Who would be a Strictly widow? Mike Bushell has leapt to his feet in his kitchen, keen to show me what to do when you find a woman’s thighs around your neck.
His wife, Emily, has stayed firmly seated at the table, but is looking on with more patience than many spouses would muster.
‘The first time it happened, it was a bit of a shock,’ says Mike. ‘Katya [Jones, his professional dance partner on Strictly Come Dancing] was behind me, so I couldn’t see what she was doing, but she said: “I’m going to do a handstand on to your neck. When you feel my feet around your ears, grab me.” ’
Mike Bushell received the support from his wife Emily during his stint on Strictly Come Dancing. He said he was happy to have left when he did so he would not have to face the dreaded rumba
How many times did he drop her before they perfected that particular lift?
‘Probably more than five, but less than ten. Overall, you are always landing in a heap. I ended up on top of her quite a lot.’
While the increasingly beleaguered Mike — dubbed ‘rubbish’ and ‘useless’ on social media with every passing week — was disappointed to finally leave the BBC show last weekend, after his fourth consecutive dance-off, he’s also relieved that he was booted out before he had to learn the dreaded rumba. ‘I’m not even sure what a rumba is, but it’s very sensual, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘Katya is nearer my daughters’ age than mine — I’m glad we swerved that one.’
One would imagine that his new wife Emily, 39, feels the same. Especially since the couple, who wed in May, are effectively still in the honeymoon period of their marriage. As 53-year-old Mike puts it: ‘It’s been a whirlwind few months.’
He clutches on to his dance partner Katya Jones on Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two, where they discussed his weight loss. Bushell has been balancing the show while moving into his first home with his wife Emily
In June, they moved into their first home together. Two months later, he was offered the chance to go on Strictly. In September, the intensive training began.
Most of the time since has been spent with him entwined in Katya’s limbs. Was this what Emily signed up for? Certainly not. She tells me, with a laugh, that the man she fell in love with is sweet, kind and clumsy, in an endearing sort of way.
‘He’s a bit like Frank Spencer,’ she says, which, I think, she means as a compliment.
Famously, BBC sports presenter Mike’s most ‘Frank Spencer’ moment was when he fell into a swimming pool during the 2018 Commonwealth Games while interviewing members of the England team in a live broadcast.
Meanwhile, Katya got into hot water last year when she became too entwined with her celebrity partner off the Strictly dancefloor.
The scandal of her illicit kiss with comedian Seann Walsh ended his five-year relationship and may have contributed to the end of Katya’s marriage. She and husband Neil Jones — also a pro dancer on the show — have since separated.
Striking: Katya and Bushell cut sleek figures in a dramatic dance routine on November 9. His partner Emily said she was not worried about the Strictly Curse since the on-screen dance couple’s chemistry ‘wasn’t oozing’
Wasn’t Emily even slightly worried about the so-called ‘Strictly curse’?
‘There was some chemistry,’ she concedes. ‘But it wasn’t . . . oozing. We are newlyweds, really happy, and I trust him implicitly. And I just don’t think that every woman is after my husband.’
Nor would Emily ever have dreamed, before the series began, that her wholesome other half would find himself at the centre of a vicious and febrile social media storm.
Yet that’s exactly what happened when, in Halloween week, the judges voted to save him in his dance-off against the elegant, ex-Coronation Street actress Catherine Tyldesley.
The uproar — in the form of vicious online trolling and a death threat — ensued. ‘I didn’t actually see the message in question,’ says Mike. ‘Someone told me there was a post that said something along the lines of, if I didn’t withdraw from the competition immediately, I’d be a dead man.’
Emily and Bushell attend the ITV Palooza! held at The Royal Festival Hall on October 16. Talking about his transformation, Mike’s wife said: ;He wasn’t huge before, but . . .’ Again, she searches for the kindest thing to say. ‘You just loved your beer, didn’t you?’
It left him and Emily reeling. After all, as celebrity villains go, Mike must surely be among the most unlikely.
Even now, three weeks on, she looks upset as he relates what happened.
