DENISE Van Outen’s jazz hands are fully extended and shimmying vigorously at the moment.

She is thrilled to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing and, having put the negative press behind her, she cannot wait for the competition to start. The blonde bombshell, who was born and raised in Basildon , is currently battling a cold while rehearsing with her dance partner, James Jordan.

Despite being a little under the weather, Denise was happy and chirpy when I spoke to her last week.

“Training is a lot harder than I expected it to be from seeing the show on TV. But I am enjoying it and James and I are having a good laugh and there is a lot of banter,” laughs Denise.

“The dances are very technical and it’s difficult because every little details is important, like your posture and where your hands are. It’s quite intense, but you don’t want to feel like you’re preparing for an exam, you have to remember to have fun!”

Her husband Lee Mead , who comes from Southend, and two-year-old daughter, Betsy, are excited to watch Denise perform.

She says: “Lee and Betsy are excited to see me dance. Before I head to rehearsals I say to Betsy, ‘mummy’s going to go dancing now’ and she says the Strictly catch phrase ‘Keep Dancing’ as I walk out the door!

“Betsy is a right little show off, but it is yet to be seen if she has the fully- fledged jazz hands.”

Denise got some flack when it was announced she was on the show because she has starred in musicals, such as the West End show Chicago, where she did choreographed dances.

Critics suggested that she is already an experienced dancer, something which Denise denies.

“I do feel upset about it and a bit picked on,” admits Denise. “There are people in the competition now, and in previous shows, who have had more dancing experience than me. I just want to enjoy the show.”

Rehearsing for Strictly has given Denise a chance to catch up with old friends – including ex-Girls Aloud member, Kimberley Walsh.

“I am in the studio next to Kimberley, so we keep popping out to have a gossip in the afternoon and talk about how hard the training is,” says Denise, 38.

“Everyone also congregates in the make-up room and I have been having a great time catching up with my friend who is the make-up artist. She did my make up on the Big Breakfast and we had a great time reminiscing!”

Super-fit Denise is already in fighting form for the competition, having completed a 289- mile bike ride in August across India to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital with the Only Way Is Essex star Lydia Bright.

“When it comes to the pace of the training I am actually OK and it has not been too much of a shock. Probably because I have always exercised and I only ache when I get out of bed.

“I get half an hour’s walk just getting Betsy to nursery in the morning so I manage to fit the exercise in.” So which dance is Denise most looking forward to learning?

“I’m looking forward to the Tango. It is sexy and also a little aggressive. I can bring out my Essex feistiness for that one!”

Denise’s family still live in Basildon and she regularly comes back to the county.

She says: “I am always back in Basildon to see my family. It is a bit sad because my grandad, Steven, who’s 89, is not very well and is in hospital, so we’re back visiting all the time.”

With so much going on, Denise does find it hard to fit everything in.

“It is hard for all women to juggle family life and work. I just find it makes me very, very tired,” says Denise.

“It can be quite intense at the moment because I train during the day and then when I pick Betsy up and take her home it is my time with her. It does mean I don’t get any ‘down time’.

“It does seem to be like that in this industry, where you know you have a few months of madness and then a bit of time off. Before the show, I had a few weeks off and we went to Thailand for a friend’s wedding which was lovely.”

“Nut no matter however busy we are, Lee and I always make sure that Sunday is our family day. We watch Downton Abbey and have a roast.”