Losing my fiance to Natasha Kaplinsky was like DEATH: Strictly's Camilla Dallerup on the grief of her bitter split from dance partner Brendan Cole

Camilla Dallerup is smiling from ear to ear. Her husband, actor Kevin Sacre, best known for playing ladies’ man Jake Dean in Hollyoaks, has just landed at Heathrow from Los Angeles, where the couple have a home. ‘I’m so excited,’ she says. ‘I haven’t seen him for seven weeks.’

The fact that Kevin is in her life at all — they married in the summer of 2010 — is a direct consequence, she says, of the collapse of her relationship, both professional and personal, with Strictly dancer Brendan Cole. ‘Oh, absolutely,’ she says. ‘And neither would I have established a secondary career if Brendan and I had stayed together.’

It was 2004 and the first series of what was to become the small-screen phenomenon that is Strictly Come Dancing, when award-winning dance partners Camilla and Brendan were both signed up to the show, she opposite antiques expert David Dickinson, he paired off with newscaster Natasha Kaplinsky.

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Rejuvenated: One consequence of the turbulent period in her life and its wretched aftermath is the book Camilla Dallerup (pictured) has written, part autobiography, part self-help manual

Rejuvenated: One consequence of the turbulent period in her life and its wretched aftermath is the book Camilla Dallerup (pictured) has written, part autobiography, part self-help manual

What followed held a ghastly fascination for everyone with one single exception. In the full glare of the public spotlight, Brendan, Camilla’s partner both on and off the dance floor for the preceding eight years, and her fiance for the previous six months, clearly became increasingly infatuated with the celebrity in his arms.

As an exercise in public humiliation, it had few parallels. Camilla was hung out to dry, a rictus smile pasted permanently across her haunted face.

‘When I was pushed against the wall, broken, with nowhere else to go, I remember thinking, “Hang on a minute, there’s something I need to learn from all this because, if I don’t, it’s going to happen again” ’ she says now.

‘It took me some time to realise this, of course, because I was hurting so badly. But it’s true what they say: everything happens for a reason. And I can see now it was meant to be.’

One consequence of this turbulent period in her life and its wretched aftermath is the book she has written, part autobiography, part self-help manual.

And when she’d finished writing, she insisted on showing it to Brendan. ‘I did it out of respect for his wife, Zoe, and his family and also for the wonderful career we’d had together. That needs to be celebrated.

‘We were together 24:7 for eight years. We were so close, I used to feel that I didn’t know where I ended and he began. Living and dancing together, we were so much one and the same person, with one bank account, one phone, one email address.’

Over a decade later, she claims to have totally forgiven him. ‘Anyone who reads the book will see that.’

Celebrity couple: Brendan Cole with newscaster Natasha Kaplinsky on Strictly Come Dancing in 2004

Celebrity couple: Brendan Cole with newscaster Natasha Kaplinsky on Strictly Come Dancing in 2004

Actually, anyone who reads the book, entitled Strictly Inspirational, will marvel at Camilla’s grace under fire. But there is much lurking between the lines, much left unsaid.

And the most glaring omission is this. At no point does she name Brendan’s dancing partner and presumed lover. Natasha Kaplinsky is referred to variously as ‘the well-known and glamorous TV newsreader’ or ‘celeb partner’, but never once by name.

This was a deliberate decision, says Camilla. ‘First of all, this is not a kiss ’n’ tell book. It’s a book for anyone going through a hideous time: they might be being teased at school, being bullied at work.’ Or, presumably, being cheated on by their fiance.

When I was pushed against the wall, broken, with nowhere else to go, I remember thinking, “Hang on a minute, there’s something I need to learn from all this because, if I don’t, it’s going to happen again”

‘Brendan and I had a past. We’ll have a future. And Natasha is a wife and mother now. I’m totally fine with her. What happened, happened. It could have been anybody. Anyway, it would be very hard to carry on if I didn’t forgive. Show business is a small world and you keep meeting the same people.’

In fact, the next occasion the two women came face to face was again beamed into millions of sitting rooms the length and breadth of the land. As ever, series two of Strictly was presented by Bruce Forsyth, but his sidekick, Tess Daly, was initially on maternity leave.

And who should step up to temporarily fill her shoes? Yes, Natasha Kaplinsky. This meant that when Camilla and partner athlete Roger Black tripped up the stairs for a post-dance chat, it was with the ‘well-known and glamorous TV newsreader’. ‘That was difficult,’ she concedes. ‘I was still very raw. But I took the view that, if I could survive that, I could survive anything.’

