Beating cancer as a child left Karen Hardy with a determination to succeed. Discipline and dedication meant she made it to the top of her profession as a dancer. And when combining motherhood with business, she applied the same rules.
“It involves a great deal of work, dedication and commitment to be a world class dancer. And those qualities are not only important in your career but in your life”, she said.
Most people know Karen as the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing star who turned self-conscious cricketer Mark Ramprakash into a sizzling success on the dance floor. The pair became Strictly champions in 2006 after stunning judges with their red-hot salsa. But the 40-year-old also made dancers of chef Gary Rhodes, BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull, boxer Evander Holyfield and actor Brian Capron on the show.
Although no longer a professional dancer on Strictly, she still choreographs for the show and is a regular dance expert on its spin-off “It Takes Two”. Much of her time now is dedicated to being mum to her five-year-old son Callum and running her dance studio in London.
She said: “It’s not easy to be a mum, a dancer and a businesswoman. “Some mums try to put on a façade that everything is perfect. But I’m never afraid to let people know I am juggling with eggs.”
And despite her best efforts, there have been the odd moment when an egg has dropped and smashed. Sending her young son to school in full Power Rangers regalia after getting the dates wrong for fancy dress day is among her more memorable moments. Karen’s own childhood in Bournemouth, Dorset was blighted at the age of eight by a rare form of cancer in her ear. She spent months in hospital battling the disease and claims her love of dancing got her through.
“You get very lonely in hospital. The only thing that kept me going was my dancing. At school, my career’s officer thought I was mad when I said I wanted to be a dancer. But I proved them wrong”, she said.
She began ballroom dancing at the age of five and went on to become World Masters Champion, International Open World Champion and United Kingdom Open World Champion during her professional career.
However, after leaving professional dancing in 1999, Karen found it hard to readjust to life off the dance floor.
She said: “At the time of my retirement, it seemed life just stood still for an eternity. I guess this would only be experienced by a small minority of people who have dedicated their lives to their sport or art and reached the heights that so many can only dream of to find that eventually it all has to come to an end.”
But by 2005, just months after giving birth, she was back in the sequins and the spotlight with series three of Strictly Come Dancing. A year later she became Strictly Come Dancing champion with Mark Ramprakash. And it’s this steely determination which has seen her survive in the world of business too.
She said: “What I did to become number one dancer in the world, I applied to being a businesswoman.”
Two years ago, she set up her dance studios at Imperial Wharf, Chelsea. Open to everyone from four to 94, it offers dance lessons for all abilities in ballroom and Latin and freestyle and hip hop for the youngsters. Karen hopes her younger students will also learn some of the important life skills she picked up from dancing.
She said: “Dancing is about building your confidence, learning to interact and working as a team. One thing children need to learn is not to be afraid of competitiveness.”
Despite all her work commitments, Karen is fiercely protective of time with Callum and husband Conrad at home in Purley Oaks, Surrey.
She said “Most parents give their children about 20 minutes proper attention a day because they are busy. I make sure Callum gets a good two hours from me. When I get home from work I have pure family time.”
And she believes parents shouldn’t be afraid or feel guilty about asking for help from friends and family to make sure you get this time.
As she points out: “Your businesses will come and go but your family, I have learnt the hard way, is there forever.
*Karen is hosting a Masquerade Party at the Wyndham Grand Hotel, Chelsea on March 31st in aid of children’s cancer charity Clic Sargent.