I feared for my life after seeing a man stabbed to death: Strictly’s Tyler West reveals for the first time how standing as the key witness in a murder trial turned into a nightmare for his family
- Strictly star Tyler West witnessed a fatal stabbing outside his family aged 14
- The reason behind everything he does is to help him to buy a house for his mum
- He was not gutted about being voted out of Strictly when he left in week nine
- He denied ever having a romantic relationship with co-contestant Molly Rainford
At the crack of dawn on an autumnal Monday morning Tyler West is walking towards me through swathes of billowing mist that look like they’ve been created by Strictly Come Dancing‘s special effects team.
He’s holding the remains of a very early breakfast but eagerly accepts the offer of a bacon sandwich and a mug of steaming tea. It’s a week since he performed his final dance on the show in Blackpool and Tyler is coming to terms with life after Strictly.
After more than two months of a Strictly schedule that included up to 14 hours training a day and TV appearances with his partner Dianne Buswell on top of his day job as a Kiss FM DJ, he’s now cramming in back-to-back meetings with producers keen to work with this highly driven individual.
As one of the lesser-known stars on this year’s series, he impressed viewers not just with his dance moves but with his extraordinary work ethic. This is someone who, in his first few weeks on Strictly, crammed in a London marathon run to raise money in aid of UK Youth for disadvantaged teenagers and a round-trip to Mauritius for his brother Lewis’s wedding.
Strictly Come Dancing star Tyler West (pictured) has spoken out about witnessing a fatal stabbing outside his family aged 14
Tyler spent three hours there before returning to his gruelling Strictly schedule. Far from having a pampered showbiz lifestyle, he still lives in the two-bedroom council house he shares with his mother Debbie in south London.
But Tyler’s not complaining, even after losing out on the chance to hold up the glitterball. ‘I did my best and I had a fantastic experience,’ he says.
‘I met wonderful people, worked my socks off and when I walk down the street I get smiles and waves, which makes all the work worthwhile.’ But now his time on Strictly is over, Tyler is finally ready to explain why it was so important for him to take part in TV’s biggest entertainment show – something he’s kept secret since his rise to fame began on the BBC children’s channel CBBC in 2013.
As a teenager growing up on the notorious St Helier council estate in south London, his world fell apart when, aged 14, he witnessed a fatal stabbing outside his family home. His desire to do the right thing and give evidence at an Old Bailey trial turned into a dangerous nightmare that left him a reclusive nervous wreck unable to go to school, plagued by the idea that he and his mother would be murdered next.
After more than two months of a Strictly schedule that included up to 14 hours training a day and TV appearances with his partner Dianne Buswell (pictured) on top of his day job as a Kiss FM DJ, he’s now cramming in back-to-back meetings with producers keen to work with this highly driven individual
‘There were two years in my life when my future could have been very different,’ he says. ‘I could have ended up a mess, unable to do anything and because of where I grew up there was always the option of drugs, crime and gangs, which was the way a lot of kids I knew went.
Everything about who I am today is because of that horrific incident and the boy I was then. I had no control over what was happening, I didn’t think I had a future until I finally realised it was down to me to make things as good as I possibly could for me and my family.’
Tyler has never before spoken about the trauma that’s shaped him and his close-knit family. He credits his mum, a nurse, his brother who runs a cookie company, West Bakes, and his Jamaican-born transport worker father Mark (who split from Debbie when Tyler was six months old) for helping him through.
The reason behind everything he does, and why he worked so hard on Strictly, is to help build a career successful enough to enable him to buy a house for his mum, far away from the memories that have marked them all. ‘A place where she doesn’t need three locks on the door,’ he says simply. ‘A place of her own.’
The reason behind everything he does, and why he worked so hard on Strictly, is to help build a career successful enough to enable him to buy a house for his mum, far away from the memories that have marked them all
Tyler – who is in demand as a festival DJ and has presented The Movie Show on MTV and the interior design show Flat Out Fabulous on BBC3 – talks slowly as he remembers the time back in April 2010. ‘Where I grew up you got used to bad things happening around you. Racist remarks, police sirens, drug raids.
‘I was a very shy kid who hid behind his big brother. My mum was a single mum, doing shifts as a nurse. So we always helped out a lot at home and we were always taught to be very careful.’
One night, after returning home from an after-school sports club, he saw three men arguing outside his house. ‘I remember every detail,’ he says slowly.
‘It was 8.58 and I got off the 151 at the bus stop at the end of my street. I walked past three guys arguing about 30 metres in front of my front door. They were locals, one of them was a neighbour who lived in the house opposite.
Tyler’s not complaining, even after losing out on the chance to hold up the glitterball (pictured)
‘As I got in the house my mum was on the phone to the police because the guys had been out there all day and it was getting heated. I went to my bedroom and opened the blind.
‘One of the guys threw a punch at the neighbour and he fell to the ground. My mum was standing next to me still talking to the police, but as she was talking this guy pulled out a knife and started stabbing the guy on the ground over and over again.
‘I couldn’t move because it was so shocking. But my mum started running round the house, looking for towels and bandages, still talking to the police.
‘I was at the window watching, completely numb. I saw everything they did.
‘Then the two guys walked away, my mum ran down the stairs to go and help but I saw them come back and I shouted at her not to open the door. They stood by the neighbour for a few minutes, then let themselves into his house.
‘Me and my mum then rushed out with all these towels. The man was wearing an England shirt and it was dark red with blood.
