'Don't go on Strictly' TV star Rachel Riley warns showbiz friends

·6 min read
Rachel Riley arriving for the Strictly Come Dancing Photocall at Elstree Studios, London.
Rachel Riley arriving for the Strictly Come Dancing Photocall at Elstree Studios, London.

Strictly Come Dancing (or 'Strictly' to its millions of viewers) is a glittering confection of dazzle and entertainment, BBC1's flagship Saturday night show, and the perfect vehicle to help celebrities to remain firmly in the public eye for almost three long months.

From the viewers' point of view, there's nothing negative about it, bar the difficulty of deciding who should lift the Glitterball Trophy.

But speaking to The Times this weekend, Countdown star and ex-Strictly contestant Rachel Riley hinted at the dark side of Strictly, admitting, "I advise friends not to go on the show and I know people who have dropped out of it due to the mental pressures involved."

Insisting that "there isn't enough awareness of the psychological effects it has", the numbers whizz added, 

"I am a maths geek, not a performer... having ten million viewers sitting in judgment of you, not to mention the actual judges? You need to be very mentally strong not to let that affect your self-worth."

Watch: Who's judging this year's Strictly?

Riley met her husband, professional dancer Pasha Kovalev, on the show in 2013, and they married in June 2019 in Las Vegas, before she gave both to daughter Maven in December that year. She's now pregnant with their second child, due any day now.

"We've bashed them out! Get the sleep deprivation over in one go is the plan," she said. "I'm 35 and I've got friends that are struggling with fertility, and you just never know if you're going to be able to get pregnant.

"We have been really lucky, touch wood and we're very excited."

EMBARGOED TO 0001 SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 28. Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev rehearse their waltz at Ace Dance & Music, Birmingham ahead of their first dance on Strictly Come dancing.
Rachel rehearsing with Pasha in 2013, before they became a couple (PA)

But while her time on Strictly, paired with Pasha, was a success, Rachel also paid tribute to Caroline Flack, who danced with Pasha a year later in the 2014 series.

Presenter Flack died by suicide in February 2020, and Rachel said, "Caroline Flack’s was such a tragic story; even Pasha struggles to talk about it.

"I would prefer not to [talk about it] apart from to say, I read some of her interviews where she discussed her depression after Strictly and, I agree, it does mess with your head."

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 19: Louise Redknapp and Kevin Clifton attend the photocall for the 'Strictly Come Dancing' live tour at the Barclaycard Arena on January 19, 2017 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Louise Redknapp with dance partner Kevin, in 2016 (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Recently, other stars have spoken openly about the effect appearing in the show can have. Louise Redknapp, who appeared in 2016, dancing with Kevin Clifton, has admitted that the sudden spotlight convinced her that she needed more from life than marriage to Jamie Redknapp and motherhood.

She instigated a split with Jamie, who has recently remarried, and later wrote that though the show gave her a new path and showed she could find work again, “I still wish I’d done things differently because I feel like I hurt a lot of people and I’ll always be sorry for that.

“I felt like certain people had my back, and, in hindsight this wasn’t really the case. I was so scared about going back to normal life and losing what I’d achieved on the show.”

Read more: Louise Redknapp: Splitting with Jamie was the toughest thing I've ever experienced

The 'curse of Strictly' is well known - meaning that established couples often split when one appears on the show, thanks to the pressure, or the danger of falling in love with a dance partner - and sometimes plain old jealousy. 

Love Island star model Maura Higgins has recently split with her boyfriend, professional Strictly dancer Giovanni and a friend told OK Magazine that Strictly was to blame. 

Strictly is such hard work and all your time is taken up with the show, so Maura wasn’t given much of his time. Sadly, the writing was written on the wall.

Maura Higgins arriving at the National Television Awards 2021, O2 Arena, London. Credit: Doug Peters/EMPICS
Maura Higgins is single again after splitting with Giovanni. (Getty Images)

Read more: Ugo Monye condemns 'vile and criminal' abuse aimed at his 'Strictly' co-stars

“Giovanni wants to win the show. He’s got such an amazing bond with (dance partner) Rose and Maura couldn’t handle it." 

They added, "Gio is working 24/7 on Strictly and Maura is flying here, there and everywhere with modelling...that’s why Gio decided to end things. They have crazy suitcase lives which makes it hard to be in a relationship."

Other couples who have foundered on the ballroom rocks include comedian Sean Walsh and his girlfriend, who split when the contestant was papped kissing dance partner Katya Jones. She also split from her husband, dancer Neil Jones, after the scandal.

Presenter Stacey Dooley also split with her long term boyfriend and is now living with dance partner Kevin Clifton.

Strictly Come Dancing finalists Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton leave BBC Broadcasting House in London after appearing on the Chris Evans radio show. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Stacey and Kevin found a love match on the dancefloor. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

This week, ex Strictly professional dancer Kristina Rihanoff explained why the show takes such a toll, even without a romance.

“I think everyone is under a lot of pressure because they can read the comments, they can see what people say," explained the star, 44, who left the show in 2015. 

“When I joined the show it wasn’t like that, it was pure ballroom dancing, there were no extra things.

"And then a couple of years later, during my eight years on Strictly, all of a sudden everything changed, we were allowed props and more things to the production. So, it added a lot of pressure on the dancers, and of course the celebrities, to deliver even more spectacular numbers.

File photo dated 21/11/14 of of Strictly Come Dancing star Kristina Rihanoff who has said online abuse about her love life left her feeling
Kristina spoke out about the pressures this week. (PA)

“And of course, anybody can sit at home and tweet something not very nice and we have to read that, and you think ‘I worked so hard all week’.”

"I think people are always surprised how intense physically and emotionally the show is," she added. 

"People think, ‘Oh it’s just an entertainment show, it’s a bit of fun, a couple of hours of dancing’.

“But it isn’t like that. You dance sometimes eight to nine hours a day to prepare your dance, you have only four days to prepare a dance, that’s it, because on Friday you’re already at the BBC doing rehearsal, so people don’t realise how intense that is.”

Watch: Adam Peaty's girlfriend responds to 'almost kiss' on Strictly Come Dancing

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