SEVERAL years ago, long before she became a household name, Sara Davies wrote a wish list.
On it were three things she wanted to achieve more than anything else, and although each was a huge ask, it is testament to her utter determination that she has now ticked them all off.
She says: “My three big aspirations have been to do Strictly, to write a book and to be on the front cover of a magazine. And today, I’ve done it!”
She looks around our studio, where that third and final wish has come true, and beams. “I’m not having you on – I honestly wrote it on a piece of paper.” Anyone who has watched this year’s Strictly Come Dancing will have witnessed the passion and drive that Sara, 37, brought to the dance floor – she’s such a powerhouse, she gives the distinct impression that there’s nothing she can’t achieve if she sets her mind to it.
She competed on Strictly while continuing to run her multimillion-pound company Crafter’s Companion – which she founded while still at university – and being mum to Oliver, six, and Charlie, three, her sons with husband and business partner Simon, 41. And although her Strictly exit three weeks ago freed up some much-needed time in a hectic schedule, she was heartbroken that her journey had come to an end.
“I was just devastated, because I was so proud of the performance. But the show isn’t just about the dancing – it’s also about the vote, and we were in the middle of the leaderboard, which is a dangerous place to be,” she says.
“The first morning I woke up and realised there was no training, I was absolutely distraught. My body clock was tuned to wake at 5am to head to the studio, but now there was no point in getting up. I was lying there wide awake and it felt like a massive void in my life.”
Although she was a big name in business and had received an MBE in 2016 for services to the economy, Sara didn’t have a mainstream profile when she joined Dragons’ Den in 2019. Before that big break into telly, friends used to gently rib her when she shared with them her dream of one day making it on to Strictly.
'He’s loving life'
“I have watched the show since it was Come Dancing, because my dad Frank was a ballroom dancer. I loved it and I’ve always said: ‘I would love to do Strictly.’ My friends would laugh and say: ‘You’re hardly A list enough to do Strictly. Get a grip!’
“Then I went on Dragons’ Den, and they were like: ‘Well, Deborah Meaden has done it, so you might get the call.’ So I made sure I told everyone that I loved the show. I basically wanted to become famous enough to get on Strictly!”
And of course, Sara did way better than just “getting on” the show. While she always thought it was unlikely she would eventually lift the Glitterball trophy, she set her sights on getting to the halfway point – which she managed, eventually making it to the final eight with professional dancer Aljaž Škorjanec. And that result was much to the surprise of her tough-talking dad.
“When I said I was doing Strictly, my dad, who is Frank by name, frank by nature, said: ‘You’re just not good enough, kid – you’re overweight, you’ve got no musicality, you’ve got two left feet, you can’t move your body.’”
So what did Frank – who turns 71 tomorrow – think of her wowing not only millions of viewers but also Shirley Ballas and the rest of the judging panel week after week? “He couldn’t believe it. He was choked up watching me dance. People always say you should do things for yourself, but I want to make my parents [Frank and her mum Susan, 59] proud.
"I remember when I got my MBE, watching my dad cry was just priceless. I am a product of them. They put all their hard work into me and I hope they think: ‘What an amazing woman she’s become.’” Learning to dance and proving her dad wrong were good enough reasons to do the show, but there was also a more serious motive for Sara – she was hoping to lose weight for health reasons.
I hate going to the gym, but I’ve just been prancing around feeling a million dollars with my trousers falling down.
“Long before Strictly, my doctor told me I needed to lose around 2st to get my BMI in a good place. I thought I would lose it with Strictly. At first I was gutted, as I was getting on the scales every week and I wasn’t losing anything. I’ve never worked so hard in my life, so it should have been dropping off, but I’ve definitely toned up. I’ve even had to buy new leggings. We were filming a video and I had to stop halfway to tell Aljaž that my trousers were falling down!
“I don’t know if my BMI has changed, but I feel great. I hate going to the gym, but I’ve just been prancing around feeling a million dollars with my trousers falling down.” That feeling of satisfaction shows.
On our shoot she oozes confidence, which raises the question: what does Simon, to whom she’s been married for 14 years, think of her transformation? “Simon is not a complimentary person. He’s the one who keeps my feet on the ground. While everyone else is telling me how awesome I am, he won’t overdo it.”
He must be enjoying the new increased stamina, though… “Trust me,” says Sara, with a glint in her eye, “he’s loving life…” She had no worries about the show’s infamous Curse affecting their marriage.
“I said I would only want Aljaž as my partner – and the Curse was one of the biggest reasons for that. They never talk about the Strictly Curse in relation to him and his partners, and maybe that’s because of Janette [Manrara, Aljaž’s wife who also used to be a pro dancer on the show].
“It was never going to apply to me because of how much I love my husband, but I didn’t want it being talked about. We’ve been together forever and our relationship is built on trust and fidelity, so it would never be an issue.”
