owens, opposite A1 heartthrob Ben Adams.

A massive jump then for the dancer, and sister to fellow Strictly professional Kevin, but one she has yearned for all her life. So when did she realise she'd made the right move?

"It wasn't until Kevin came to see the show because I really wanted to make him proud. He is a year older than me and a massive inspiration so I really wanted to impress him.

"I thought he’d cringe, but he came backstage afterwards with tears in his eyes and was so moved by the show and my performance. He could see how happy it made me and said I’d definitely made the right decision.

“And it is a dream come true. The audience starts whooping and clapping as soon as the show starts and they even wolf whistle at some points, so it’s been absolutely brilliant,” a jubilant Joanne says, as if she can scarcely believe her luck.

A big name to pull in for the musical, Joanne admits it was a difficult decision to make. “It was a bit of a shock at first, but after winning Strictly I couldn’t think of a better time to leave, as I have always wanted to do musicals. And I didn't want to stay on Strictly for years and years, so this was the right time, the best time."

Was she surprised by the attention her decision received on social media and in the press? "Yes! It was really overwhelming and I didn’t know people cared so much,” she admits.

Really? The BBC’s prime time Saturday night show final pulled in a record audience of over 13 million viewers last year alone!

“I know but we spend all our time in the studio and perform to a tiny live audience, so although you hear about the viewing figures, it’s not the same as performing live in front of thousands up and down the country.

Not that this happened by chance. When Joanne returned from Italy in 2014 to join the Strictly crew, she immediately took up her musical theatre training again.

“When I was younger I couldn’t do both dance and musical theatre as they took up so much time, so I had to choose, and I chose dancing. But now that I have achieved everything I had set out to do (she won the World Ballroom Showdance Championship in 2013 and also stole the European Professional Ballroom Championship and World Dancesport Games titles), so it was time for me to try something new."

Starting with an unspoken part as a prostitute in a play above a pub, Joanne has slowly moved up the ranks, learning her craft as she went and finally landing the role of Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

“I got really into it and got better and better. Thoroughly Modern Millie opens with just me on the stage which was a bit daunting, but I’m used to touring now and doing eight shows a week. I’ve settled into it all.

As for Flashdance The Musical the 33 year-old says: "of course it’s still a bit nerve-wracking, because I’ve never done this style of dancing before. I do ballroom, not hip hop and jazz. It’s not a waltz in a beautiful long dress and a man in a penguin suit. Instead it's a complete transformation – I’ve got a perm, legwarmers, a boiler suit, a leotard. I dance around on stage in my knickers and when you consider that I was the only one on Strictly who asked the dressmakers to drop my hems, it’s quite something.

“But I’m great on a grinder now. My welding is pretty special actually. To start with it wasn't really happening but now I’ve got the hang of it and can get the sparks flying," she laughs.

"So although I’m covered in bruises, cuts, aches and pains, I’ve never been happier.”

And does Joanne feel she’s got more to prove? “Maybe, but I hope people will be surprised by the way I can act and sing. And maybe they might come because they know I can dance, I’m not deluded enough to think Strictly didn't have anything to do with my casting. But I have got to be good enough to carry the role.”

And what’s harder? “Oh Strictly. It’s much more stressful. Because you have to mentor and choreograph all day, everyday. In musical theatre, I come off stage at 10pm and hang around with the crew who I get on with so well, wake up at 11am and watch Jeremy Kyle and do it all again. So I love it."

And her favourite part? “When the water gets dropped on me which is such an iconic scene and the nice songs I sing in my grey off-the-shoulder jumper," she laughs.

You can still catch Joanne on It takes Two and the Strictly launch show but on Saturday nights from now on she'll be telling the inspiring story of 18 year old Alex, a welder by day and ‘flashdancer’ by night, who dreams of going to the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and becoming a professional dancer.

Happy then? "This is all I've ever wanted. And while this may be a bit more risky career wise, that will just make me work all that bit harder. Because there are so many parts out there I’d love to play from Roxy Hart in Chicago, to Cabaret and Calamity Jane. But in the meantime I’m having the time of my life."

Flashdance The Musical: New Theatre Oxford from 18 – 23 September. 0844 8713020 or