Exactly one month ago, Kevin Clifton solemnly denied that he had ever — or would ever — date one of his partners on
Clifton, 36, said: ‘No, never. You’re there to do a job and get on with the dancing. That’s what it’s about.’
But yesterday he was accused of being a ‘slippery snake’ and a ‘rat’ by the boyfriend of his last partner, Stacey Dooley: he says that the two of them are now an item.
Exactly one month ago, Kevin Clifton (pictured together with Stacey Dooley) solemnly denied that he had ever — or would ever — date one of his partners on Strictly Come Dancing
Clifton, 36, said: ‘No, never. You’re there to do a job and get on with the dancing. That’s what it’s about’. Clifton is pictured with another of his Strictly dance partners, Susanna Reid (left) and his first wife, Anna Melnikova (right)
Sam Tucknott, 30, a personal trainer, says that Kevin Clifton wooed his girlfriend away from him under the gaze of the cameras, sending intimate phone messages to her and finally sealing a romance with her just as she moved out of the house they had shared together in Brighton.
Neither ‘King Kev’ nor Stacey Dooley, a documentary-maker, who lifted the glitter ball trophy together in December, felt able to deny his story.
But what is surprising everyone is not that Kevin has broken his Strictly vow (he’s never had much luck with vows, as we shall see) and become romantically involved with one of his dance partners, but what the sensible, down-to-earth, and famously unstarry Stacey is doing hooking up with this unlikely Lothario in the first place.
Aged 36 and with three divorces behind him, he doesn’t appear very good boyfriend material. Although worshipped as a ‘god’ by Strictly fans as the show’s most successful professional dancer, he’s also known for a short temper, pernickity perfectionism and a habit of getting uncomfortably chummy with his dance partners.
Stacey, meanwhile, is known as a delightful, self-made grafter, who worked on a perfume counter at Luton Airport after leaving school at 16, before making a name for herself in television. She had been with Sam, a former professional footballer, for three years and had even ‘talked babies’.
To make matters worse, Sam says Clifton had seemed to be good friends with him at first. He said: ‘Adults make their own choices. I just know that he is a slippery snake — a proper rat. To have that relationship where you are best buddies, but then you start going cold because you start fancying their girlfriend — I hold no respect for him whatsoever.’
He went on: ‘Stacey has broken my heart, but of course I still love her and I wish her every success. My anger is with Kevin. It’s more like Strictly Come Dating — year in, year out.
Aged 36 and with three divorces behind him, he doesn’t appear very good boyfriend material. Clifton is pictured with his second wife, Claire (left) and his third wife, Karen (right)
‘Strictly is meant to be a family show — my little niece watches it — but it’s so sleazy, and I cannot begin to wonder what goes on behind the scenes.
‘I’ve tried to meet him since to get closure, but he won’t do it. The fact he won’t have a man-to-man conversation with me says everything about the guy.’
For her part, Stacey appears to have broken her silence about the split. Hours after the news became public, she ‘favourited’ a post on Twitter which read: ‘Forgive not because they deserve forgiveness but because you deserve peace.’
Sam may be the only one who is truly surprised by the turn of events. The 12.7 million viewers who watched Kevin and Stacey kissing and embracing upon winning the BBC show bore witness to a friendship which was rather obviously giving way to something stronger.
At the time, 32-year-old Stacey said: ‘You know how highly I think of you. I think you are the biggest gem. You’re patient, you’re talented, your choreography is second to none. You so deserve this.’ Kevin replied, in tears: ‘You are so lovely and I just think the absolute world of you.’
According to Sam, after the show was over they returned home but spent a tense ‘hollow’ Christmas together with his family, marked by ‘petty squabbles’.
Sam said: ‘I felt she was just not at the table.’ She asked to go back to Brighton on Boxing Day.
Despite heart-to-heart talks and declarations of love in January, Stacey went off to Uganda to film for Comic Relief and then, at the end of March, they called it quits.
Sam had suspicions when he found out she had sent Kevin some cupcakes to wish him luck on a first night earlier this year.
For her part, Stacey appears to have broken her silence about the split. Hours after the news became public, she ‘favourited’ a post on Twitter which read: ‘Forgive not because they deserve forgiveness but because you deserve peace’. Pictured is Clifton with ex-Strictly dancing partner Louise Redknapp
He also had misgivings when Kevin sent her a text message last November which ran: ‘I love dancing with you and spending every minute I can with you.’ Sam said: ‘Maybe I was too naive. Looking back, all the signs were there that I had lost Stacey.’
During their final meeting, Sam saw a text on her phone from Kevin declaring his love. He said that Stacey said: ‘I didn’t start entertaining and texting him until I split up with you . . . I was not with you when we started it all. I did fall for him, but when we were done.’
But the question now is: does Stacey have any idea of what she is letting herself in for?
Ex-wives aside, first there are the Strictly ‘romances’. Pop singer Louise Redknapp was paired with Kevin in 2016. A fast friendship developed. Kevin’s then-wife, Karen, was reportedly so worried about their on-floor charisma that she told Louise’s spouse, former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp: ‘Keep your wife away from my husband. She’s ruining our marriage.’
After the show, Kevin and Louise stayed in touch, with the pair going on nights out with mutual friends and Louise even spending time with his family.
