Strictly couple Nadiya and Kai open up about falling in love
We’ve all heard about the Strictly Curse – couples breaking up when one of them agrees to take part in BBC’s smash-hit dance show. But what about the Strictly blessing?
“I like to think of what happened to Nadiya and me as a blessing,” says professional dancer Kai Widdrington.
He has good reason to thank Strictly for introducing him to Ukrainian beauty, Nadiya Bychkova, 33, another dancer on the show.
They went public with their romance last April. Now, they’re kicking off a 36-date national tour, Once Upon A Time, later this month.
Says Nadiya: “I remember when I was competing in dance competitions, I always wanted to create something. Obviously, we have a choreographer, Scott Caldwell, but the new show and its content are our ideas. My mum is making all my dresses. It’s so exciting.”
Additionally, there will be three ballroom and three Latin couples dancing with Nadiya and Kai, as well as a singer.
“There will also be some film footage of us relaxing away from work,” says Kai, 27. “We want people to see behind the curtain of our lives.”
There will be glimpses, too, of Mila, Nadiya’s six-year-old daughter with Slovenian footballer, Matija Skarabot – a relationship that had unravelled before she met and subsequently fell in love with Kai.
Among all the female Strictly professional dancers, Nadiya is the only mother.
“Mila is the most important thing in my life,” she says, without apology. “But having her requires a lot of planning and organisation and, yes, some sacrifices, too.”
When work takes Nadiya on the road, Mila is taken care of by her grandmother, Larisa, who now lives in London – Mila calls her “Babushka”.
“She has always been there for me,” Nadiya says.
It was easier to dovetail the demands of Mila into her life, she explains when she was involved in competitive dancing. But Strictly changed the landscape out of all recognition.
“If ever we get a day off on tour, the other dancers can relax. But I’m in a car or on the train to get back to London as quickly as possible to spend as long as I can with Mila, trying to make memories to compensate for the days when I couldn’t be with her.
“Whatever I’m doing, I never stop being a mother. I’m not complaining. I don’t have a choice.”
Kai is also an important part of Mila’s life.
“It’s our life and of course that includes Mila,” he says. “I have a great relationship with her. She calls me ‘Kai Lemon Pie’ and she’s very adept at getting me to buy her sweets and chocolate.” Nadiya frowns in mock disapproval.
The pair met on Strictly when Kai joined the troupe of professional dancers in 2021. Nadiya had been part of the 2017 intake along with Amy Dowden and Dianne Buswell. At that stage, Kai was a backing dancer on the show. And his initial reaction?
“I thought she was absolutely stunning,” he says, without hesitation.
But it was another four years until they became romantically involved.
“That’s when we started to talk,” Kai adds. “But it wasn’t until we danced together that the magic happened.”
Nadiya chips in: “We just fitted together. Everything worked. That’s the only way I can describe it. Dancing with Kai felt like the easiest thing in the world.”
Says Kai: “When I’d watch Fred [Astaire] and Ginger [Rogers] on the big screen, it seemed like they were made for each other. Well, that’s how it felt with me and Nadiya. It was an American Smooth and everything just clicked into place.”
By then, the two had struck up a friendship.
“I could see right away that he was kind; a gentleman,” Nadiya remembers.
“We shared the same values. But it was a slow burn. We were friends first – and don’t you think that’s the best way? I’m very careful before I allow someone to get close to me.”
Kai says he realised early on that something special was unfolding.
“Then, when we danced together for the first time, that was like the nail in the coffin. Our fate was sealed.”
All of which is fine and dandy. Except they weren’t an ordinary couple falling in love. They were beamed into millions of living rooms, all over the nation, every Saturday and Sunday night. So, how did they deal with the additional pressure of keeping their burgeoning romance under wraps?
“We wanted to keep it to ourselves as long as we could,” recalls Kai.
But word inevitably got out. “And, before we knew it, I had paparazzi camped outside my flat, waiting in vans on the off-chance they might grab a photo of us together.”
The trouble with trying to keep something secret, says Nadiya, is that tongues start wagging and what people don’t know, they then make things up.
“I kept reading that Kai and I had moved in together. But it wasn’t true. It still isn’t. Our flats are near each other, but we don’t live together.”
Even so, Kai often gets asked whether spending so much time together puts an extra strain on the relationship.
“People will say, ‘I couldn’t think of anything worse than going to work with my other half.’ But I feel the opposite. We love each other and we love to dance together. So, for us, it’s like a double whammy.”
They insist they’re not in each other’s pockets 24/7, though.
“Nadiya has her time with Mila, and I like to play golf,” says Kai.
“And then we’ll meet up and take the dog for a walk.”
Said dog is Snoopy, an English bulldog they acquired last October. “He’s getting very heavy and he’s going to get bigger,” says Kai.
The dog is spoken of almost as if he’s their furry, four-legged baby. They both laugh. But this, of course, begs a bigger question. Nor does Kai duck the issue.
“Would I like a family of my own one day? Of course. I’d love to be a father. We’re busy at the moment laying the foundations for all of that.”
Nadiya agrees. “I always wanted to have many children.”
It sounds like an idyllic existence. Not quite.
“I’m from an area in Ukraine where the war has been going on now for almost 10 years,” Nadiya says. “It started at the end of 2013. But it wasn’t until February of last year that the world at large became aware of the Russian invasion.
“In 2014, I knew bombs were dropping and I didn’t know whether my mum had been able to get a train out of the country. Luckily, she was able to reach Croatia, and safety.”
A complete lack of phone connections meant Nadiya couldn’t speak to her father or grandmother for two months.
“Eventually, I found footage of our house on YouTube and it had been bombed,” she explains. “I was frantic with worry. Then on my birthday in August – the best present ever – I got a text from my father saying he was alive. He’d been hiding underground and then managed to escape to a safer part of the country.
“Eventually, we managed to get my grandmother out of Ukraine to join my mum in Croatia.”
Nadiya can clearly remember the moment of the Russian invasion a year ago. “People were talking about the Russians marching into Ukraine. And I told everyone that was never going to happen,” she sighs.
“Then I woke up at 4am on February 24, switched on the radio and heard the news. I couldn’t believe it. I spoke to my father and we reckoned it would only last a week or two. And yet, here we are now.
“You learn how to live with it but it’s never off your mind. In some ways, I feel very selfish saying I want all the people I love to be here in the UK. Ukraine is their home, though. I understand why they want to stay.
“In the end, of course, I just want all this to finish.”
In the meantime, Nadiya has her love to keep her warm.
“Kai makes everything special,” she says. “Not long ago, he took me on a surprise trip to Paris. Then there was one evening when he’d laid out candles and flowers in his apartment before I got there and a Michael Bublé song was playing. It was so romantic.”
Not much point asking if she’s happy.
- Once Upon A Time tours nationally from March 27 until May 7. Visit nadiyaandkai.com for more information
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