WHEN Maisie Smith is asked about her fellow Strictly contestant HRVY, she can’t help giggling.
The EastEnders actress was linked to the 21-year-old singer before they joined the show.
But Maisie, 19, is ruling out romance . . . for now.
Quizzed about a possible relationship with the handsome pop star, real name Harvey Cantwell, she says: “Not right now. He is a beautiful-looking guy.
"But I have only seen him for a couple of hours a week so I am still enjoying getting to know him.
"I don’t know what would happen in the future, but for now we are getting along really well as friends.”
HRVY, on the other hand, has been gushing about his pretty co-star over the past three weeks, describing her as “beautiful” and “lovely”.
It’s not hard to see why the wannabe Romeo has taken such a shine to Maisie.
Thanks to her mesmerising hips, videos of her jaw-dropping Strictly samba in a bright pink, feathery dress on the first week of the live shows ended up being viewed thousands of times.
And her rhythm on the dancefloor has led to her topping the leader board for two weeks running — making her the clear favourite to win the Glitterball trophy.
Maisie, who is this series’ youngest contestant, says: “Shaking our hips is a family trait. All us gingers have got some fire in us.
“My pink feathery dress helped my hips. As soon as I moved, the feathers flowed for about ten seconds afterwards. That’s how I managed to shake it for the entire dance.
“My body was made for Latin dances. Ballroom is where I am going to struggle. I can’t just fake it with a smile and shake my hips.”
Maisie, who is paired with pro dancer Gorka Marquez, 30, worked out every day for six months to prepare for the show, which has resulted in sculpted abs and legs.
She reveals: “I love training. When I found out I was going on the show I realised I needed to be as fit as I could as they knew I could dance so they would really push me.
“Before Strictly I was going to the gym six or seven days a week. I would spend two hours there.
“I put pictures of my body on social media. Because I don’t post a lot of them from the gym, people think I am naturally like that, but I have worked so hard.
"I didn’t want to go into this and not do well because I wasn’t strong enough.
“The fact I managed to hold the frame in the tango is down to the strength I have from training for the past six months.
“Now Gorka and I work for ten hours a day and I still go to the gym. It’s my happy place.”
As well as having trained in ballet, Maisie is a skilled hip-hop and street dancer.
She says: “Everyone has said in the past, ‘You shouldn’t be allowed to go on Strictly if you’re a trained dancer’. But being a trained dancer and being a ballroom and Latin dancer is completely different.
“I am used to doing free dancing, where you just move your body around. Dancing on Strictly is like learning another language.”
Just three weeks in, Maisie already appears to be fluent — but she reveals she has been suffering from stage fright that she disguises using her acting skills.
She says: “I am putting on the biggest performance of my life every week just covering up my nerves.
“If I go wrong filming for EastEnders, I can do it again. But with this you just have to go with it. My face makes it look like I might be finding it easy. I come across as confident, but inside I am struggling.
Last year Maisie won Strictly’s Children In Need special. And in an exclusive interview with The Sun in October, head judge Shirley Ballas, 60, warned her not to get “cocky”.
The comment, Maisie says, spurred her on to prove her worth — and with Shirley scoring her eight out of ten for her samba and a nine for her tango, it is clearly paying dividends.
Maisie says: “Shirley gave me that extra push.
“It added a bit of pressure because I have to go out and prove I am working my socks off. I can’t start slipping down the leaderboard.
“The fact I started off strong has made me really nervous, because I know I have to focus on improving every single week.”
Maisie credits Gorka, who has been on the show since 2016, for enabling her to overcome her nerves — and she is helping him cope with being apart from partner Gemma Atkinson, 35, and their 16-month-old daughter Mia under the show’s Covid-safe rules.
Gorka is in London while his family are in Manchester, and Maisie has also struggled with loneliness.
She says: “Every morning we hug for a whole minute. I can’t go home and hug my family so I take it out on him.
“Gorka is living alone and so am I. All the loneliness we’re feeling at home, we can just come in and actually hug someone.
“We have great chemistry dancing and off the dancefloor it’s the same. We’ve become really good friends. Gorka and I have realised we’re the same person. It’s crazy.
"We clicked so quickly. We can read each other’s faces and we know what we’re thinking.”
The lockdown and strict rules on social bubbles put in place by BBC bosses mean Maisie has yet to meet Gemma, whose romance with Gorka began when she appeared on Strictly in 2017.
But the ex-Hollyoaks actress has been helping with their steps.
Maisie adds: “Gemma has been giving us some advice about our chemistry on the dancefloor because she knows Gorka the most.
“We send videos and she gives me tips. As much as we can we try to stay connected to Gemma.”
Scrutiny is nothing new to Maisie, who was just six when she landed her role on EastEnders in 2008.
She played Tiffany Butcher, the youngest daughter of Patsy Palmer’s character Bianca.
The pressure of growing up in the spotlight means the mistakes most people make behind closed doors have been played out in public for Maisie.
In June she was pictured smoking what appeared to be cannabis close to the home she shared with her parents and sister Scarlet in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex.
The teen, who could have faced six months behind bars if caught, was in a car when she puffed on a rolled-up cigarette with a pal.
But Maisie praises the soap for helping her mature.
She says: “Being on EastEnders made me grow up faster than if I wasn’t on it as I have been in a working environment since I was six.
“I am a shy person. EastEnders made me more confident. Now I can go out every Saturday and perform live on Strictly.”
The prime-time favourite has given Maisie a taste of the unknown too — and she’s keen to spread her wings.
She adds: “In the future I want to try new things and I want to play new characters, but for right now I’m happy because EastEnders want me still.”
Although she would like to exit the soap one day, leaving home won’t be top of her list.
After living alone for the first time to do Strictly, learning how to cook and clean for herself hasn’t come easy.
She says: “I had to ring mum and ask how to use the washing machine.
“I’ve been eating fajitas every day because they’re the only things I can cook. But I have absolutely mastered them.
“No one will ever have fajitas that are better than mine.”
If she puts as much effort into cooking as dancing, there’s no doubt about it.
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