Furious Strictly bosses left blindsided by AJ Pritchard’s decision to leave the show just weeks after Kevin Clifton – The Sun

STRICTLY bosses were left “blindsided” by AJ Pritchard’s shock decision to quit the show.

The Sun Online can reveal producers have been left fuming at the move which comes as the show, like many others, faces such an uncertain future due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Stoke-on-Trent born star, 25, quit the dancing programme to focus on “becoming the next Ant and Dec” with his brother Curtis, who was on Love Island last summer.

But his decision has disappointed BBC chiefs.

A show insider told us: “It’s terrible timing, AJ was a big part of the show’s future and nobody saw this coming at all.

“Arriving so quickly after the departure of Kevin – it is a double blow.

“Things are really tough at the moment. The show doesn’t come back until the Autumn but, by now, the programme would have liked to have one or two big celeb names signed up.

“So far there is nobody on the books. Everything has been put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, as well as facing a search for big names, the bosses need to replace one of their top male dancers."

TV insiders say the pair are likely to attract attention from ITV and other rival broadcasters to the Beeb as a presenting-double act.

The source added: “They tick a lot of boxes. AJ is massively popular with Strictly fans and Curtis has a cult following from Love Island. The pair of them would be a great signing for any channel.”

AJ previously opened up to The Sun's Bizarre about the physical and mental toll the series took on him.

He said: “Every single year  I thought, ‘How the hell am I going to get out of bed to keep going?’ — because of the sheer energy levels.

“You would do 18-hour days, mentally there is a lot of stress on you and you’re on TV every day. It kills you.

“I won’t miss Monday morning rehearsals in a freezing studio at 8am. I will happily never do that again. There’s a lot of strain, both physically and mentally."

In his first year on Strictly in 2016 AJ reached the semi-finals with Olympic artistic gymnast Claudia Fragapane, 22. He came fifth in competition the following year with ex-Saturdays singer Mollie King, 32, and again the next year with British Paralympic athlete Lauren Steadman, 27.

Last year he was partnered with Youtube vlogger Saffron Barker, 25, and came sixth.

The brothers were battered by eight thugs in a Cheshire nightclub in December 2018.

Curtis managed to save AJ from suffering a serious injury that could have threatened his dancing career — but ended up needing an operation to save his left knee.

He also suffered a broken nose and blurred vision.

Curtis has since found on BBC1 talent show The Greatest Dancer as the receptionist interviewing contestants before they perform.

Strictly Come Dancing have been approached for comment on the story.

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