CURRENTLY starring in Rip It Up - The 60s in the West End, Aston Merrygold talks to Gabrielle Fagan about the joys of fatherhood, dance and pizza.

Aston Merrygold is on a roll right now, proving it's most certainly possible to bounce back in style.

The 31-year-old, who rose to fame in hit boy band JLS, was controversially booted off Strictly Come Dancing in 2017 in week seven - despite having been hotly-tipped to win. Fans were so outraged, they dubbed him 'the people's champion'.

Not only did he later return to win the 2018 Strictly Christmas special, the Peterborough-born performer is now starring in West End musical Rip It Up - The 60s.

"It was a shame I had to leave Strictly early in 2017, because I felt people didn't see the rest of what I could do, but the public's reaction was amazing, especially calling me the people's champion. I was very touched. Coming back to win the Christmas Special was a brilliant experience," says Merrygold.

"Luckily, I'm someone who believes things happen for a reason and it's so great to be in the West End with this show. I felt like I had some unfinished business when it came to dance, and it's been great fun to work with familiar faces. I've loved putting my own spin on some classic Sixties moments!"

"The boys have given me banter about being 'the loser' in the group because of Strictly, but I've countered that by telling them I'm undoubtedly the best-looking!" jokes Merrygold, who has a one-year-old son, Grayson, with fiancee Sarah Richards.

"For Rip It Up, it's professional dancing and we've really had to raise the bar. It's different from stuff you'd do with a band," adds Merrygold (JLS sold over 10 million records worldwide during their five-year stint, scooping two BRITs and five MOBO awards along the way). "In a pop group, the backing dancers do most of the work while you sell the song, but here you really have to step up your game."

Here, Merrygold talks about balancing showbiz and family life, and his approach to keeping fit and well...

Do you miss performing with JLS?

"I'm often asked this, but I see the boys all the time, which is great. I have a whole lot of amazing memories because it was one of the best parts of my life so far.

"In a way, I feel the time in JLS was getting me ready for this journey, for my doing music on my own as well as focusing on my dancing. Would we reform? We've always left the door open and you should never say never, but there hasn't been a right moment recently.

"I'm really enjoying my solo journey [he's released a series of singles since 2015]. I write a lot of my material myself and co-write with my team. Technically, I'm a new artist now, even after all that time with the band, so it's like building a new platform. My solo tracks are going well and I'm working towards an album."

You and Sarah got engaged December 2017 - are any wedding plans set?

"We'd like to do it this year. We've just been so busy we haven't had time to organise it before. In a way, we'd like it to be small and intimate, but you only get married once and we want all our friends to be there, and of course the boys from JLS, so it will be an occasion. Family and friends keep asking us when we're going to set a date."

How are you finding fatherhood?

"Grayson is everything to me and to Sarah. He's obviously still learning we're mum and dad, but he realises that we're his. He's a very outgoing baby but if he's ever tired and hungry or whatever, he comes straight to us for comfort. That unconditional love we have for him, and the fact that he feels it, is incredible.

"He's changed my life. I used to look at life in a very selfish way. It was all about what I wanted and needed for my career and I put myself first. As soon as he was born, I realised I had bigger responsibilities and now I look at it as trying to provide for the family."

Would you like more children?

"We'd love more children but probably not for a couple of years, because we definitely want to enjoy our time as new parents. We're using Clearblue's Connected Ovulation Test System to help us monitor Sarah's fertility, so we can plan the timing of our next child.

"We're trying to learn everything we can so we're more experienced about the stages next time around. Parenting was scary in those first few months but now we're really enjoying the ride. We're totally a team, so when Sarah's working I have Grayson, and vice versa.

"Having another baby would be a massive change for Grayson and for us, and we'd like him to be an age when he can understand a little more what's going on so it's really positive experience for him."

What's got you through the tough times in your career?

"Show business can be quite savage and brutal at times. I've been in it long enough now to realise that's the name of the game, whereas when I was a lot younger, I would take it far more personally. As I've got older, if something hasn't worked out, I've been able to say, 'OK, clearly that wasn't for me, but what's next?'

"If I've got any slight regret, it's that I've never been technically trained in dance. I was planning to become a footballer but injury prevented that and I turned to dance, which I'd always loved. I got into children's TV straight after leaving school at 16 and never looked back.

"I've really taken on board some advice the musician Seal gave me. He told me show business is so fast-moving that before you know it, you've flown through your career and not appreciated what you've achieved. I make a conscious effort to appreciate the moment and take as many pictures as possible, so I can hold on to all the good memories."

How do you look after your health?

"I do Reformer Pilates whenever I can. I used to be very focused on the gym and weights, but now I do a maximum two sessions at the gym a week on those.

"After all these years of putting my body through the gym and trying to lift as heavy weights as possible, I've finally worked out that I benefit more with Pilates, calisthenics, pull-ups and free weights, which build strength and flexibility.

"Sarah and I have opened a dance studio, so we're busy running it and giving classes, there's never a spare moment. That keeps me pretty active."

How do you look after your well being?

"To be honest, having Grayson really helps. He's a very vibrant young man so that always helps brighten up the moods. Also, myself and Sarah are very positive people and we're a good balance for each other.

"Luckily, I'm quite a level person and I don't get upset about things often. If I do, it's usually about something that's out of my control, but once I've come to terms with the fact it's happened and there's nothing to be done, I'm able to move on.

"I think you should enjoy life and have fun, and not deprive yourself of things. My secret passion is for pizza and I have that as a treat at least once a week - I'd actually have it every day if I could."

Aston Merrygold and Sarah Richards are working with Clearblue to launch its Connected Ovulation Test System. Available from Boots stores nationwide.

Rip It Up - The 60s is showing at the Garrick Theatre in London until June 2, 2019 (