Many blame Strictly Come Dancing for ending relationships, but Riley has praised it for giving her the “emotional distance” to “break away” from her ex-husband.
Anyone who’s heard of Strictly Come Dancing will have heard of the so-called “Strictly curse”. Much like the Loch Ness Monster or the Beast of Bodmin, it is the sort of legend that has blurred the lines between fact and fiction – so much so that any non-single celebrity who joins the show can expect to see bookies accepting bets on whether their relationship will last the duration of the BBC series. Indeed, even if their relationship does survive until the end of their time on Strictly Come Dancing, woe betide them if they split several years down the line: every tabloid headline across the country will still scream the words “STRICTLY CURSE STRIKES AGAIN” in big, bold, black letters.
Of course, nobody ever refers to the fact that every single workplace will see its fair share of relationship breakdowns. After all, there were 101,669 divorces of opposite-sex couples in England and Wales in 2017 alone, and hardly any of them danced the Argentine tango on Strictly.
And now Rachel Riley – who announced her divorce from Jamie Gilbert in November 2013, shortly after her own Strictly appearance – has addressed the so-called “curse” herself in a revealing new interview.
Speaking to GQ, Riley offered a refreshing new perspective on the show, insisting that it gave her the space she needed to acknowledge that her marriage was an unhappy one.
“At that time, I was doing Countdown and The Gadget Show, so I was living in Essex,” she shared. “I was filming in Birmingham and in Salford, and then filming Strictly in Borehamwood, with a bit of It Takes Two in London. I was getting three hours’ sleep a night, trying to fit in all these things.”
Opening up on how the show helped her, Riley continued: “What Strictly did was gave me distance – because I was away from home in Birmingham, Salford, Borehamwood – and it was the emotional distance that I needed to… break away.”
Quizzed as to whether the so-called ‘Strictly curse’ had contributed to her parting ways with Gilbert, Riley said: “No. I’m still friends with my ex-husband. He’s great, he’s a brilliant guy.
“We were together since I was 19 and it wasn’t right.”
The TV presenter and mathematics expert, who is now dating her former Strictly dance partner Pasha Kovalev, added that her relationship with the dancer didn’t start for a “long time” until after her divorce. And, when interview Alastair Campbell pressed her to reveal whether the pair relied on a “zing” (presumably another word for ‘sexual chemistry’) to help them through the competition, Riley was quick to dismiss his theory.
“No. Honestly, that’s nothing to do with it,” she said.
“What was interesting is that it was the first time I had to kind of surrender, in a way, and listen to someone else. I can’t dance and I’m standing there, looking like a prat, you feel like the least sexy person in the world, because you’re vulnerable.”