Whether it’s a West End gig, television role, or dancing competition, just know that if Layton Williams is involved, expect him to give no less than 110 percent.
Making his performing debut at just 12 years old as Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical in London’s West End, the now-30-year-old has continued to enjoy his fair share of victories and proven time and time again that he is an authentic all-rounder. Recognised as the second-longest-running performer as Billy in the show’s history, some of Layton’s other most notable acting roles include Jamie New in the hit musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Adam Jackson in I Hate Suzie, and Stephen Carmichael in the BBC sitcom Bad Education.
Officially a household name, Williams is currently entertaining the nation every weekend as a contestant on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing and is already taking the competition by storm. Paired with Ukrainian-Italian dancer and choreographer Nikita Kuzmin, the duo found themselves at the top of the leaderboard last week following their insane quickstep performance and appear to be the couple to watch out for. Scoring nines across the board, we have no doubt in our minds that it’s only a matter of time until it will be tens.
Following an exclusive Principle shoot, Layton sits down with us to discuss Strictly life, taking Everybody’s Talking About Jamie international, his most rewarding role, and what we can expect from the fifth series of Bad Education.
How has Strictly life been treating you so far?
Oh my god, it’s the most beautiful chaos ever. It’s kind of like a bit of a rollercoaster vibe. Like a yo-yo, you’re up, you’re down, you’re all around. The height of the Saturday night, live to millions of people, I cannot explain that feeling. My stomach was in knots beyond knots and my nerves were on edge, but like the sheer excitement and joy, knowing that you’re going out to the nation is pretty wild. So I loved it. And then, literally, you get one day off and you’re straight back to, “Okay, now let’s learn the quick step!” So it’s kind of nerve-racking for the weekend, but honestly, it’s fabulous.
How many hours a day are you spending in rehearsals?
It’s down to the pro and the celeb schedule, I guess. We’re not messing about, we are putting in the work. So I’d say a good eight-hour day of just pure dancing, just me and Nikita just absolutely hammering it out.
How anxious were you when finding out who your partner was going to be?
I don’t have much of a good poker face, to be honest, so imagine turning around looking disappointed. That was not the case. I was surprised, I’m not gonna lie, because I had him written off as being with a different celeb also called Nikita. So I thought, “Okay, they’re probably gonna be the double Nikita thing.” And just height-wise, honestly, I just didn’t see it for us. But I mean, he is still taller than me to be fair, but when I turned around, I thought, he’s bloody gorgeous and he is a fucking lovely guy. So from the get-go, we just hit it off and I was like, “Okay, this is gonna be lit.”
Prior to this year, had you been asked to take part in the show?
No, I was in discussions once about the Christmas special potentially but it didn’t work out and I’m glad it didn’t work out because now I get to do the full thing.
What made you say yes? Is Strictly something you could always envision yourself doing?
I was like, this is such an opportunity to go out every Saturday night, have so much fun, perform to millions of people, and like do different vibes each week and challenge myself in a completely different dance style. I’m talking Latin ballroom is no joke. There are so many technicalities to it that I was unaware of. And I thought, listen, why not get dressed up every Saturday night and just have an absolute ball? So it kind of became a no-brainer because I was like, I’m not gonna do a disservice to myself or anything. Hopefully, fingers crossed, people will be like, “Wow, look at that guy. He’s pretty cute.” [laughs]
Is there a particular dance that you are really looking forward to potentially doing? Or one that you might be nervous about?
I’m slowly but surely getting used to all of the different styles, to be honest, because I’m a little bit clueless, I’m not gonna lie. I think I would quite like to do the Cha-Cha. I think that would be quite cute. That’s a bit up my street. I’m still unsure as to whether I’m living for the Latin moments or more of the ballroom. You’re doing what you’re doing so you gotta get into it, so you find the joy in the moments. They’re so different though. It’s crazy.
There is always critique every year from the public saying that people with dance experience have an unfair advantage over others who don’t. What are your thoughts on that?
I would say that first of all, you would have half a cast if you didn’t have anybody that didn’t have any dance experience. So that’s one, period. You wouldn’t have your TV faves and all the people that you’ve seen on your favorite TV show. I don’t know how you feel about that, but you know, you want to see people that you know. And quite clearly by the way I’ve been judged, I’m being judged on my ability. So I’m getting judged as someone who has had previous performing experience. So it’s not really adding up to me that I have an advantage at this point because I’m getting judged quite, I would say, with a stricter eye, you know? Obviously, some things are going to be a little bit more natural to me, but then others I’m like, “Oh god, I almost have to unlearn.”
You’re most known for a variety of roles, one of them portraying Jamie in the musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which you did for many months in London. What was it like seeing your face plastered all over London and seeing your name up in lights?