‘I tried to look, but the account had been deleted and I couldn’t get details, but even then I thought: “You can’t get away with that.” It’s really not on.
‘Everyone has their opinion, and you can not like the judges’ decision, but, come on, guys, being abusive and personal is ridiculous.
‘At the end of the day, it’s an entertainment show. And it’s like football: the referee’s decision is final. You may not agree with it, but it’s not right to be nasty about it.’
The haters came out in force, though. Mike was told to ‘f*** off’, which he wasn’t expecting. ‘It’s too much. Why be offensive?’
Emily was livid enough to send a tweet herself, complete with an angry face emoji. ‘The show is supposed to be a bit of fun. It was just unfair,’ she says. ‘And we’ve been beyond gutted for Catherine. But to blame Mike for her going out wasn’t right.’
Katya and Bushell perform a fun routine on November 11 which pays tribute to the Charleston dance of the 1920s
Mike was upset when there were suggestions he had been kept in the show only because he worked for the BBC. ‘Nonsense,’ he says. ‘Of course people working for the BBC go out [of the competition]. Plenty of them have before.’
But he saves most of his fury for the woman who sent him a message telling him to accept his limitations and get off the dancefloor for good.
‘This is where I do think you have to stand up and say something,’ he says. ‘She wrote: “You are not a dancer, and you will never be.”
‘I was perfectly polite back to her, pointing out that I’ve spent 15 years encouraging people who aren’t necessarily into sport to get involved. They are put off because they think they’ll be rubbish. I always say: “Have a go. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t any good.”
The pair managed to stay in the competition after a dance-off against Viscountess Emma Weymouth. While Bushell thinks social media can be a force for good, he warns it can also destroy people. ‘I didn’t actually let it get to me too much. It wasn’t as if I was afraid to walk out of the front door. But I can see that someone with a thinner skin could have been really affected’
‘Don’t ever tell anybody they’ll never be something, because that destroys hope.’
Katya, who has suffered her own online abuse, has now deleted her Twitter account. ‘She did it for her own reasons,’ explains Mike. ‘She’d had enough.’
While he thinks social media can be a force for good, he warns it can also destroy people.
‘I didn’t actually let it get to me too much. It wasn’t as if I was afraid to walk out of the front door. But I can see that someone with a thinner skin could have been really affected.’
It takes a big man to shrug off such slurs. All the more impressive, then, for Mike, who tells me he has lost 1½ st since taking part in the show.
Although not exactly obese before Strictly, at 5 ft 5 in, his weight of 12 st 2 lb meant he was on the wrong side of chunky.
Being sport-obsessed, Mike had thought he was reasonably fit. Doing Strictly proved otherwise.
The amateur dancer met Emily in a pub two years ago, at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She remembers thinking: ‘What a lovely bloke.’ ‘I didn’t know who he was,’ she admits. ‘And we didn’t actually get together for some time after that’
‘I didn’t think I was that out of shape, but I realise now I must have been quite unfit. I’d come home from work [he spends the week commuting between the BBC studios in Salford and his home in Hampshire] and be out of breath by the time I’d lifted my case up the stairs at the station. I just thought that was me being tired after a long week.
‘Now, I can bound up those stairs without any effort, so, before Strictly, things were worse than I’d realised. It was probably quite dangerous. ’
His paunch is no more. His shoulders have filled out. His entire body shape has changed.
Emily is thrilled. Mike may still be more Frank Spencer than Fred Astaire, but at least his stint on Strictly has left him in better shape than ever. ‘He wasn’t huge before, but . . .’ Again, she searches for the kindest thing to say. ‘You just loved your beer, didn’t you?’
Mike loves his new shape, too. ‘People say I look taller, but that’s all about the posture. Katya put me in straps that hold your arms out and your shoulders down, and you have to stand like that for ever. All the other pros were always telling me to stand up straight. Giovanni [Pernice] would say to me: “Shoulders!”
‘I look around at my friends now and I think middle-aged men have terrible posture. It’s partly to do with mobile phones. We are all hunched over. We should stand up straight and be proud.’
