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Interview with Diversity star Ashley Banjo

London Calling chats with Ashley Banjo of Diversity, who are bringing their Up Close and Personal tour to London.

Diversity put dance crews on the map back in 2009 when they beat Susan Boyle to win Britain’s Got Talent. Since then, they’ve toured nationally to some of the country’s biggest venues, from the MOBO Awards to Wembley Arena. We caught up with creator and choreographer, Ashley Banjo, ahead of Diversity - Up Close and Personal, their most intimate tour yet.

London Calling: You’ve done some pretty big shows in your time! Such as T4 on the Beach, MOBO Awards, Wireless Festival and Wembley Stadium – what made you decide to do a more intimate tour?

Ashley Banjo: On our last tour, I remember walking out on stage, it was at the O2 Arena and I was like this is amazing! This is crazy, all these people screaming!

LC: I bet that never gets old?

AB: It never ever gets old! But I thought to myself, I don’t want it to be selfish. We have the ability to sell out arenas, we’re the only dance group really to ever have done it and the fans have always supported us and bought tickets, for 7 years now. So I thought to myself, it’s time to do something where people can really see how much we’ve changed, how much we’ve progressed and do something that was much more close and reconnect to the fans. We don’t want to be a big machine that just sells arenas.

LC: In order to make this tour more special for the fans, are there pieces that you’ve never performed before or things that have been reworked specially for it?

AB: One hundred percent! We bring back some of our old classics and rework them but with a more mature outlook. Look at Perri, he’s not little anymore he’s grown up. He can drive, he’s got his own house, and he’s his own man! Also as part of this tour, we involve the audience in a way that we have never ever done before, it’s really good fun.

LC: So what do you prefer –as you must be pretty used to both – live TV or live shows?

AB: Live TV is scarier! Nothing can beat the fact that you are performing to millions of people at once, but I think the buzz of a live show, when you feel that energy and hear that roar of thousands of people it’s crazy.

LC: After you’ve been on TV, do you ever watch your performances back?

AB: It’s the first thing we do. On the night we get back and we watch it, especially if it’s live!

LC: Since you won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, you’ve won a fair few awards. How does it feel to be both commercially and critically successful?

AB: It’s great actually to achieve what we have, and sometimes I try not to sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet but we are really proud of it! Especially coming from one of those kinds of shows, when you win the X Factor, or for us, Britain’s Got Talent. It’s more of a challenge to stay around,

LC: They always say it’s the winner’s curse - not for you guys!

AB: Exactly! Some successful people have that for 2 or 3 years but six years on, nearly seven and we’ve just planned our 2017 tour! Next year, I’m hosting a new show on the BBC with Zoë Ball. Jordan and Perri have just been BAFTA nominated for their children’s presenting so we are going from strength to strength.

LC: What’s on the cards for Diversity in 2016?

AB: It’s going to be even bigger, and so will 2017! We are working our way to our ten-year anniversary now, which for a dance group is unreal!

LC: This tour is jam-packed, you’re visiting so many venues up and down the country. What’s your favourite place to tour to (other than London, obviously!)?

AB: It's been really nice going to places that we have never ever been, like we’ve never toured to East Anglia before. Last night we were in Ipswich, so when we met people during the meet and greet at the end of the show, for the vast majority of them it was the first time they’d seen us live!

LC: What about when you play a home crowd? Last week you were at the Cliffs Pavillion in Southend on Sea, Essex.

AB: That was incredible, the energy in that room! The venue was smaller than some but the energy in that room was similar to the energy at somewhere like the O2 Arena, it was incredible! And that’s why we look forward to London so much; it has a special quality for us.

LC: This tour includes routines based on those featured in your TV special that aired around Christmas last year – are there any TV appearances lined up for you guys this festive season?

AB: Actually we’re not! We’re having a break. I think last year we worked so hard for the special that even on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Years Eve we were rehearsing, so this year we have made the effort to take the time off before 2016 starts.

Diversity will be heading to London on Saturday 21st November for a performance of Diversity – Up Close and Personal at the London Eventim Apollo. For tickets to this performance and others on the tour visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk.

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