The Strictly curse: Does it really exist?

·7-min read

The so-called “Strictly curse” has been a tabloid mainstay for at least a decade, founded on the idea that participating on Strictly Come Dancing (whether as a celebrity or a professional dancer) threatens the status of the relationship you’re in when you sign up.

Stories of its destructive power arrive like clockwork each winter. Along with forgotten B-listers and stars of Holby City and/or EastEnders hitting the dance floor, hysterical headlines will report on Strictly duos left so erotically charged in pasodoble rehearsals that they dump their spouses.

Presenter Claudia Winkleman has repeatedly shot down the curse, once saying that it’s less a supernatural occurrence as merely the Strictly experience being “intoxicating”. It is also true that dancing is an obvious aphrodisiac. Regardless whether you're rehearsing an intimate routine or not, dancing releases endorphins and makes you happy (it’s science!). Similarly, throwing yourself into a diligent exercise schedule with just one other person and far away from your romantic partner forces you into a very intimate relationship. So it’s not that surprising that participating in Strictly gives way to radical personal upheavals.

Still, there are a raft of examples that seem to “prove” the existence of a curse, with partners caught kissing by the paparazzi, sweaty training sessions turning into torrid affairs, and heartbroken spouses left weeping on the sidelines.

Here’s a rundown of the “curses” so far…

Louise and Jamie Redknapp

Within months of competing on the 2016 series, the pop star Louise Redknapp and her ex-footballer husband Jamie announced their separation after 18 years of marriage. The split led to a media storm, with the press claiming that the “curse” took down its most significant, high-profile relationship yet. Not true, Louise told The Guardian in 2019, suggesting that being on Strictly merely revived her passion for performing, having dropped out of the spotlight to raise her family. “Strictly put the fire back in my belly, but it didn’t break up my relationship,” she said.

She also denied more sensational tabloid allegations that she had an affair with fellow Strictly contestant Daisy Lowe. “I remember my kids saying: ‘Mum, are you going out with Daisy Lowe?’ And I had to say: ‘Guys, no.’ I became people’s morning entertainment while they read their paper on the train and ate their croissant. I tried to laugh it off, but the damage these stories were doing to me and those around me was huge.”

Seann Walsh and Katya Jones

The most scandalous example of the Strictly curse occurred in 2018, when photographers thirsty for scenes of out-of-hours canoodling captured comedian Seann Walsh kissing his dance partner Katya Jones, despite him being in a relationship. The pictures went viral, souring the pair’s experience on the show, and they were booted off within weeks.

“The first three weeks [of the show], it was the best three weeks of my life,” Walsh said in 2019. “I was having the time of my life… And then it all went very, very wrong.” Walsh also revealed that he suffered from panic attacks in the wake of the show, and sought therapy after becoming “extremely depressed” amid an onslaught of bad press.

Joe Calzaghe and Kristina Rihanoff

Boxer Joe Calzaghe ended his relationship with his girlfriend of five years to get together with Kristina Rihanoff after they were paired on the 2009 series. Calzaghe and Rihanoff were themselves together for four years...

Ben Cohen and Kristina Rihanoff

...Until they separated weeks into the 2013 series, where Rihanoff found love with her rugby player dance partner Ben Cohen. Cohen also denied tabloid rumours that he had ended his previous marriage to be with Rihanoff. This one had a happy ending at least: Rihanoff and Cohen bore their first child together in 2016.

“People do meet at work and that’s where we work,” Rihanoff said in 2019. “The show is very intense, emotionally and physically.”

Kristina Rihanoff and Ben Cohen in 2014 (Steve Thorne/Getty Images)
Kristina Rihanoff and Ben Cohen in 2014 (Steve Thorne/Getty Images)

Matt Di Angelo and Flavia Cacace

Flavia Cacace and EastEnders actor Matt Di Angelo were partnered in the 2007 series, with the pair becoming a romantic item in the show’s wake – after Cacace dumped her long-time boyfriend Vincent Simone – who was also a dancer on the show. “It was a disaster,” Cacace said in 2016. “It all happened in the most atrocious way.” Cacace and Di Angelo would split two years later, with Cacace then marrying actor Jimi Mistry – her partner on the 2010 series.

Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan Cole

Both the TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky and her professional partner Brendan Cole have denied that anything romantic happened between them when they participated in the first ever Strictly series in 2004. However, Cole’s relationship with dancer Camilla Dallerup collapsed weeks into rehearsals. “To this day I have no idea whether it was her fame and celebrity that swept him away or if he really did feel a strong connection with her,” Dallerup said in 2015.

Speaking in 2018, Cole said: “I didn’t cross any lines with Natasha. I was single. Camilla had ended the relationship very early on in the series so what happened happened after that … It was a harrowing time – winning the show as much as my friendship with Natasha. On the other hand it was like, holy Moses. It can ruin a marriage so easily.”

Ricky Whittle and Natalie Lowe

The Hollyoaks actor Ricky Whittle broke up with his long-time girlfriend, actor Carley Stenson, weeks into his participation in the 2009 series, and then went on to date Natalie Lowe, his dance partner. In a strange twist, Stenson was later drawn into further “Strictly curse” headlines when her subsequent fiancee, Hollyoaks actor Danny Mac, also joined the Strictly cast for the 2016 series. Their relationship remained intact, at least.

Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev in 2015 (Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev in 2015 (Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev

The Countdown presenter Rachel Riley split up with her husband shortly after participating in the 2013 series, and subsequently married her dance partner Pasha Kovalev. The pair had their first child in 2019.

“What Strictly did was give me distance [from my marriage] and it was the emotional distance that I needed to break away,” Riley said in 2020.

Georgia May Foote and Giovanni Pernice

“It’s so stupid and quite offensive hearing rumours like that,” insisted Coronation Street actor Georgia May Foote in 2015, after tabloids speculated that she and her dance partner Giovanni Pernice were having an affair. Awkwardly, Foote did end up leaving her boyfriend for Pernice, with the pair moving in together but splitting within a year.

Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton

Stacey Dooley, the presenter and journalist, went into Strictly’s 2018 series with a steady boyfriend, but their relationship fell apart over the course of its run. Meanwhile, she struck up a romantic relationship with her dance partner Kevin Clifton. She later told BBC Radio that she “didn’t want to be such a cliché”, adding that it was “so cringe” to fall for the dancer she was partnered with.

While denying that anything romantic happened between her and Clifton until after she and her ex split, Dooley said: “You win together and you have Christmas and then January, you think, Oh where is he? Oh, I liked hanging out with him.” She and Clifton have been together since 2019.

Joe Sugg and Dianne Buswell

The YouTube star Joe Sugg repeatedly denied dating his partner Dianne Buswell during the 2018 series, telling the press that rumours of romance were “weird” and “not nice”. Suspicions were raised when Buswell ended her own relationship weeks into rehearsals for the series. Whether she and Sugg became an item during the show remains a mystery, but they did end up a couple all the same. They even have their own YouTube channel now.