Strictly favourite Hamza Yassin reveals he lived in his car for a year and had to wash in a very public place

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WHEN Hamza Yassin was named as the 13th contestant on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing, many asked: “Who?”

But now the shy wildlife photographer and presenter has captured the hearts of the nation, with head judge Shirley Ballas telling him on Saturday night: “You make our hearts sing, you make everybody smile.”

Hamza Yassin has captured the hearts of the nation on Strictly Come Dancing with head judge Shirley Ballas telling him: ‘You make our hearts sing’

The shy wildlife photographer and presenter was virtually unknown before signing on to the dancing competition

And even the usually waspish Craig Revel Horwood admitted last night: “My goodness, you are a fantastic dancer.”

His star moments on Strictly — a light-footed foxtrot in week one that was praised by the judges and marked Hamza out as a contender, and his electrifying salsa in week four that blew the roof off the ballroom bagging him the highest score of the series so far — hurtled him ahead of the much more well-known celebs.

But it has not always been easy to get to the top of the leaderboard three times.

Hamza, 32, has overcome homelessness, dyslexia and racism to follow in the footsteps of his idol Sir David Attenborough.

Now the long-locked star is on track to go all the way in the dancing competition, partnered by new Strictly pro Jowita Przystał who joined the series after winning another BBC show — The Greatest Dancer in 2020 alongside her dance partner and boyfriend Michael Danilczuk.

Their prize included the chance to perform on Strictly.

Hamza has heaped praise on Jowita, saying: “She looks after me the whole time.”

And thanks to her help, Hamza is is the bookies’ favourite to win the dance show.

But if he takes home the trophy it will be nothing compared to the hurdles he has already overcome.

Born in Sudan, he was eight when he moved to the UK after his parents, both medics, were invited to live and work in Northampton.

Watching documentaries by Sir David and the late Australian zoo keeper and conservationist Steve Irwin “lit a spark” in him.

He said: “If I couldn’t be exactly like them, I would be the cameraman, because he would be closest to the animal. I love filmmaking and animals.”

Hamza decided to study Zoology with Conservation at Bangor University in Wales. He graduated in 2011 and went on to gain a Masters in Biological Photography and Imaging at the University of Nottingham.

Bangor later went on to give him an Honorary Master of Science degree.

Hamza’s idol Sir David was one of the first to receive a similar accolade from the university for services to broadcasting and the study of the environment.

Aged 21, Hamza went on holiday to Ardnamurchan peninsula — one of the most remote areas of Scotland and the most westerly point of Great Britain’s mainland.

He fell in love with the area and stunned his parents when he told them he was going to move there after he “had had enough of education” to follow his dream of becoming a professional wildlife photographer.

DYSLEXIA IS MY SUPERPOWER

Hamza said: “They thought it would be a two-week thing, a phase.

“My dad said, ‘He will come back to us when his clothes are dirty and he wants more home-cooked food.’”

He grossly underestimated his son. Hamza lived out of his car for a year, using a nearby community centre to wash his clothes.

After that, he lived in holiday homes before saving enough money to buy his own place.

Hamza said locals welcomed him “two thousand per cent” and are often keen to tell him about sightings of golden eagles and red deer.

In a 2020 interview he said: “I’m the only black person on the whole peninsula and most of the west coast.

“Even people on neighbouring islands know who I am.”

But he has admitted he has experienced racism throughout his life.

In 2020 he tweeted: “As a young black man, I have been through my fair share of racism throughout my life, and have overcome it.

“But things have to change, we have to educate each other.”

Yet his skill and determination in capturing stunning footage of the Scottish wildlife has led him to carve out a successful career in the ultra competitive film-making industry.

He also went on to bag presenting roles on TV’s Countryfile and Animal Park as well as being known to kids as Ranger Hamza for his CBeebies’s show Let’s Go For A Walk.

And the positive star even sees his “severe dyslexia” as “a gift” which he sweetly dubs his “Strictly superpower”.


Hamza is partnered with new pro Jowita Przystał who joined the series after winning another BBC show — The Greatest Dancer in 2020


Hamza has overcome homelessness, dyslexia and racism to follow in the footsteps of his idol Sir David Attenborough

He explained: “I think my dyslexia helps because Jowita will show me a video of what I’m doing wrong and what it needs to look like.

“I’m severely dyslexic to the extent that I have to get stuff on a voice note to me.”

“I think in 3D, so I know spatially where everything is.

“For sure, it’s my superpower.

“If it wasn’t for my dyslexia I wouldn’t be the man that I am now.

“I want to say to anyone who has dyslexia to see it as a gift, rather than a hindrance.”

Hamza, whose only previous dancing experience was local ceilidhs in Ardnamurchan, has vowed the nation with his incredible strength.

And it seems his love of competing in the Highland Games has been a great training ground for the daring lifts he’s performed with Jowita.

In one snap posted to his Instagram account he can be seen holding a woman horizontally above his head — similar to one lift in last week’s near-perfect points salsa routine — as they enjoy a countryside walk.

The caption reads: “During the day a wildlife camera man, by night a strongman!”

Little is known about Hamza’s personal life, with him preferring to keep that side of things private.

However, he has hinted at issues with his weight on the dancing show, telling judges this month that he feared he was “too big to jive”.

Polish Open Latin Champion Jowita, 28, was quick to tell her partner:

“You’re absolutely not too big for the Jive, you’re meant to Jive.”

Hamza has been losing 2lb a week since starting the competition.

This week he said: “I’ve lost nearly eight and a half kilos (1.3 stone).

“Nine hours a day we’re trying to train and it’s hard on the body . . . My knees and legs are hurting.”

He also revealed he’s been having ice baths to cope with the gruelling training schedule.

He said: “I sit in them for 45 minutes every evening, basically until the ice melts, then get up and have a shower. I’m literally freezing my glitterballs.”

Hamza has also revealed his now famous dreadlocks — which he hasn’t properly had cut in 17 years — were his way of rebelling as a youngster.

He explained: “I remember, my mum used to sit me down, me, my brother and my dad, and just give us the number two haircut the whole time.

“Then I just rebelled one year, I’m like, ‘I’m done’. And that was it.”

Asked if he had ever cut his hair, which reaches down to his calves, he said: “There’s been bits that have [been] trimmed because I was in the Arctic and it dipped in a bit of engine oil so it’ll get snipped off every now and then.

“My hair is part of me and Jowita’s nice enough to put up with it in training.”

After two weeks topping the leader board, Hamza really has let his hair down for good.

Hamza captioned this Instagram pic: ‘During the day a wildlife camera man, by night a strongman!’

Hamza gained a Masters in Biological Photography and Imaging at the University of Nottingham

Hamza was born in Sudan, he was eight when he moved to the UK after his parents, both medics, were invited to live and work in Northampton