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Seann Walsh, Giovanna Pernice, Amanda Abbington, Arlene Phillips, Bruno Tonioli split image© Getty Images/BBC

Strictly Come Dancing's most dramatic moments as the show turns 20

The iconic BBC programme debuted on 5 May, 2004

Senior Features Writer
TV & Film Editor
May 15, 2024
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Happy anniversary, Strictly! Today marks 20 years since the iconic BBC dancing show aired on 15 May 2004. Since then, the popular programme has become a staple on British TV screens and has seen a wide range of famous faces take to the ballroom floor over the years. 

As Strictly prepares to celebrate its major milestone in a special anniversary episode later this year, we've taken a look back at some of its most dramatic moments. From an axed judge to stars quitting the show early and the so-called 'Strictly Curse', the celebrity dancing competition has seen it all. Check out our roundup below. 

WATCH: Can you name BBC's Strictly Come Dancing previous winners?


Amanda Abbington and Giovanni Pernice on Strictly© BBC

Amanda Abbington quitting the show

In the show's 2023 season, there were rumours that pro dancer Giovanni Pernice and actress Amanda Abbington weren't getting along in training, which the Sherlock star initially shut down. In an Instagram post, she said: "Just stop it, stop it, grow up. No one gives a [expletive]. Shut up, it's [expletive], so [expletive] off. You know who I'm talking to as well. Come on, jog on, it's nonsense and you know it's nonsense. It's all good."

However, the actress eventually dropped out of the competition and later revealed she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after her time on the show. 

Upon leaving, the Mr Selfridge actress left Giovanni out of her list of thanks, writing: "It is with deepest regret that I had to leave Strictly. I did not come to this decision easily or lightly but for personal reasons I am unable to continue. 

"It was an absolute joy working with my fellow contestants, they are a beautiful, hardworking and talented group of people who I love and who I will miss seeing every Friday and Saturday and competing alongside." 


James Jordan in maroon jumper© Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

James Jordan's exit

James has previously opened up about being offered a reduced role on the show, and opted to leave instead. At the time, Strictly's official Twitter account wrote: "It'll be sad not having @artemchigvintse and @The_JamesJordan around. Best of luck. We’ll miss you #scd #sadtimes," to which James replied: "So why sack me?" The dancing pro was on the show from 2006 to 2013. 


TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan Cole, of Strictly Come Dancing, arrive at the "2004 TV Moments Awards Ceremony" at BBC Television Centre on January 22, 2005 in London. The awards celebrate the best and worst moments of the past televisual year. (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)© MJ Kim

Brendan Cole and Natasha Kaplinsky

During the first series in 2004, professional Brendan Cole and his celebrity partner Natasha Kaplinsky were said to have grown close while competing for the Glitterball trophy. 

After winning the series, Brendan and his then-fiancé and fellow pro dancer Camilla Dallerup called off their engagement. Camilla described being left for Natasha as a "mini-death", however, Brendan and Natasha deny they were ever romantically involved.


Dame Arlene Phillips on ITV's Lorraine© Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

Arlene Phillips's axe from the show

Professional dancer and choreographer Arlene Phillips was one of the original judges but was famously axed and replaced with Alesha Dixon back in 2009. The former judge spoke out against the decision, claiming it had to do with her age and it even sparked outrage among viewers who complained to the show. 

Eleven years after her departure, she's decided to launch an investigation into the real reason she was dropped. "Nowadays, they could have given me the chance to resign or build a story around it. I didn’t have a contract that automatically rolled on to the next year, but I think it was handled so poorly. You then never forget those moments of turmoil," explained Arlene.


sean walsh© Photo: BBC

Seann Walsh and Katya Jones' kiss

In recent years, the kiss between Seann Walsh and Katya Jones was another moment that fuelled the 'Strictly Curse' fire. The comedian and pro dancer were paired for the 2018 series and were pictured kissing after a night out, despite both being in relationships. The two then appeared on the sister show It Takes Two to apologise for their actions and express their regret. 

"Obviously I'm sorry for the hurt I've caused, we were getting on well, we were having fun, had a couple of drinks and we made a huge mistake, and I regret it deeply," began Seann. Katya added: "I can't apologise enough to everyone I've hurt [...] what matters to me the most right now [is] my job and doing it as professionally as I can."


Laura spoke about being unhappy on the show© Dave J Hogan

Laura Whitmore

In 2018, presenter Laura Whitmore published a blog on Huff Post in which she detailed how uncomfortable she felt while taking part in the show two years earlier. Laura, who was paired with Giovanni Pernice, said: "I was placed with a dance partner I was extremely uncomfortable with – and in the end I felt broken. 

