Introducing Kazakhstan's next big thing

Aliona Vilani received plaudits – and plenty of jealousy – for partnering Harry Judd to victory

Harry Judd may have won this year's Strictly Come Dancing, but as the celebrity dancers waltz away to cash in on their success, it is the professionals people should remember – in this case Aliona Vilani, the Kazakhstani who showed she could turn a drummer with two left feet into a dancing superstar.

The 27-year-old led Judd, if not literally in dancing terms, to victory in the final against rivals Chelsee Healey and Jason Donovan.

In the aftermath of Saturday's final, with an audience of 12 million, an exhausted and bruised Vilani told The Independent that the public do recognise the work of the professional partners, even if they do not lavish them with quite so much attention.

"I love that people recognise all the hard work that I put in to Harry to make him shine and I'm so glad that the effort I've put into making this whole thing happen," she said. "The choreography, hard work and the teaching was all worthwhile."

Vilani left Kazakhstan at a young age to pursue her dancing career, first in Russia and then in New York where she became the youngest professional ballroom dancer in the USA at the age of 17.

Although she remains the baby of Strictly Come Dancing, this was the second consecutive year that she has reached the final round after previous success with TV presenter Matt Baker. Her partnership with this year's early favourite thrust her into the spotlight more than she has previously experienced, with some fans being unable to hide their jealousy at her work with their idol.

"Harry's very popular with young women and was used to people approaching him – but it was bizarre when I began to be recognised away from my celebrity. A lot of people got pretty jealous of me for working with Harry for so long and spending so long with him. But they have nothing to worry about. He was such a perfect dance partner!"

As he embarks on a tour with his band McFly, a similar if lower profile series of performances await Vilani. "A lot of things are in the works with my professional partner Artjem [Chigvintsev] and Brendan Cole separately. I do very much enjoy doing the professional numbers and pro shows give me a bit more freedom to unleash, do my own thing and show exactly what I'm capable of."

And then Strictly next year?

"The dancers don't know that far in advance but I hope I'll be back – I think the producers were very pleased with this series and very happy so many people watched."