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Annabel Croft shares heartbreaking reason she sobbed night before Strictly debut

‘It was a weird scenario,’ the former tennis player said

Jacob Stolworthy
Saturday 07 October 2023 14:10 BST
Strictly stars pay tribute to 'true gentleman' Len Goodman at 2023 launch

Annabel Croft has recalled sobbing before her Strictly Come Dancing debut due to emotions over her husband’s death.

The former tennis player and TV presenter is competing on the new series of the BBC dance competition, where she’s dancing with South African pro Johannes Radebe.

When she was first announced as a cast member on Strictly 2023, Croft, 57, shared that she hoped to “find some joy” on the show after her husband Mel Coleman died earlier this year.

Now, in a new interview, Croft said that the night before she was set to make her dancefloor debut, she was overcome with emotion at not being able to be supported by Coleman.

“So I just sat and cried,’ she told MailOnline. “Mel was my biggest supporter, my protector. He gave me confidence. He made things right, always had done. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to say: ‘I am really nervous for tomorrow, but I don’t have you to make it OK.’”

Croft said that “it was a weird scenario”, adding: “I was about to go out in front of millions of people and be jolly and happy but I was sobbing, thinking: ‘I don’t know where you are, Mel. Where have you gone?’.”

Appearing on Lorraine on Wednesday (4 October), Croft said that Strictly had been “a nice distraction from grief”.

Explaining that Coleman was a “huge fan” of the show, she told host Lorraine Kelly: “It’s been nice to do something joyful and use my body and try to rest my brain from thinking too many dark thoughts.”

Croft met her husband of 30 years, investment banker and professional yachtsman Mel Coleman, when she was considering retiring from tennis (something she would go on to do aged just 21).

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The pair met while Croft was filming a BBC show about yacht racing, with Eamonn Holmes and Seventies musician Peter Skellern. Coleman had just returned from Australia after the America’s Cup and was one of the yachtsmen.

Annabel Croft and her late husband, Mel Coleman (Getty Images)

The pair married six years later and have three adult children: Amber, Lily Rose and Charlie. Croft and Coleman started a tennis academy together in Croft’s name, and spent the Covid-19 lockdowns converting an old DPD van into a mobile home.

In May 2023, Croft shared the sad news that Coleman had died aged 60 shortly after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

Announcing her participation in Strictly 2023, she said: “My husband did love [Strictly], he absolutely loved it. He used to cry watching it. He used to call me over if I was cooking, and he was crying watching it. So, I hope he’s watching up there.”

In an interview before the series began, she said: “I think, what an amazing time to try and find some joy, and just to be thrown into something to take your mind off things.”

Croft made it through the first results show of this series of Strictly, and will return to the competition for Movie Week this weekend. She and Radebe will be dancing a waltz to “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Annabel Croft is participating in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ 2023 (BBC/Ray Burmiston)

Strictly Come Dancing continues Saturday 7 October at 6.20pm on BBC One.

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