Not that it can have been exactly easy for Natasha. ‘To be honest, I didn’t stop to think about whether she was squirming. I was concentrating too hard on being as dignified as I could.’

Did Brendan ever say sorry? A mirthless laugh.

Wife and husband: The fact that Kevin Sacre is in Camilla's life at all (above, together) - they married in the summer of 2010 - is a direct consequence, she says, of the collapse of her relationship with Brendan

Wife and husband: The fact that Kevin Sacre is in Camilla's life at all (above, together) - they married in the summer of 2010 - is a direct consequence, she says, of the collapse of her relationship with Brendan

‘Yes, in a Brendan sort of way. Some time later, he said something about having been silly, foolish. This was the first series ever of Strictly and I think he was dazzled by the whole situation in general and by her in particular.

outTAKE

Camilla joined Strictly partner Tom Chambers and his wife Clare on their honeymoon - and jokes she's his second wife

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‘They went on to win it, remember. I found Strictly amazing, too, but it wasn’t real life to me. Real life was what was waiting when I got home.’

Sadly, what was waiting at home was a disintegrating relationship. ‘Brendan had been over the moon when he’d been paired with Natasha. It’s no understatement to say that he literally skipped through the door when he came home that day.’

Then he announced he didn’t want to share a dressing room with Camilla any more.

‘Looking back now, something in me died that day. To be honest, that was the moment I lost the Brendan I thought I knew so well.’

She tried talking to him. ‘But he’d lost interest in me. He was more than happy, though, to get up in the morning to watch Natasha reading the news!’

Because David Dickinson lived up north, it necessitated a long train journey out of London for Camilla for their rehearsals together.

As I looked down, Brendan looked up and, when our eyes met, he pulled Natasha behind the curtain. As he was leaning towards her, I knew that he was going to give her a good luck kiss. But it wasn’t the kiss; it was the secrecy, the fact he’d pulled her behind the curtain that made it feel as if someone had plunged a dagger through my heart

‘It meant leaving Brendan in town to train and — I was sure — to flirt with Natasha. It felt as if the fact that we’d just got engaged meant nothing to either of them for the entire run of the show.’

The first night of the first series — May 15, 2004 — is a date Camilla will not forget. ‘The atmosphere was electric,’ she recalls. ‘Most of us were lined up to make our entrance down the big flight of stairs that led to the dance floor, when I saw that Brendan and Natasha were still backstage beneath the stairs on which I was standing.

‘As I looked down, Brendan looked up and, when our eyes met, he pulled Natasha behind the curtain. As he was leaning towards her, I knew that he was going to give her a good luck kiss. But it wasn’t the kiss; it was the secrecy, the fact he’d pulled her behind the curtain that made it feel as if someone had plunged a dagger through my heart.’

Back home that night, Brendan and Camilla had yet one more argument in an increasingly escalating spiral of rows. Even so, Camilla was determined to try to get her life with Brendan back on an even keel.

‘I thought it would help if I met Natasha properly away from the studio. So, over the next few weeks, I asked him several times if he’d like to bring her home for dinner. That way, I could get to know her and we could all be friends. I also asked him if I could help with their choreography and styling, something that I’d normally have done as we did everything together.’

This well-meaning, borderline naïve offer was repeatedly rebuffed by Brendan as not being ‘appropriate’.

Fled to native Denmark: When Camilla and David Dickinson (pictured) were knocked out of the competition in the third week, she felt there was only one thing to do

Fled to native Denmark: When Camilla and David Dickinson (pictured) were knocked out of the competition in the third week, she felt there was only one thing to do

‘Then, one day, the make-up artist who’d been looking after me and Brendan for three weeks, said: “Oh, wow! I didn’t know you two were together, let alone engaged.” No wonder the alarm bells in my head were ringing louder and louder. All I wanted was for everything to go back to how it used to be. That never happened.’

Brendan’s evident absorption in Natasha became clear for all the world to see. The ensuing media frenzy merely added to Camilla’s woes. ‘I’d be lying curled up on the floor, sobbing my heart out, as people repeatedly pressed the buzzer on the Entryphone to our flat in Walton-on-Thames.’

When she and David Dickinson were knocked out of the competition in the third week, she felt there was only one thing to do. She fled back to her native Denmark to lick her wounds. ‘I’ve never cried so much in my entire life, before or since.’

Back home, she was sorely tempted, she says, never to return to Strictly. ‘But then I was the one who’d signed me and Brendan up for the show. And I hadn’t done anything wrong. Why should I walk away?’

