In an exclusive feature in HELLO! magazine, nine of Strictly Come Dancing's much-loved professionals from the past have reunited for a sparkling photoshoot at London's Café de Paris.The talented former favourites of the show - who cha-cha-charmed audiences as much as the celebrities – include Katya Virshilas who tells the magazine, "Today feels like a high school reunion."
Flavia Cacace-Mistry, Nicole Cutler and Kristina Rihanoff reveal they are united in believing Strictly is a blessing as they all found love on the show.
"People talk about the Strictly curse but I met my husband Jimi [Mistry] nine years ago on the show and I'm the happiest I've ever been, so it is definitely a blessing in my eyes," says Flavia who is now a fully qualified personal trainer and nutritional adviser."
It was thanks to Strictly that Nicole found happiness too: she met her husband, professional cricketer Jonathan Batty, through the show.
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"He came along to watch his team-mate Mark Ramprakash [2006 series winner], who introduced us in the bar. Our daughter Olivia is seven now. She loves to dance and she loves Strictly. Every September she can't wait for it to start."
While Kristina tells HELLO!, "In any job there is good and bad but Strictly gave me so many good things – I made it to the final twice, with Jason Donovan and Simon Webbe, and I met my partner Ben [Cohen]. I will always be grateful for the show as that is how we met and we have a beautiful little girl, Mila, who is three, and now we have a business together," she adds of Soo Yoga, their wellbeing centre in Northampton, which opened earlier this year.
Of how the show has changed over the years, Kristina adds,"I am always going to say that our era was the most special because we had Bruce." While Nicole adds, "My last show was 12 years ago, but it feels like yesterday when I was on Strictly with Lilia, Erin, Camilla and Flavia. I look back and think: 'Those were the days.' A lot of people say to me: 'The early years were the best years.' It's not necessarily so, but I do think a lot of the dancing back then was more on show, it was more raw. Now it is a much bigger production."
The former Strictly dancers are so well loved that some people think they are still on the show. Flavia says people still come up to her to ask about the popular dance series, even though she left nine years ago. "I've even had people talk to me thinking I am still in the show, which is very funny."
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It's the same story for Erin Boag, who left in 2012 but still tours with show veteran Anton du Beke. "Everyone always wants to talk Strictly, even in the changing room at the gym," she says. "The moral of the story: always have your mascara on."
Lilia Kopylova, who won in 2005 with cricketer Darren Gough – and whose last series was a decade ago – tells us people still come up to her and say: "You were my favourite, please make a comeback.Supermarket checkouts tend to be the most popular venue for Strictly conversations. The show has such a feel-good factor."
All of our stars have a story to tell, not least mum-to-be Natalie Lowe who is expecting her first baby with husband James Knibbs at Christmas. "James and I couldn't feel happier with our baby on the way, due on 13 December. We can't wait to enjoy this amazing new chapter of our lives," says Natalie who now runs a ballroom and Latin dance fitness programme called FitSteps with Mark Foster [the Olympic swimmer who competed in Strictly in 2008] and Ian Waite [her former professional dance partner and another Strictly favourite].
"We love it when there is news like a Strictly baby – it's a bit like the royal family," says Nicole. All of the women have been on extraordinary journeys since Strictly. Katya tells HELLO! "When you leave the show you have to start looking for your identity again. Life after being in the Strictly bubble can be strange. I think you can lose a sense of reality – I know I almost did. When you wake up, your first thought is for your celebrity partner – not for your boyfriend or husband.
"It has been upsetting to see how many marriages have broken up. I feel lucky that my marriage [to former world dance champion Klaus Kongsdal] survived and we have children Alexander, three and a half, and Marcus, one and a half. I feel really blessed," adds Katya who now lives in Hong Kong where she is a marketing director for a sustainable fashion brand called Tove and Libra, a capsule collection far removed from Strictly glitz and glamour.
Also flying in from overseas for the exclusive photoshoot is Camilla Sacre-Dallerup who won the Glitterball in 2008 with Tom Chambers and now runs a life-coaching, hypnosis and meditation business in LA. She clasps hands with Erin as she says, "We have all been through so much together, on and off the dancefloor."
Joanne Clifton, the sister of reigning Strictly professional Kevin, admits she sometimes found it hard to be in the Strictly spotlight. "I loved all of my three Strictly years and it was brilliant to be in the show at the same time as Kevin. It is the most-loved show on TV. When you are part of it, people want to know all about you. I sometimes found it hard to be myself on camera and I didn’t like all the trolls on social media, whereas I love musical theatre as I am playing a character," she says of indulging her passion for the stage. "My next aim is to get a lead role in the West End or on Broadway, so I am going to New York for two months to study musical theatre at the New York Film Academy."
Friendships have continued after the show. Erin is still has a close bond with Lilia. The former show professionals live a stone's throw from one another in Surrey and Erin is godmother to Lilia's four-year-old daughter Valentina while Erin has a son, Ewan, now five.
Of all the many memories, Erin says there is one that will stay with her forever. "It is the sound of the music when you are under the spotlights, waiting to hear if you are through to the next round."
Cafe de Paris: https://www.cafedeparis.com/
For more exclusive photos and interviews with each of the former Strictly professionals, pick up a copy of this week's HELLO! out on Monday 30 September.