‘He was barely alive as we tried to help him. It seemed an age before the police arrived with an ambulance but it was probably just minutes.
‘All I remember next is coming to on the sofa of our living room and hearing my brother screaming my name. The area had been cordoned off and the police said there’d been a fatal stabbing.
‘Lewis thought I was dead and broke through the cordon, screaming, ‘Tyler!’ My mum was sobbing. I was still in shock, barely able to speak.’
But for the West family, the nightmare had just begun. Both Tyler and Debbie were witnesses, but as Tyler was the only key witness to the full incident, he was asked to do an ID parade and give evidence at the Old Bailey trial.
Out: Tyler West became the eighth contestant to leave Strictly Come Dancing as he faced Molly Rainford in the dreaded dance off on Saturday night
‘Tyler’s one request was that his face would not be seen by the defendants, but minutes before he appeared in a video link he was told it would be screened to the whole court.
‘It was horrendous,’ he recalls. ‘I was 14. The second man’s barrister kept telling me I wasn’t a reliable witness, that there were trees in front of my window, that I hadn’t seen what I said I’d seen.
‘I felt helpless, all I wanted to do was tell the truth, do the right thing, say exactly what I saw but I was torn to pieces and exposed. A lot of what I was saying was dismissed as if I didn’t really know what I was talking about.
‘This was the worst thing that had happened to me. I relived it every day and the nightmare was that I could remember every single second.
I’d spent the months afterwards so anxious and traumatised that I was unable to go to school, unable to sleep. I couldn’t open the blind in my bedroom, I couldn’t use a knife and fork to eat, just a fork.
Eagle-eyed Strictly viewers may have noticed that before and after every dance, Tyler touched either his chest or the index finger of his right hand. He nods. ‘I wear my nana’s wedding ring on my finger
‘I developed all these OCD rituals because I thought if I didn’t do certain things then me and my mum would be killed.’
At the sentencing when once again he and Debbie came face to face with the two men, the family learned that although one was being jailed for life, the second man was freed and ended up on a nearby council estate. Tyler’s eyewitness evidence about his involvement had been dismissed.
Even worse, the judge failed to impose reporting restrictions and Tyler’s name and address – along with an account of his evidence – appeared in online news stories.
In the midst of his GCSE studies, Tyler’s future looked bleak despite sessions with council mental health services. ‘I was all over the place,’ he says.
‘I kept thinking this man would get to us.’ It took a year for his mother’s pleas to move to a new council house to be taken up.
‘We moved to a home five minutes away – but at least we no longer had the same view from the window and the same memory.’
In reality, Tyler saved himself. Just months before his GCSE exams, he woke up one morning thinking, ‘I can’t live like this any more. I can’t let this ruin my life.’
He focused on his studies and sport. His school, Carshalton Boys Sports College, started a handball team and Tyler excelled, winning a place on the GB national team aged 17. ‘I pushed myself to be the best I could, to make something good,’ he says.
In his spare time he worked with the organisation Sporting Chances, mentoring youngsters with mental health problems
Serendipitously, CBBC covered the sport and selected Tyler to explain to their viewers how to play it. ‘The next day my mum got a call asking if I’d like to go into the BBC to do a little presenting.’
At the time he was working in McDonald’s. I ask him how he felt. He laughs and says, ‘It felt surreal. I was like, ‘Mum, pack your bags. Hollywood here we come…’ I was very naive.’
In person he’s intelligent, likeable, highly motivated and sensitive. After winning an unconditional offer to study digital media at university he decided instead to focus on getting as much work as he could on TV and radio.
In his spare time he worked with the organisation Sporting Chances, mentoring youngsters with mental health problems.
His dedication to his family is genuinely touching. In those terrible two years following the stabbing he lost his maternal grandfather Billy, then shortly before Tyler landed his first presenting job on CBBC his grandmother Audrey passed away.
Tyler is in demand as a festival DJ and has presented The Movie Show on MTV and the interior design show Flat Out Fabulous on BBC3
Eagle-eyed Strictly viewers may have noticed that before and after every dance, Tyler touched either his chest or the index finger of his right hand. He nods. ‘I wear my nana’s wedding ring on my finger.
But on the wall in her room she had the poem Footprints In The Sand. I wanted to have something I could never lose to remind me of my grandparents, so I had the last lines of the poem tattooed on my chest, and both their ashes were impregnated into the tattoo ink.
‘My nana loved Strictly. My grandad was there at that awful time and my nana was there when things were starting for me on TV, so I know how proud and happy they would be.’
His Strictly journey was a rollercoaster. After being an early favourite, in week nine he was voted out. Was he devastated? He shakes his head.
‘I didn’t want to go. Of course you feel gutted when your name is announced but it’s a competition. I’ve had nine weeks on the biggest show on TV. It’s now up to me to make the most of that.’
On the subject of a romance with co-contestant Molly Rainford, Tyler raises an eyebrow. ‘We were photographed standing next to each other, that’s about the top and bottom of it. Nothing happened at all. I’m too busy working.’
In the future he wants to make documentaries focusing on the effects of trauma on teenage mental health and the issue surrounding protection of witnesses, telling his own story in the hopes he can inspire change.
‘Things happen for a reason,’ he says. ‘And as wonderful as Strictly has been, I hope it’s given me a platform to be able to make even more changes to my family’s lives and to try to make changes to the lives of others – that’s what really means something to me. This is just the beginning.’
- Listen to The Home Straight with Tyler on KISS FM daily from 4-7pm