Happiness has been in short supply for Annabel Croft of late. The tennis star has wept every day since her husband, Mel Coleman, died in May, just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, leaving her and their three children bereft.
That devastating loss is what inspired her to take part in Strictly Come Dancing, she tells The Mail on Sunday today.
Not only will her appearance be a tribute to her husband – who was a huge fan of the BBC1 show – but she also hopes the gruelling training schedule will help take her mind off the heartache and help her ‘find some joyfulness’.
‘It’s been a terrible, terrible time,’ she says, reflecting candidly on the past few months. ‘I can’t…’ The thought trails off.
‘There’s not been a day I haven’t cried. That’s why I think I’ll be able to distract myself with something absolutely wonderful.
‘It’s been a terrible, terrible time,’ Annabel Croft says, reflecting candidly on the past few months
Happiness has been in short supply for Annabel Croft of late. The tennis star has wept every day since her husband, Mel Coleman, died in May
The devastating loss of her husband is what inspired Ms Croft to take part in Strictly Come Dancing , she tells The Mail on Sunday today
‘I think to be distracted and to spend time doing something so wonderful and beautiful and to be with amazing people… it’s really an amazing time.’
But her time on the dancefloor will be bittersweet without her husband of 31 years there to cheer her on. ‘He always loved the show and he used to cry watching it,’ she said. ‘So I’m completely heartbroken that he’s not here to watch with me.’
Mr Coleman, a former America’s Cup yachtsman, died at the age of 60, two months after complaining of stomach pain. He was subsequently diagnosed with stage 3 cancer.
Just weeks later, Ms Croft, 57, was back at work, conducting post-match interviews as part of the BBC’s coverage of the Wimbledon finals and overseeing the ceremony in which winners Marketa Vondrousova and Carlos Alcaraz received their trophies.
While fans praised her stoicism and professionalism, Ms Croft is hoping for more from Strictly when it starts on Saturday.
‘It’s about having some joy,’ she said. ‘Just learning something new, listening to the music, hopefully just going with the flow.
‘I’ve never done anything like it before, but I’m willing to give it a go. I hope it’s fun and I won’t take myself too seriously.’
Cheering her on will be her three grown-up children, Charlie, Amber and Lily. ‘They are excited and really keen on me doing the show as it is really giving me joy.’ Ms Croft said.
She said the trio are ‘amazing dancers’ themselves and have been giving her tips, advising her to ‘loosen up’ while on the dancefloor. They are a tight family, regularly holidaying together in a camper van they converted, and nicknamed Vanabelle.
Her fitness regime will also help her with the demands of the show. She enjoys running, tennis, yoga and padel – a racket sport for which she is an ambassador – which she says ‘keeps her smiling’ during tough times. She even released her own fitness video in the 1990s.
Ms Croft rose to fame when, in 1982 and at the age of 15, she became the youngest Briton to compete at Wimbledon for almost a century. She retired from professional tennis at 21.
She met her husband on one of her first jobs as a broadcaster when she was asked by the BBC to go to Guernsey to learn how to race a yacht with Eamonn Holmes and musician Peter Skellern.
‘Mel, who had just got back from Australia after the America’s Cup, was one of the yachtsmen and that is how we met,’ she later recalled. They married in 1992, six years after they met. But despite her background as a professional sportswoman, she insists she won’t be competitive on Strictly.
Annabel Croft attends day six of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 08
Ms Croft’s time on the dancefloor will be bittersweet without her husband of 31 years there to cheer her on (Ms Croft is pictured second from the right on the first row, with this year’s fellow competitors’
Ms Croft rose to fame when, in 1982 and at the age of 15, she became the youngest Briton to compete at Wimbledon for almost a century. She retired from professional tennis at 21
‘Only with myself,’ she says. ‘Because I think even as a tennis player you are competitive with yourself, you want to reach perfection for yourself.
‘I don’t want to be competitive in the competition because we already know there are massive differences in how everyone moves and dances, and I couldn’t possibly compare myself to a lot of them because they’re all amazing.’
She has previously called Strictly ‘a terrifying prospect,’ but says she likes challenging herself professionally and personally – which included her role at Wimbledon in July. Ms Croft said: ‘I’ve been conducting tennis interviews for many, many years, but obviously hosting the Wimbledon finals was the biggest thing I’ve ever done.
‘It was nerve-racking but I really enjoyed it. I used to have a panic attack about doing that kind of job.
‘I definitely have pushed myself in my life into areas I didn’t want to do. I learnt how to overcome those fears.
‘I’ve found it gives you a lot more confidence when you do overcome those challenges, it’s a good thing to push yourself a little bit.’
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