It was like a mini death. You go through the arc of grief, anger, bitterness. My best friend and dancing professionally with Brendan had both gone. That felt pretty scary

In the event, she carried off the glitterball trophy herself with Holby City’s Tom Chambers in 2008. ‘That was my reward,’ she says, and she can’t resist adding, ‘and we beat Brendan and Lisa Snowdon in the final. You couldn’t write the script, could you?’

It took her three years to get over Brendan, she says. ‘It was like a mini death. You go through the arc of grief, anger, bitterness. My best friend and dancing professionally with Brendan had both gone. That felt pretty scary. It seemed like everything I’d ever wanted and worked for had been removed, just like that.’ She clicks her fingers.

So, cards on the table, does she believe Brendan and Natasha had a full-blown affair? Poor Camilla. Her mouth is struggling to say one thing; her body, that finely honed instrument she’s used to such eloquent effect to convey a swathe of emotions, is saying another. ‘I can’t say that,’ she says at last.

But it’s not clear whether she means she doesn’t know or whether she doesn’t want to say. Read her body language, though, and there’s little doubt what she believes. ‘In the end, it’s irrelevant. All their other actions hurt me in so many ways.’

These days, Camilla has somewhat reinvented herself. The lessons she learned from the Brendan debacle have not only helped shape how she runs her own life, but have given her the confidence to take on private clients — either face-to-face or via Skype — for counselling sessions in self-esteem. She is a life coach and motivational speaker.

She’s been back behind the scenes on Strictly since, assisting chief choreographer, Jason Gilkison, and that included, among others, helping Brendan and his then dance partner, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, with their routines. ‘On occasion, I’d be back in his arms showing Sophie what she needed to do. It didn’t feel strange. We immediately clicked back into our old roles. It’s in our DNA.’

Former partners: Camilla's relationship, both professional and personal, collapsed with dancer Brendan Cole

Now she’s appearing in the 31-show UK Strictly live tour, but as a judge, along with Tom Chambers and Craig Revel Horwood, not as a dancer.

‘To find myself sitting between Craig and Tom feels like coming home. And who knows? You might even see Tom and me doing a sneaky little dance number at the end of each show.’

She has a terrific relationship with Craig now.

Not a success: In 2009, she accepted an offer to appear on I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!

Not a success: In 2009, she accepted an offer to appear on I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!

‘He used to scare me so much. In the third series in 2005, James Martin was my partner and he used to get furious with Craig if he said nasty things about his dancing. I was petrified — although in the end we got to the semi-finals.’

But having got to know him better she now thinks Craig is hilarious. ‘He’s so honest, but he’s almost always right. Away from TV, he couldn’t be nicer. He and I have done a number of P&O Strictly cruises together with Ian Waite.’

Former Strictly professional dancers Ian and Erin Boag are two of her best friends.

Who was she rooting for in the latest series of Strictly?

‘Oh, Frankie and Kevin. They never let me down, never scored less than 30, never appeared in the dance-off. But then Simon and Kristina produced that astonishing Argentine tango, the best single dance of the entire series, in my opinion. And Caroline’s contemporary dance with Pasha was amazing. In the end, I wanted to split the glitterball three ways.’

These days, Camilla’s professional life is divided between entertainment and counselling. In 2009, she accepted an offer to appear on I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! but it wasn’t a success.

She quit on the fourth day, blaming the meagre food rations for leaving her physically vulnerable, although it later emerged the powerful presence of Katie Price had done little for her well-being.

The previous year, she’d taken part in a dog-training series called The Underdog Show on BBC2. There she met the man who was to become her husband. She and Kevin then toured the UK twice in the stage version of Calendar Girls.

But the tumultuous events of the Brendan years will never leave her, she says.

‘And I don’t want them to. They’ve taught me so many lessons. I found writing the book very therapeutic. Writing things down — and this applies to anyone — takes bad stuff out of your mind. It releases it, pins it down. It helps you make sense of your life, forces you to examine how you’ve behaved.

‘And I’m not blameless. Ours was much too claustrophobic a relationship. It occurs to me now that perhaps we were equally needy and controlling. Looking back, though, I don’t think we could ever have got back on track. Too much had happened.’

So what is the one lesson that all of it taught her?

‘Simple. I found me again, and then I found Kevin.’

  • For details about the Strictly live shows, visit strictlycomedancinglive.com (0844 875 8758). Strictly Inspirational is published by Watkins Publishing at £14.99.
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Losing my fiance to Natasha Kaplinsky was like DEATH: Strictly's Camilla Dallerup on the grief of her bitter split from dance partner Brendan Cole

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