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Strictly Come Dancing: 7 stars who left in strange or unexpected circumstances

A look back at some of the BBC dance competition’s surprise early exits

Nicole Vassell
Tuesday 24 October 2023 12:53 BST
Moment Amanda Abbington's Strictly exit announced by Fleur East

Despite being on our screens for nearly two decades straight, Strictly Come Dancing still has the capacity to deliver plenty of surprises.

Year after year, there’ll be contestants who astonish everyone with their dancefloor skills, whispers of the “Strictly curse” disrupting relationships among the cast and every now and then, the series will involve an unexpected departure from a celebrity couple.

So far, season 21 has seen Amanda Abbington leave the competition after she and partner Giovanni Pernice missed the live show on Saturday (21 October).

The BBC wrote in a statement announcing the actor’s departure on Monday (23 October): “Amanda Abbington is unable to continue in Strictly Come Dancing and has decided to withdraw from the competition. The show wishes her all the best for the future.”

Abbington, 51, posted a statement of her own on Tuesday (24 October), explaining that she was “unable to go any further” for “personal reasons”.

While this is the season’s only surprise departure so far, this is not the first time that a celebrity has stepped away from the competition unexpectedly. Here’s a look back at six other contestants who’ve withdrawn from the show...

Will Young – season 14 (2016)

Will Young (Getty Images)

Former Pop Idol champion Will Young was a solid performer during his season on the programme, scoring 30, 27 and 31 out of 40 for his first three performances with partner Karen Hauer.

However, after his third week, the “Leave Right Now” singer called time on his involvement in the show, merely citing “personal reasons”.

In 2022, he shared more insight into his departure and named it as one of the best decisions he’s ever made, as it was a time he chose his wellbeing over work.

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“It was a very good lesson for me,” Young told The Telegraph. “Looking back, it was a brave decision, and the right one. I was very ill. I had bad hypervigilance [an exaggerated fear of danger associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, which Young had previously been diagnosed with] and a bad nervous system, and I needed to look after myself.”

AJ Odudu – season 20 (2021)

AJ Odudu (PA Media)

The effervescent TV presenter was one of season 20’s stand out contestants and often found herself at the top of the weekly leaderboard with her professional partner Kai Widdrington.

Unfortunately, after sustaining an injury during training, Odudu withdrew from the series a day before the grand final due to a torn ligament in her right ankle.

In her departure statement, the current Big Brother co-host said that she was “deeply upset” at having to leave the competition in this manner, and expressed her gratitude to Widdrington for their time together.

“Learning to dance over the last 13 weeks has been an incredible honour and to do it alongside someone as special, patient and devoted as Kai is something I’ll treasure forever,” she wrote.

Robert Webb – season 20 (2021)

Dianne Buswell and Robert Webb on Strictly (YouTube / screengrab)

Season 20 involved two surprise exits – the first one being from Robert Webb, who bowed out after three weeks in the competition due to health concerns.

“Two years ago, I had open heart surgery and although I believed I was fit enough to take on Strictly and its demanding schedule, it became clear that I had bitten off way more than I could chew for this stage in my recovery,” the Peep Show star wrote in a statement.

“I had begun to feel symptoms that led me to seek an urgent consultation with my heart specialist, and it was her view that it would be better for the sake of my health to step back from the show.”

In his statement, Webb also paid tribute to professional dancer Dianne Buswell, writing that he “couldn’t have wished for a more talented partner or more patient teacher”.

Nicola Adams – season 18 (2020)

Katya Jones and Nicola Adams on Strictly (YouTube / Screengrab)

Former Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams made history when she competed on Strictly in 2020, forming the show’s first same-sex couple with professional dancer Katya Jones.

Unfortunately, their journey was cut short after three live performances when Jones tested positive for Covid-19.

A statement released at the time stated that despite the Russian dancer being asymptomatic, government guidelines and programme protocols meant that both parties were isolating separately and would not be able to continue in the competition.

John Sergeant – season 6 (2008)

John Sergeant (BBC)

Despite frequently placing towards the bottom of the leaderboard, political journalist John Sergeant and his partner Kristina Rihanoff made it all the way to the 10th week of season six.

The public vote saved the pair on several occasions where, if it had been left to the judging panel, they likely would have been eliminated in favour of another couple. Days after former judge Arlene Phillips hit headlines for saying she’d be “desolate” if Sergeant won the competition, he announced his decision to leave.

“It was always my intention to have fun on the show and I was hoping to stay in as long as possible,” he wrote in a statement. “The trouble is that there is now a real danger that I might win the competition. Even for me that would be a joke too far.”

As a goodbye for the fans, Sergeant and Rihanoff still performed their waltz on the live programme, even though it went unscored.

Kelly Brook – season 5 (2007)

Kelly Brook (Getty Images)

After seven weeks of dancing with partner Brendan Cole in 2007, actor and model Kelly Brook pulled out of Strictly days after the sad passing of her father, Kenneth, from cancer aged 57.

Despite initially stating her intention to continue in the season as her father would have wished, Brook withdrew from the show hours before that week’s live Saturday programme.

“Understandably she has found it too difficult,” a spokesperson for the BBC said in a statement. “Kelly has been a fantastic part of the programme, and she will be sorely missed by everyone on the show who would also like to express their deepest sympathy to Kelly and her family at this difficult time.”

Find a rundown of all the Strictly Come Dancing 2023 contestants and their professional partners here.

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