When I signed up for Dancing on Ice, I expected to be asked about the so-called curse that hangs over all reality shows that throw contestents into the arms of perfect physical specimens for months at a time.
So I had my answer off pat. “Of course my husband and I aren’t worried,” I simpered. “That only happens to couples whose relationships are in trouble to begin with.”
I’d long ago decided that the Strictly curse and the Dancing on Ice curse (which has been blamed for ending even more relationships) were just handy excuses used by people already looking for an out.
Let’s face it, comic Seann Walsh had hardly been a model boyfriend before his snogfest with pro partner Katya.
And if singer Jake Quickenden’s engagement couldn’t last the Dancing on Ice tour, his romance with Danielle Fogarty was doomed.
While my 14-year marriage to Steve hasn’t been on the rocks, it’s certainly bounced off them a few times.
But these days we’re in a good place. It’s nice to feel at ease with someone. And at 48, I like stability, routine and familiarity. We’re solid.
What I hadn’t bargained for was that along with the skates and the sequins come tons of enforced intimacy with a handsome stranger.
My pro skating partner is the lovely Mark Hanretty. He’s been on Dancing on Ice for eight years and is a married dad of two who’s steered the likes of Donna Air round the rink.
For weeks I’ve spent every available moment up close and personal with this delightful man, who’s 15 years younger than me, staring into his eyes, totally dependent on his support.
All his energy and attention is focused on me as he tries to make me look and feel good about myself, while keeping me safe.
Mark has spent his whole life working with female dance partners. For him, it’s no biggie to put his hands all over their bodies, or have them wrap their legs round his neck.
And it’s part of his job to make the audience believe he is head over heels in love with the woman in his arms. He knows how to create “chemistry” through movement, expression and touch.
As a total novice to acting, dancing and skating, I’ve found all that toe-curlingly embarrassing. All the more so because in my real life, Steve and I are so busy with work and family that we rarely have time for intimacy. And I don’t mean sex. I mean the little things that help hold a couple together.
From the get-go, Mark just grabbed my hand and skated off as if it were totally normal.
But I found it awkward because it’s something Steve and I hardly ever do. I can’t remember when I last had time to hold his hand.
But Mark made me realise how much I missed that feeling.
Then there’s the way he looks at me, spending hours every day gazing intensely into my eyes.
So naturally, I do my hair and make-up. I put on perfume. I want him to know I’ve made an effort.
Then I realised it was making me feel better and I should do it anyway, for my own self-esteem but also to give Steve the best version of myself.
How many of us bother to really look at our spouse, let alone stare intently into his eyes?
So I have been affected by the Dancing on Ice curse, as it turns out.
It’s made me realise all relationships need a bit more effort – especially ones which count.
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