She ended her 18-year marriage ten months after the show finished. Earlier, newsreader Susanna Reid, who was paired with Kevin in 2013, split from her long-term partner soon after the show finished — although both denied they’d had an affair.
Then there are the marriages. All of them have been brief, and all have ended in divorce. The first was to amateur Latin world champion Anna Melnikova. They were dance partners from 2002 to 2006 and were married in 2003, when Kevin was only 20.
He said: ‘We got to a stage where we were at the top of our game but we hadn’t won a world championship. We were approached and told that if we paid the right people, took certain classes with certain pro teachers, we would be guaranteed the title.
‘It would have cost more than £10,000 in all and I just felt somewhere it had all gone wrong. My parents believed we could win without it, but I wanted to walk away from the whole thing.
‘I fell out of love with it. My wife divorced me because it was her life. I fell into depression because everything I’d put my life into had burst apart.’
Kevin’s rebellious period followed. He met pretty dancer, model and actress Clare Craze in a salsa bar in London, and they were married in 2007 when he was 24.
Clare, who trained in ballet from the age of two and has a degree in dance from Middlesex University, was certainly the more glamorous of the pair. She is friends with male supermodels David Gandy and Louis Dowler — who dated actresses Kate Winslet and Jennifer Esposito.
Clare joined the US dance show Burn The Floor in 2007. Kevin — by this stage with dyed black hair, black painted nails and a fondness for jewellery — joined the Broadway show alongside her in 2009.
Here he met Karen Hauer, a Venezuelan dancer whom he thought was way out of his league. He left to be in the theatrical show Dirty Dancing, and in 2010 he and Ms Craze called it a day.
Kevin told an interviewer he and Karen got together in 2011: ‘I was never particularly happy in my previous marriage and I wasn’t myself — a lot of friends and family were telling me that. It was just a bit of a weird time. When I met Karen, I could get on with her on a completely different level.’
Ms Craze, who continues to work in the business, was outraged by his account. In a since-deleted post on social media, she wrote: ‘It is so difficult to stick to my decision not to get involved. Everything in me wants to scream from the rooftops what the actual truth is.’
She is now dating dancer and actor Curtis Angus, who is currently in Hamilton and was previously in The Lion King.
Kevin’s divorce from Clare was finalised in 2013, and he then proposed to Karen during a performance of Burn The Floor on her birthday. They were married in 2015. Two years later, however, that marriage, too, was over with rumours — denied — of infidelity on both sides. The couple officially announced that they were going their separate ways in March 2018, but remain on amicable terms and have continued to work professionally together on Strictly.
So what kind of a person is Kevin Clifton? The answer is that he is a lot more driven, ambitious and complex than the mild-mannered Clark Kent glasses and ‘Kevin from Grimsby’ nickname would suggest.
In fact, he is an ultimately competitive athlete who is used to crushing any opposition ruthlessly — as Stacey’s former boyfriend can attest.
He had dancing lessons from the age of four and was born into the high- pressure world of competitive dancing (one interviewer joked that he was born with a silver sequin in his mouth). His parents, Keith and Judy, are four times Latin American dance champions and still run a dance school.
Kevin danced both nationally and internationally as a child. He would compete every weekend, and train for hours after school at his parents’ dance school.
He remains immensely competitive, and once punched a wall backstage at Strictly in a filthy temper after messing up some dance steps. ‘I was so enraged with myself that I couldn’t help it,’ he said.
His frustrations over dancing with Susan Calman, a comedian not blessed with great natural rhythm, led to problems in his marriage in 2017. Wife Karen said at the time: ‘He looks sweet, but he is intense sometimes.’
Kevin didn’t disagree: ‘When I’m on Strictly, I’m not an easy person to live with. I go a bit mad.’
A workaholic, Kevin admits: ‘I get panicky when I have too much time off! Even on a day off I always end up doing something because I feel like if I relax too much I’m not being productive.’
He is also, perhaps surprisingly, into rock music and Gothic make-up, and went through a phase of dyeing his hair black and wearing jewellery.
He said: ‘I used to be a bit of a Goth and a rock music fan, and I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a wannabe rock star.’ Appearing as musician Stacee Jaxx in the Rock Of Ages musical, which involved him groping co-stars’ breasts, grabbing his crotch and simulating sex on stage, is a ‘dream role’ for him, he said.
Kevin added: ‘All the raunchiness is tongue-in-cheek. I wasn’t nervous about it. My character is over-the-top. I had to throw myself in. Plus, so now I get to act out my dream.’
Kevin has been working flat-out since he and Stacey won Strictly at the end of last year. He’s been on stage in Rock Of Ages, then from Thursday he will join a touring production of Burn The Floor, before returning to Rock Of Ages again in the summer.
He has also presented All Star Musicals for ITV and has set up online dance tutoring with sister Joanne via the Clifton Dance Academy.
Since winning, Stacey, too, has been the flavour of the month at the BBC, and is easily as big a star as he is. She recently appeared on Have I Got News For You and also presented the make-up artist competition Glow Up. She is now in the US filming documentary series Stacey Sleeps Over.
Not so long ago, Stacey confessed that her flourishing career, and the weeks away filming, were putting a terrible strain on her relationship with Sam. It’s hard to see how she will make a better go of things with Kevin, whose international work schedule is as hectic as hers.
Or are this intensely ambitious pair, who fell in love under a glitter ball, made for each other?