The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Strictly’s Pasha Kovalev says stand up for your beliefs

The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Strictly’s Pasha Kovalev says stand up for your beliefs

Ballroom dancer, Pasha Kovalev, 41, spent eight years on Strictly Come Dancing He won the BBC programme in 2014 with the late TV presenter Caroline Flack He is married to Countdown star Rachel Riley, 35, whom he met on the show

Professional ballroom dancer, Pasha Kovalev, 41, spent eight years on Strictly Come Dancing, which he won in 2014 with the late TV presenter Caroline Flack. He is married to Countdown star Rachel Riley, 35, whom he met on the show. They have a daughter Maven, 16 months, and a baby on the way.

Stand up for beliefs 

When I was a boy, I was told that I could barely move my hips. But I loved dancing and knew that they were wrong.

I worked very hard and it paid off. I grew up in Russia, and aged 14 I moved 1,000 miles away from my mother’s house to a new dance studio, where I had to get a job to pay for my training.

Then, in 2001, I went to America with my dance partner Anya Garnis. I knew no one and didn’t speak the language.

Professional ballroom dancer, Pasha Kovalev (pictured), 41, spent eight years on Strictly Come Dancing, which he won in 2014 with the late British TV presenter Caroline Flack

When Anya wanted us to audition for the U.S. TV show So You Think You Can Dance, I wasn’t sure. But the show led to a career on Broadway, before I was invited to join Strictly in 2011. Then I met Rachel, who is amazing. I definitely wasn’t ready to have kids up until three or four years ago.

But my emotional state changed. Maybe because I had found a perfect partner. When we first held Maven in our arms, we looked at each other and said: ‘OK, we need one more of these!’

It was scary deciding to leave Strictly in 2019. I loved the family feel of the show and it opened a lot of doors. But I knew I had to move on, and I don’t regret it for a second.

Maven was three months old when we went into lockdown. My dance tour (Here Come The Boys) was postponed. It was terrible — no work, no income. But because I wasn’t off travelling, I’m very grateful I got to see my daughter in that first period of her life.

Rachel has been very brave campaigning against anti-Semitism. She has an acute sense of justice. She chose to speak up, not because of any political agenda but to stand up for people who have been abused. And then she got so much abuse online, from people who can hide their identity.

Rachel’s handling it very well, but there were times it was overwhelming and she needed a lot of support. And yes I had to be there for her. But in life you must trust your instincts — and stand up for what you believe in.

Rise Up With Arts with Pasha Kovalev & Anya Garnis in support of the theatre industry can be seen from May 14-16 at riseupwitharts.com