It’s not just Mike’s physique that’s been sculpted. ‘What I’ve also noticed is that, mentally, I’m much sharper. At the beginning, I’d take all week to learn steps. By the end, I was getting them in a few days.’
Mostly, he’s just thrilled that someone like him could, in a matter of weeks, become a walking, talking ambassador for dance. ‘I was out there representing all the “dad dancers” who are a bit out of shape and a little embarrassed to have a go. And the response from them has been incredible.
‘There’s a group of dads locally who have set up their own dance group. My own dad, who is 81, has started having lessons. My mum’s doing Zumba and she’s 77.
‘I’d say to everyone: “Get out there and just do it.” It’s amazing for building your confidence. And I can tell you this, I’ve spent my whole life around athletes and sportspeople, and, in terms of fitness and drive, none of them comes close to those Strictly pros. The power and energy of a professional dancer is awesome.’
Bushell will return to the competition at the end, for the final group dance, and he’s already signed up for the Strictly tour next year
Tonight, Mike is off to Blackpool — as an audience member, rather than a participant — and Emily is joining him. ‘That’s another thing that had people shouting “fix”,’ says Mike, ‘because I said I was going [to Blackpool] regardless. But we’d booked the hotel right at the start, because I never expected to get to Blackpool and we thought it would be fun.
‘Had I stayed in the competition for another week, we’d have paid for the hotel room needlessly, because the BBC puts you up.’
Mike will return to the competition at the end, for the final group dance, and he’s already signed up for the Strictly tour next year.
Katya hasn’t yet been confirmed (in fact, none of the professionals have), but it would be unthinkable for her not to be on board.
Will her ex-husband, Neil, be involved in the tour, too?
Interestingly, Mike says Neil and Katya have been on friendly terms during the contest, and Neil was a constant support for Mike.
As were his family, including his three daughters, Lucy, 23, Isabel, 20, and Sophie, 16. He split from their mother, ex-wife Kim, in 2009.
He met Emily in a pub in 2017, at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She remembers thinking: ‘What a lovely bloke.’
‘I didn’t know who he was,’ she admits. ‘And we didn’t actually get together for some time after that.’
Emily was newly single. She’d split from the father of her son, Josh, who is now ten. ‘Neither of us was looking. I certainly didn’t expect this to happen,’ she says.
They met again the following year and then started to see each other. ‘It was just as friends, really,’ says Emily. ‘When I introduced Mike to Josh, it wasn’t as my boyfriend or anything. It was just as a friend.’
When their romance eventually blossomed, it sounds as if it took both of them by surprise. ‘If you’d asked me to write a list of all the things I find attractive in a man, Mike probably wouldn’t have ticked many of them,’ says Emily. ‘But he’s the kindest, loveliest person I know.
‘He has a talent for making everyone he speaks to feel like the most important person in the world. And he makes me laugh constantly.’
She reels off his ‘Frank Spencer’ moments. He’s rubbish at DIY: ‘Shelves keep falling down.’
He proposed by dressing up in a hired Gandalf outfit — the wizard from The Lord Of The Rings — but it went awry when he realised no beard had been included.
He was in a hotel room wearing the cloak when Emily walked in. She shrieked with laughter when he got down on one knee anyway, but was bemused. ‘I’d never seen The Lord Of The Rings. I had no idea what he was doing.’
They married quietly, with Mike’s three daughters (‘who adore Emily,’ says Mike) as bridesmaids, and Josh and Emily’s father giving her away.
Funnily enough, the demands of Strictly Come Dancing have helped them bond as a family. ‘Before, I’d spent quite a bit of time with the girls, but Mike was always there,’ says Emily.
‘With Strictly, we travelled together to the shows to see him, so there was a lot of hanging out. It was really bonding.’
The girls don’t live with the couple, but Josh does. A set of goalposts dominates the back garden. Sport has also brought the father and stepson closer. ‘Football: the universal language,’ Mike grins.
Emily is just happy that they will now be able to have normal weekends together. ‘It will be nice to get our Saturdays back,’ she says. And, of course, her husband.