Strictly's Johannes Radebe almost quit over Annabel Croft pairing

The BBC show pro dancer thought he'd been given the wrong partner in 2023 - but found a beautiful friendship.

Annabel Croft and Johannes Radebe - Strictly Come Dancing 2023. (BBC)
Annabel Croft and Johannes Radebe were partners on Strictly Come Dancing 2023. (BBC)

Strictly Come Dancing's Johannes Radebe and Annabel Croft had one of the closest connections of any of the show's 2023 couples – so fans might be surprised that the pro dancer actually wanted to quit when he was told who his celebrity partner was.

Radebe, a favourite on the BBC One series, admitted he had thought that Strictly bosses had made an error in pairing him with the tennis ace because they were both grieving – Croft had lost her husband, Mel Coleman, to colon cancer in May just 16 weeks after he was diagnosed, while Radebe had buried his cousin two weeks before the series started.

He told Jessie Ware's Table Manners podcast: "When they said I'm dancing with her, I was like, What are they trying to achieve? And I say that because two weeks before I started, I buried my cousin who committed suicide.

Their couple's choice routine was in tribute to Annabel Croft's late husband Mel Coleman. (BBC)
Their couple's choice routine was in tribute to Annabel Croft's late husband Mel Coleman. (BBC)

"I didn't feel anything, I wasn't as excited as I normally would be, because I was like, this is supposed to be the most exciting period, I've just come back off a very successful tour. But I had to then go home [South Africa]."

Talking about coming back to the UK, he added: "That was hard, and when Strictly started, I just felt like I was going through the motions... And yeah, they said we think that you're the person to partner with this woman. I just said to myself, they're reaching. I remember calling my agent, I was like, I don't know what's going to happen. Maybe we should say that I shouldn't get a partner this year because I just really need some time out."

But despite his reservations, Radebe and Croft bonded and formed a beautiful friendship as he shared: "I mean, a lot of people say, 'Oh Johannes, you helped Annabel' but no, Annabel helped me."

Annabel Croft shares late husband's love of Strictly

Annabel Croft and Mel Coleman. (Getty Images)
Mel Coleman had been a big fan of Johannes Radebe. (Getty Images)

Croft opened up many times on how taking part in Strictly had helped her to cope with her grief, especially as Coleman had been such a fan of the show and of Radebe's, and the pair dedicated their emotional couple's choice routine to his memory.

She told Loose Women during the series: "Obviously the grief comes in waves and there are many days where you're just sobbing at home but with Strictly and meeting Johannes and going on this journey together, it literally has distracted me from all of that pain.

"And there are days, I mean poor Johannes has had to cope with quite a few in the rehearsal rooms and everything. I have such fond memories of Mel in our kitchen calling us all in to watch Johannes because he just thought he was amazing, he would pause Strictly and watch it back."

Strictly helped Annabel Croft cope with her grief. (ITV/screengrab)
Strictly helped Annabel Croft cope with her grief. (ITV/screengrab)

Later, she told Radebe on Good Morning Britain: “It has come at such an incredibly difficult time in my life, a very dark time, but you have brought so much light to my life, honestly, you have been an angel, so thank you.

“I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had Strictly Come Dancing at this period of time because it has been such a distraction away from terrible grief and you know, I had no concept of what grief was. So to be able to get up in the morning and to have a purpose rather than just sobbing at home, even though that still happens.”

Radebe and Croft's beautiful friendship grows from grief

Annabel Croft and Johannes Radebe formed a close bond. (BBC)
Annabel Croft and Johannes Radebe formed a close bond. (BBC)

Meanwhile, Radebe complimented Croft on how she had honed her dancing skill, which saw her through to the semi-final, writing on Instagram: "You dance so beautifully, and each week you bring such strength and joy to this journey.

"It has been wonderful to see you grow and I am so incredibly proud of you for everything you have achieved. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my leading lady and sharing this truly special adventure with me. I now hold a dancer in my arms."

Croft paid tribute to her new friend when they were eliminated just ahead of the final, saying at her exit: "It’s been the most life-changing and extraordinary experience of my life. Johannes, you have been absolutely extraordinary. You have given me a reason to get out of bed and come and dance with you, distract me and to heal me.

"You have been so patient, so caring and so loving. You are an unbelievably special human being. I simply adore you."

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