He defied those odds and 12 weeks later lifted the glitterball trophy, having won the hearts of the nation along the way with his boundless enthusiasm, humility and, of course, mindblowing dance moves.
Twelve months on he credits the show, and his partner Jowita Przystał with propelling his career into the stratosphere.
Alongside meeting lifelong idol and national treasure Dame Judi Dench, tomorrow he is presenting an hour-long documentary in which introduces the nation to the animals that started it all off – birds of prey.
How much does this new documentary, Hamza: Strictly Birds Of Prey, mean to you?
The world. I absolutely adore showing people the natural world, and what better way to show them than with something so majestic, so beautiful.
Birds of prey have this aura about them – there’s a reason so many countries have them on their flags, traditionally they’re a symbol of power, knowledge, wisdom and wealth.
Apart from filming golden eagle chicks, which fulfilled a lifelong dream for you, what was the highlight of the experience?
The people. The idea started out as ‘I’m on a mission to go and look at birds of prey’, but it actually turned out to be ‘I’m on a mission to meet the people who look out for birds of prey’.
Yes, you say in the documentary ‘people are awesome, humanity is amazing’, which is a refreshing take…
If humans weren’t on this Earth, the planet would keep on spinning and nature would keep doing its thing. Yes, right now, we are the ones causing this issue – but to be honest, it’s a handful of people.
Humans have such a massive part to play in the rehabilitation, advancement and protection of wildlife. Humanity is beautiful, and we can and will make a difference, which is why you can’t just have the story of wildlife without having the humans behind it.
Seeing the kids [in the documentary] so engrossed in wanting to find an osprey, and to hear them saying ‘we need to look after nature’, we need to make sure we don’t cut down all the trees and pick up the plastics’ was a real highlight.
So your mission is to get people outside and enjoying nature, to better understand it?
I have a diary that doesn’t just say ‘January’, ‘February’, ‘March’, it tells you what is happening in the natural world at those times. January – ravens begin to pair. February – they start to nest. April – red deer lose their antlers,
So every day I’m falling in love with Mother Nature, but also living in harmony with her – to the extent my agent will ring and say ‘why haven’t you picked up your phone?’ and I’ll be like ‘I’ve been outside’, and they’ll reply ‘yeah, but you’ve got meetings’. Oh sugar.
But that’s how I live, and my way of showing my love of the natural world, one that is so beautiful, is through birds of prey. And you don’t even need to be in the countryside to see them.
I’ll definitely be grabbing my binoculars and heading to Ealing Hospital to see the peregrine falcons you show in the documentary…
Okay, thank you very much for the interview, my job is done!
Seriously, what you just said is exactly what I want people to do, to think ‘I’m going to take my binoculars and go to see some ospreys, some peregrines’.
And it proves this is the way I should do it. I’m severely dyslexic, I can’ read or write. I have a book coming out that I dictated [Be A Birder]. But the best way for me to share the natural world is through the power of my photographic memory and to make these documentaries.
On the bird front, are there any out there that have an undeserved bad reputation?
Gulls. Not seagulls, there’s no such thing as a seagull – it’s a herring gull, a black-backed gull, a Mediterranean gull.
And they have a bad reputation because they eat your chips, but really these birds are phenomenal – they’re survivors. And they only steal your food if you’re not paying attention. The best way to stop them is to make eye contact. Then they think ‘oh sugar, he knows I’m looking at him, I’ll move over there to that guy with the ice cream’.
But they’re really beautiful. In fact, here’s a brilliant fact about herring gulls.
On the lower beak they have this little red dot. Well people might think it’s just a little red dot, but if you keep tapping it, it stimulates the parent to regurgitate its food. So it attracts the baby’s attention and they quickly learn that when they tap on it, Mum feeds them. Jackpot – a food button.
And once you know something cool like that you see them in a different light, instead of just ‘rats of the sky’ or ‘bloody seagulls’.
What was it like filming with Dame Judi Dench for Countryfile?
It was an absolute blast. Dame Judi is an idol of mine, and to get a chance to meet her and show her the things I love the most, golden eagles and white-tailed eagles, was a real privilege for me.
To know she’s losing her eyesight is hard to swallow, but it was beautiful to see her reaction after she’d actually seen golden eagles in the wild, fulfilling an 88-year dream.
To share this with her, to make her dream come true, was a privilege.
Looking back to your time on Strictly, what did you struggle most with that you didn’t mention at the time?
I genuinely don’t know how to dance and I can’t keep timings in my head. Jowita had to count for me the whole time – if you watch her mouth during our dances you’ll see ever so elegantly she’s counting for me the whole time, because if she stops counting, I don’t know where I am in the song.
She was the puppeteer, I was the puppet. She just told me ‘on beat number seven you’re going to move your hand here, on beat number eight look in that direction, on beat number nine shake your shimmy’!
Jowita is a phenomenal woman. She comes from a background very similar to mine – no one in her family is a dancer, no one in my family works in wildlife, they’re all medics. So she had to go and follow her own dream of becoming a dancer.
I would be nowhere without her. Here’s me making a documentary about natural history that wouldn’t have happened if not for her. Well maybe eventually, but in about 20 years when I’m old and grey! But Strictly propelled me years in advance and it’s all thanks to Jowita.
Who do you think will win this year’s Strictly?
Whoever has Jowita as a partner! [Paralympian Jody Cundy.]
Just do two things – listen to what she says and trust her.
When we first met she said ‘give me your trust and give me your energy, and I’m never going to ask for anything else’.
I did, because I didn’t want to say I could have done anything more.
Every week I though we were going to go out, and every week you could see the relief on my face! Jowita had the faith, I didn’t. I just wanted to give it my all and say we’d left everything on the stage.
You’re prime minister for the day. What’s the first thing you do?
I’d make a GCSE or A level about the natural world.
Hamza: Strictly Birds of Prey, is on BBC One on Sunday at 7pm, and will be available on BBC iPlayer after. His book Be A Birder: The Joy Of Birdwatching And How To Get Started is out now