We’re chalk and cheese
Sara was only 15 and the scorer for the local cricket team when they met. At 19, Simon was four years older, which seemed a lot at the time. “It was quite the scandal,” she hoots. “I look back now and if I’d come home [with anyone else] and said: ‘This is my boyfriend, he’s 19,’ my dad would have had the shotgun out. But they’d watched him play cricket for years and he was such a lovely lad, so it didn’t faze them at all.
“My dad would drop me off at the match and then I’d get a lift home with Simon in his little Vauxhall Nova. One day, he asked if I fancied a drive and I said: ‘But there isn’t a match.’ And then all the lads were talking like I was his girlfriend and I’m thinking: ‘Well, he never asked me out,’ but that was it.
“I knew then that I would marry him. I know people say: ‘You were 15, how did you know you were in love?’ but I just knew.” Sara says they are complete opposites, but that’s what makes it work.
“We’re chalk and cheese. I’m the one who’s up for taking risks and Simon isn’t. In the boardroom, we disagree on things and we’ll fight it out, and it’s a little bit uncomfortable for the staff because they think: ‘Oh my god, they’re having a domestic,’ but we’re not. We won’t leave an argument until we come to a resolution. We never bring it home and we don’t argue in our personal life. In 22 years, I can count the number of arguments we have had on one hand.”
Crafter’s Companion was born when Sara took a university placement at a small craft company and spotted a gap in the market for a tool to create bespoke envelopes for handmade cards. By the time she graduated from the University of York in 2006, the business was turning over £500,000 a year. It currently employs more than 200 people worldwide, stocks 20,000 products and boasts an annual turnover of more than £25m.
Sara says the secret to her success is not being motivated by financial gain. “The thing that has always driven me is being the best, not measuring success based on money. My dad can’t understand why we don’t pay ourselves a massive wage and sit back and enjoy the ride. We could just have a great life, but that wouldn’t get me out of bed in the morning.
"I fly to America once a month and after we had the kids, my dad would say: ‘I don’t understand why you go to America. Can you not get your staff to go instead?’ But it has to be me. I can be a fantastic mum and have a great family life and still drive the business forward. If I wasn’t able to have both, I would compromise, but I feel like I’m able to have it all because of the support network I have. We are lucky that both sets of grandparents are retired now – I couldn’t do it without them.
In 22 years, I can count the number of arguments we have had on one hand.
“I throw myself into work, then I pick the kids up from school and am with them all weekend. I have learned to be present in whatever I am doing because otherwise mum guilt will tear you apart.”
While, in terms of wealth, Sara’s home life is a world away from her childhood growing up in County Durham, where she still lives today, she’s determined to instil the same morals in her kids.
“We do live in a beautiful, big home in a lovely neighbourhood, which is very different to how we grew up, but I want them to have the same values. Every December, the two of us go to this beautiful hotel in Dubai for a long weekend and I will say: ‘Let’s bring the kids, they’ll love it,’ and Simon says no because when we were kids we didn’t get that sort of thing.
“He doesn’t want them to think that that is what a family holiday is. We take the kids for an all-inclusive package deal to Tenerife in the summer and they love it.” Next year, Sara will publish her autobiography (number two on that wish list) as well as returning to the new series of Dragons’ Den – although she says she never feels like she’s away from the place, as people constantly pitch her ideas.
“The other pro dancers were always coming to me with business ideas, but Aljaž was really protective. He’d say: ‘No, not while she’s dancing!’” Of all the things that made her sad about her Strictly departure, it was the thought of not seeing Aljaž every day that left her most bereft. “He’d become a massive part of my life and the kids’ lives. He’d eat dinner with us and have a few beers and a chat with Simon. We were spending 24/7 together and I wasn’t ready to lose that.
“We went for dinner with Aljaž and Janette the night after the results show and I had a really good heart-to-heart with Janette. They seem to value the friendship as much as we do. We’ve made friends for life.” She adds that the biggest lesson she’s learned from her time on the show is one that may prove life-changing.
In business, I could never allow myself to be vulnerable. I’ve had to put this armour on and go out and be this businessperson
“In business, I could never allow myself to be vulnerable. I’ve had to put this armour on and go out and be this businessperson. But you can’t go out and dance without letting your guard down and wearing your heart on your sleeve.
"Learning how to do that, how to be vulnerable in front of 10 million people, is such a scary thing to wrap your head around. But that’s actually been the biggest part of it for me – and I hope it’s a skill I can take forward with me way beyond this competition.”
- We Can All Make It: My Story (£20, Bantam Press) by Sara Davies is out April 28, 2022, and is available to pre-order now.
Sara’s six best business tips:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Entrepreneurs love to share their own experiences.
- Look at people and companies that you admire and focus on what makes them great – then channel these values or attributes into your own business.
- Don’t undersell yourself. Offer a prospective client a small taste of what you’re going to offer for free, but ask for full price if they want it.
- Use social media. The more you share of your story and business ethos, the more likely customers are to connect to your brand.
- Do your research. Understand your target audience and get to know them inside out – and find out everything there is to know about your competitors.
- Adopt a positive attitude and mindset. When you’re working day and night to establish your business, it’s important to remember that success doesn’t happen overnight.
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