Hunks Zac Smith and Connor Stringer have opened up about their mental health struggles and now want to help others (Image: PA REAL LIFE – LUKE ROBERTS MEDIA)
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Two hunky strippers who went to "dark places" after partying in VIP lounges every night have ditched booze and drugs and opened up about their mental health.
Zac Smith, a Dreamboys performer who is also a dancer, acrobat and fitness model, wants to encourage men to open up about their troubles.
Although Zac, 27, and his co-star Connor Stringer, 28, enjoyed the adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle of performing every evening, a life in showbiz came with its highs and lows – leading the lads to use drugs like cocaine and ecstasy to cope.
Zac, who lives in Surrey with his fiancée Beth, 26, said: “I love my job – I’m a highly trained athlete, getting paid really, really well to take off my clothes.
“In Dreamboys, we’d be on stage dancing, rocking people’s worlds for two hours a night. But, coming down from the adrenaline high, I used to get absolutely smashed every night, going out drinking after the show."
Zac and Connor met at a bar mitzvah where they'd both been hired as dancers and became close friends
(Image: PA REAL LIFE COLLECT)
But now the chiselled athlete has swapped his old lifestyle for one of "self-improvement," working with Connor to spread their message.
"It is hard for the gents to speak out about their feelings and we want to encourage them,” he said.
Talented Zac was just 11 when he started break dancing classes funded by his council, where he discovered a passion for performing.
After a career which saw him perform at the Queen's Sapphire Jubilee and get a part in hit film Mary Poppins Returns, he met Connor.
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Zac said: "We met a bar mitzvah in a hotel, dressed up in these big furry outfits, posing like Mick Jagger. We were booked for break dancing, so we found ourselves at this job, blagging it on stage.”
The pair became friends and, after Connor completed a stint with Cirque du Soleil, they ended up performing together in the Forbidden Nights show.
Zac said: "When we get to a venue, you pick up your costume box and take it to the place on the side of the stage, and then you're ready for the show.
Chiselled Connor has performed in and toured with Cirque du Soleil
(Image: PA REAL LIFE COLLECT)
"We'll stand in a circle and do a thumbs up – all of us – before every show. And then we're ready to rock loads of women and men's worlds."
But aside from the rush of performing, the boys turned to drink and drugs most nights to deal with stress.
"We've been in some dark places and the industry is very up and down,” Zac explained. “One minute I'm performing on stage next to Hugh Jackman and opening the Brit Awards and the next minute I'm struggling to find the funds to feed myself.
“When we were working, we'd go out for drinks, we'd get invited to VIP areas in clubs and have our own booths with free booze and even bouncers sometimes.
“But we'd also be working out like mad as, being athletes, our bodies are so important."
Connor described some terrifying side effects from the lifestyle he was leading.
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"It got quite bad and at points I even found myself experiencing paranoia and cocaine-induced psychosis – then sleep paralysis and insomnia," he said.
After working on the Magic Mike tour, Zac joined the Dreamboys theatre tour – the UK's biggest male strip show – and got a buzz from bearing almost everything in front of a huge audience.
He said: “I actually just love it – I've always been like that. When I first started learning backflips as a kid, I really wanted people to look at me.
"I'm really vain and I love affirmation and I'm really okay with it. There can be a bit of snobbery around strippers, but I’ve never had a negative reaction from anyone who matters to me.”
When lockdown hit in the UK, the men were confronted with financial uncertainty as their industry completely shut down – but the time off allowed them to start talking to each other.
Before long they were having in-depth conversations about how they'd used booze and drugs to escape how they were feeling.
The lads perform in the Dreamboys show, the UK's biggest male strip show
(Image: PA REAL LIFE – DREAMBOYS)
Zac said: "We've been in such bad places and we wouldn't want anyone else to feel so lost and alone.
“We started out what we called ‘story time,’ which was just us sharing our issues with one another. At first it was when we were drunk or high, but over time we found we didn’t need the alcohol or drugs and could speak openly when we were sober."
“During lockdown, we just focused on staying as positive and productive as possible – especially through exercise.”
Now the pals are back on track and looing forward to performing again. They've both joined the Dreamboys show, which is due to launch on July 8 at For Your Eyes Only nightclub.
But this time, if things ever get too much, they won't be reaching for the pints. Instead, they'll sit down and chat about what's worrying them.
Zac said: "When it comes to mental health, we're both charismatic, so our message is definitely spread better in person. I would love to be on stage delivering talks and travelling around helping people."
Connor, who is single, agrees.
He said: “I started speaking to the Dreamboys manager and was offered a role in February 2021, which is great – I feel like I've got a second family.
"But I won't forget what Zac and I have learned together during the pandemic. We think about what helped us progress, and we want to share that with others.
"Our message is that you may be a man but you can still cry if you want to cry.”