Camilla Sacre-Dallerup's eyes well up with tears when she thinks back to the time she walked away from dancing.
"Oh, shoot!" she says, as she dabs her impossibly high cheekbones with a tissue. "I feel emotional even talking about it. Dancing was my identity. That's how I used to introduce myself. 'Hi, I'm Camilla, I'm the dancer.'"
Camilla (45) took a break from dance world in after her sixth stint as a dancer in the BBC's smash hit Strictly Come Dancing.
"I had loved dancing and wanted to do it for so long," she recalls. "Then I didn't want to dance any more. It was scary because it was all I knew and I didn't know what to do next. I was scared about what the next chapter would look like, I just felt so lost and exhausted."
The ballroom champion started dancing aged two and a half in her hometown of Aalborg, Denmark. She joined one of her sister Jeanet's dance school and fell in love – with ballroom, tap and ballet. "I didn't really feel like I fitted in at school," she tells. "But I just felt like I belonged in dance class. I did my first competition aged six. You're supposed to be eight, but I begged my teacher for special dispensation."
Ballroom become her way of exploring the world and, at 21, she travelled to London to dance with New Zealand champion Brendan Cole. They quickly became a couple and spent eight years relentlessly perfecting their technique, climbing the ranks from 96th to eighth in the world. Then, at the Closed British Championships in 2003, they attended a meeting with television producers about Strictly Come Dancing.
"I really wanted to sign up. Brendan wasn't sure," she tells. "We were told they might hire both or one of us, so we were thinking, this could be tricky. But we both got the job and were part of the original cast."
The big break proved fateful for their relationship. Before the season ended, Camilla called off their engagement amid rumours that Brendan was romantically involved with his dance partner, newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky. However, they both continued with series, guiding celebrities to dancing glory until Camilla left for good in 2008.
By that time, she had fallen in love with former soap star Kevin Sacre, who she met on reality television show The Underdog. The pair tied the knot in Ibiza in 2010 and Camilla had her first two-week holiday on their honeymoon.
"I'd only ever allowed myself a week off because I was always competing," she admits. "I was heading for a burnout. Quitting Strictly was the scariest thing I've ever done. Not just emotionally. It was a big gamble money-wise as I would be starting over and starting from scratch. Kevin was amazing, he gave me the gift of being able to take some time out."
At one point, the former dancer could barely bring herself to leave the house, and Camilla says the absolute desolation and exhaustion she experienced following the end of her dancing career confirmed what she already she knew – that she wanted to go into coaching.
Camilla channelled her formidable work ethic into studying coaching and hypnotherapy in the UK. "I really took a lot of time for myself to study and learn and soul search. I had never allowed myself to do that before because there was no time."
She went on to start a life coaching business in 2010, then she and Kevin (41) relocated to Los Angeles in 2014 where she committed to fulfilling her life-long ambition to write a self-help book.
Her first book Strictly Inspirational, a guide to overcoming obstacles in life and finding inner strength was published 2015, followed by Reinvent Me in 2017. Her third book It's Not You, It's Me is due later this year. "Writing is something I take really seriously," she says. "When I started writing my first book I didn't imagine I would be writing another, let alone a third!"
She's delighted that she gets to dabble in the dance world again, judging Dancing with the Stars, which also provides the opportunity to reconnect with Kiwis. "New Zealand feels like home," she says. "I used to own a house in Auckland. I love it here. The food, the people, everything. What's not to love?
Kevin also loves coming out to New Zealand and after the show wraps they plan to do some sightseeing together. "He's so excited about coming out here! He had a ball last year, he feels that it's a treat," she says fondly.
The devoted couple will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in July next year. "We always say we'll go back to Ibiza," say Camilla. "We might do, but we always go on these crazy adventures together. We're living in LA, where we always wanted to live, we can go to the beach on Sundays. I feel so spoilt and so grateful for the things we have already."
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