Sophie Ellis Bextor reveals the 'heavy price' of starring on Strictly - and how it almost ruined her marriage
The Glitterball trophy is entertainment TV's most coveted award - and stars queue up to dance their way to an equally glittering career on flagship TV show Strictly Come Dancing.
But as the new series gets underway, with all the sparkly trimmings, one celebrity has revealed that the well-documented 'Curse of Strictly' could have wrecked her marriage.
Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor entertained the nation during lockdown with her 'kitchen disco', which featured the star covering famous songs and dancing in her stage costumes, accompanied by her small children.
It hasn't always been a perfect home life, however, she has admitted in new memoir, Spinning Plates.
In an extract for the Mail on Sunday, Ellis-Bextor said her husband Richard Jones sought counselling while she appeared in the show, and confessed she had to pay “quite a heavy price” for starring in Strictly Come Dancing after the show caused problems in her marriage.
Ellis-Bextor reached the final of the 2013 edition of the show alongside Brendan Cole, eventually finishing fourth overall, as model Abbey Clancy went on to win.
But while the audience at home and in the studio cheered her on, behind the scenes, she was struggling.
She said husband Jones “became unusually insistent on knowing where I was all the time”.
“If I didn’t reply to a text, he’d spiral,” she added.
“Supporting me in all that I do usually came so easily to him, but with Strictly I think he was just waiting for it to end... He’d message me all day when I was rehearsing, extra keen to know my schedule", she went on.
“We would argue when I was home about how distracted I was and about whether I’d get through to the next week.
Read more: The 'Strictly' Curse: What is it and who's been hit by it?
“He just felt as if I might slip into a new life that left our family behind."
Ellis-Bextor adds, “I had no such desire, but was too spent at the end of the day to give the reassurance he needed. I think the only real reassurance could come with the show finishing.”
Ellis-Bextor, who has five children with Jones, said there was a “slight weirdness in forming a new ‘couple’ when you’re both two married strangers”.
“Why do they fetishise the ‘couples’ aspect so much? Dance partners, yes, but a couple has a different nod.”
She said Jones “began seeing a counsellor after I’d been in the show a month or so, and it really helped”.
“Perhaps I should have, too,” she said.
Watch: How Sophie Ellis-Bextor disco-ed her way through lockdown
“We never doubted our love for each other but I think Richard worried that I just wouldn’t want our life again,” Ellis-Bextor added.
“But of course I did. To me, my family is everything.”
Ellis-Bextor described Cole as a “complete gentleman throughout”, adding: “I’m glad I did it and dancing the Charleston is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done, and thank you to Brendan for making the whole show lots of fun."
Clearly, Ellis-Bextor is relieved that the 'Curse' failed to strike her own marriage, whereas other couples over the years have left their life partners for their dance partner on the show, including professional dancer Dianne Buswell during the 2018 series. She had been dating Emmerdale actor Anthony Quinlan, but after the series finale Dianne and her dance partner Joe Sugg revealed that they were dating.
Comedian Sean Walsh broke up with actor Rebecca Humphries after kissing dance partner Katya Jones, who had been married for six years to fellow Strictly dancer Neil Jones - they later split.
And presenter Stacey Dooley fell for dancer Kevin Clifton in 2018, leaving her long term partner - they're still together.
Singer Louise Redknapp also called it quits with husband Jamie after her Strictly triumph, later admitting that the series had 'given her space' to consider the future.
So was Richard Jones right to worry that the promise of a dazzling win, or new career opportunities, might draw Sophie away? Or was he simply exhibiting insecurity and making it her problem rather than his?
"When we feel anxious, it's usually a result of the thoughts that are going through our minds" says CBT therapist Navit Schechter, founder of consciousandcalm.com
" If you have thoughts that your relationship will change for the worse you might feel compelled to try and regain a feeling of control by frequently checking in with your partner, asking where they are, how they spent their time or seeking reassurance that they still care."
These behaviours can be unhelpful, however, and can "create a self-fulfilling prophecy where these behaviours harm the relationship, rather than it being a result of the situation itself."
Managing them is vital, she says - "checking in with our thoughts, making sure that they're realistic, tolerating feelings of uncertainty when they come up and managing any unhelpful behaviours can make it easier to navigate relationship rough patches."
Read more: 4 Ways to Handle Those Jealous Feelings, in a Relationship
A busy schedule can prove a threat to intimacy, she adds - but not because it means one partner is itching to escape.
"When schedules get busy, it can be easy to become less present with the ones we love and prioritise work above the relationship and what it needs. Scheduling time together and open communication can help maintain intimacy."
She is also impressed that Jones chose to seek counselling.
"We are each responsible for our own emotions and whilst seeking reassurance from your partner may help you feel better in the moment, this is often not long-lasting."
Relationship therapist Rhian Kivits adds: "It’s quite common for people to feel insecure when their partner has a big career opportunity.
"The new opportunity brings up the prospect of change and many of us feel anxious when we anticipate changes in our lives and relationships.
We may struggle with the feeling that we’re no longer in control because our sense of safety and familiarity is challenged."
She thinks, "with Sophie being catapulted into the limelight on Strictly, ‘coupled up’ with a handsome dance partner and giving all her focus to the competitive process on the show, it’s understandable that Richard felt unsettled."
"When he started checking up on Sophie via text, Richard was seeking reassurance to help soothe his anxiety while she was out of sight.
In this situation, the level of worry escalates as we start to create scenarios in our mind about what our partner could be doing and this only feeds our ‘what if’ concerns about whether they still love us and whether we can trust them."
"They were dealing with a problematic mix of Richard’s insecurity and Sophie’s lack of emotional energy."
This is a typical pattern, Kivits adds, but ultimately, "Richard did the right thing by seeking counselling. His responses are understandable, but when anxiety levels creep up and turmoil between a couple is evident, getting support can save their relationship.
"He would have been able to gain a deeper understanding of the root causes of his anxieties in therapy. He may have learned how to comfort and reassure himself, improve his communication with Sophie and support himself through the Strictly experience."
Watch: Sophie Ellis Bextor's family love to dance to relieve stress
Additional reporting: PA Media