Oh my god, I pinched myself every single day. I was so corny, I would walk, even though there was no need, in the front of the theatre because I could just go straight to the stage door. But best believe, I’m doing a trip so I can see my face every single day just to take it in. You never know whether they’re gonna use your face on the poster so it’s a big, big, big tick, especially Shaftesbury Avenue, you could not get more iconic. So I really just properly indulged in the moment and just enjoyed every single second. And also then, we went on tour and it was all over the UK and it felt just as special, seeing my face plastered all around the country. And then Los Angeles, that was a gag. Yeah, that was a gag [laughs]. I proper cried the first time I saw that.
That was something I was going to mention, you were the first to take the musical overseas. How did the experience differ and did you ever imagine you would ever take it internationally?
Never in my world. I thought I was gonna do the UK tour and then I’d be like, peace out, take care. And it was during lockdown I got the call that was like, “Hey, we fancy going to LA with this when COVID is wrapped up. Do you want to go?” And I was like, “Yeah, do I want to go to Los Angeles and play Jamie in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie?! Absolutely!” One of the best experiences of my life. I will never forget it.
I can imagine! Another famous role people know you for is Stephen in BBC’s Bad Education. The show returned to our screens for a fourth series, in which you had a lot of involvement on the writing front. How did you feel about the reception?
Yeah, it was a lot more pressure this year because it’s new. People love their things and sometimes when you bring something back that’s pre-loved, but it’s not quite to their taste again, it’s quite scary. So I did put a lot of pressure on just wanting to do the best work that I could and, you know, being in a writer’s room, making them fun and joyous, and Bad Education has a vibe about it, it has a spirit, so we wanted to keep that spirit, but make it for like a 2023 audience. You know what I mean? Us getting a fifth season kind of gives us a pat on the back that we did that.
It was a really nice validation to go, actually, you killed that and we want to see one more. So goodness knows if this is the last thing. I’m just so proud that we got to bring it back to our fans of old and new fans. And I got to be a queer man being a teacher in a school and it not being a massive deal. It was just like, Stephen is now your teacher, get into it. I was really proud of that because it’s not that often when we get to fully lead shows, so I was really proud.
You mentioned a fifth series there, which you have officially wrapped. What can we expect?
Oh my goodness. I honestly feel like this season is wild. First of all, we have a musical episode, I think I’m allowed to say that, that’s the Christmas special, which is coming out. So all singing, all dancing but I don’t actually do too much of that, which is the gag. Can you imagine out of all the episodes that we’re finally gonna sing and dance and then I’m just up there being grumpy! But it was really, really fab to see all of the other co-stars like Mat Horne, Jack Whitehall, and Charlie Wernham throw themselves into it. Everybody just rose to the challenge, so we got special this year as well. It’s like a six-episode season, which is always lovely to get the extra episode, just to have some fun. And each episode really does feel like it could be a finale. They’re all just jam-packed with so much joy, so much drama, and a whole lot of looks and so many characters. I can’t even count on two hands how many different characters are within the character. The wigs were wigging, I can say that.
Has there been any role that you felt has been most rewarding?
Oh, that’s a good question. I think Jamie felt really rewarding because I knew how much he impacted queer kids, especially in a time when it felt like there was a lot of noise about our community. Having pure joy every single night, watching people on their feet celebrating this 16-year-old boy. It was really special, being able to see the ripple effect it would have throughout the country and taking it to your smaller towns as well as your West End, the messages that I would get from young people, it really did mean a lot to ’em. It’s actually on the road now and I just feel so proud that I was the first to take it on the road and that people loved it so much, that it’s back again. People are still messaging me to this day about it. We took this show out to these people and it’s still kind of having its moments. That is a really special thing for me.
A lot of your roles have been within the comedy field. Is there a particular genre that you would love to challenge yourself with next?
Oh, 100 percent. I like to think I’m a chameleon and that I can adapt and do different moments. I had a really fun time on I Hate Suzie, actually. Like, that was a DRAMA! My character was pretty cute and fun. But I mean, there were moments in that where I was like, “Oh, we’re doing this! This isn’t no slapstick. I’ve got Billie Piper crying in my arms, let’s go there.” You know? And what a masterclass in acting, being able to act opposite her. So that was beautiful. And she’s such a gorgeous gal. I think I’ve kind of pushed myself and challenged myself before and know that I can do it again. It’s just when the time is right and you find that right project, then I’m ready to surprise everyone as well as myself and just see where life and my career will take me.
I’ve noticed that a lot of your acting roles have been on television. What about movies on the big screen?
Of course, absolutely. I think it’s only a matter of time, I would hope. I just love that I’m out here now showing people what I can do. I think some people who know me from Bad Education might not even necessarily know I can dance. Do you know what I mean? When I was on set, first of all with Jack Whitehall, he’d be like, “Oh you can dance, you can sing.” I’m like, “Girl, get into it. Like yes, let me give you a little sing-song!” So it’s nice to constantly be surprising people with your talents as an all-around performer. Only time will tell but those casting directors better be hotline bling blinging me!
Strictly Come Dancing airs on BBC One and on BBC iPlayer every Saturday evening.