"I cried every day. And I really was broken, both mentally and physically, by the end. To the outside world, I tried to suck it up and smile, and I did that to the best of my ability, but it affected me deeply."


danny john jules amy dowden© Photo: BBC

Danny John Jules and Amy Dowden

It seems 2018 was a dramatic year, as Amy Dowden and actor Danny John-Jules were reportedly not getting on behind the scenes. Despite denying bullying allegations, the pair did admit an argument had taken place while appearing on It Takes Two. The situation was fuelled further when Danny didn't appear next to Amy on It Takes Two after the pair were voted out of the competition.


anastasia© Photo: BBC

Anastasia and Brendan Cole

In 2016, the American singer and her pro partner Brendan Cole had a few tough talks while training together for the competition. 

The dancer wrote in his Digital Spy column: "We've definitely had some conversations, I won't lie about that." 

A couple of years later, Anastasia admitted she had kept in contact with most people from that year, except for Brendan. She said: "We don't have that kind of connection. It was just for the show."


Brendan Cole leaves the show© Chris Jackson

Brendan Cole leaves the show

At the beginning of 2018, it was announced that Brendan had been axed from the programme. Speaking on Lorraine, he said: "It's actually quite hard to talk about.

"Well the BBC haven't renewed my contract, they just made an editorial decision to not have me back on the show, so I'm a little bit in shock at the moment, and quite emotional and raw about it." 

The pro then alluded that he thought he had been dropped due to his reported "confrontations" with head judge Shirley Ballas. "I'm a very strong character on this show I have my strong views, some do [like that] and some don't."


strictly stacey kevin winners

Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton

Soon after Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton won the show in 2018, the presenter announced that she had split from her boyfriend Sam. 

The journalist's ex gave an interview in which he explained he saw a text on Stacey's phone from Kevin saying "I love you". However, Stacey then explained that she had seen "utter nonsense" written about the circumstances of their relationship.


Will quit the 2016 series© Ben Pruchnie

Will Young quits

In 2016, Will Young famously quit the show midway through without much of an explanation. The singer cited "personal reasons" for his departure but many thought that his clash with Len Goodman over his Bollywood routine might have had something to do with it after the judge told him to "turn up, keep up and shut up". 

After the show, Karen Hauer told Radio Times that the former dancing pair hadn't spoken. "I haven't really been in touch with Will since the show," she said. "I think everybody understands his reasons and we all understand, but it's hard when there's the other half. It's my job and I love my job and it was really hard for me to stay behind and see everybody have an amazing series and not to be a part of it."


kevin clifton and louise redknapp dancing© Photo: Getty Images

Louise Redknapp on Strictly changing her

Eternal singer Louise Redknapp competed on the fourteenth series of Strictly in 2016 and ended up reaching the final alongside pro partner Kevin Clifton. Soon after the show wrapped, Louise announced that she was leaving her footballer husband of nearly 20 years Jamie Redknapp. After much media speculation that Strictly was the reason behind her split, Louise admitted that the show "put the fire back in her belly" for her new lease of life, but was not the reason behind the break-up.


Ben Cohen and Kristina Rhianoff© Karwai Tang

Ben Cohen and Kristina Rhianoff

Rugby star Ben Cohen appeared on the show in 2013 and was paired with professional dancer Kristina Rihanoff. Shortly after their stint on the show, Ben split from his wife of 11 years and embarked on a relationship with the pro dancer. 

The couple assured there was no overlap, but his ex-wife Abby revealed she hit "rock bottom" after being "dumped". Since then, Kristina and Ben have welcomed their own child, daughter Milena in 2016.

Strictly Come Dating: couples who met on the dancefloor

As well as Gemma and Gorka, there are several other loved-up couples who met during their time on Strictly

  • Janette Manrara and Aljaz Škorjanec met on Strictly in 2010, before marrying in 2017 and welcoming a baby, Lyra, in 2023.
  • Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev met during the 2013 series. They married in 2019 and have two children together.
  • Dianne Buswell and Joe Sugg fell in love while competing in 2018. They live together in Brighton.
  • Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton met in 2018 and welcomed a baby girl, Minnie, in 2023.
  • Max George and Maisie Smith shared their Strictly experience together in 2020, but didn't announce their relationship until 2022.
  • Tyler West and Molly Rainford starred in the 2022 series together and have been going strong ever since!
  • Kai Widdrington and Nadiya Bychkova are both professionals on the show, and began dating in 2022.
  • Kristina Rihanoff and Ben Cohen were partnered together on the show in 2013, confirming their romance in 2014. They share a daughter together, Mila, who was born in 2018.