Strictly’s Claudia Winkleman has issued a grovelling apology to Kristina Rihanoff after falsely claiming her relationship with Ben Cohen began while they were on the show.
The Strictly co-host, 50, has enraged Rihanoff, 44, by publicly claiming that she and England rugby star Ben Cohen, 43, became romantically involved while they were partnered on the show in 2013.
It was revealed in Richard Eden’s Eden Confidential column that Claudia had apologised after saying ‘The couple I knew had got together were Ben and Kristina’ while filming The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan on Channel 4 at Television Centre on Monday.
Oh dear: Strictly’s Claudia Winkleman has issued a grovelling apology to Kristina Rihanoff after falsely claiming her relationship with Ben Cohen began while they were on the show
Rihanoff, who was born in Vladivostok, Russia, and Cohen have always insisted that their affair did not begin until the year after he took part in Strictly.
The World Cup winner had been married to his wife Abby for 11 years. The couple, who have twin teenage girls, divorced in 2016. Rihanoff and Cohen have since had a daughter together.
After Rihanoff learned of what she described as Winkleman’s ‘lies’ on the Channel 4 show, she threatened to take legal action and contacted the 50-year-old presenter.
As a result, Winkleman made a grovelling apology to her and Cohen, telling them: ‘[I] am so, so sorry.’ In a message seen by the column, she explained: ‘I thought the question was about who has found long-time love [via Strictly].
Sorry: The Strictly co-host, 50, has enraged Rihanoff, 44, by publicly claiming that she and England rugby star Ben Cohen, 43, became romantically involved while they were partnered on the show in 2013
‘I said, ‘Ben and Kristina’, excitedly, and then I said Stacey and Kevin [referring to TV presenter Stacey Dooley and former Strictly pro Kevin Clifton, who have been dating since 2019, after being paired together on the show in 2018].’
She continued: ‘So sorry, I’m a moron. It was a two-second moment.’
A Channel 4 spokesman failed to respond to requests for comment, so it will be fascinating to see whether Winkleman’s remarks are cut from tonight’s show.
Ben’s ex-wife Abby has been vocal about the betrayal she went through with Ben.
Having split from him in 2014, she told The Sun On Sunday a year later: ‘My husband, who I was with for 23 years, unconditionally loved and was completely loyal to in every respect, has left me for a f**king Russian dancer.
‘The last two years have been the most traumatic thing to ever happen to me. He’s done the dirty on me. I want people to know.
Happier times: The World Cup winner had been married to his wife Abby for 11 years and the pair shared twin daughters before splitting in 2014 (pictured that year)
Ex: Before dating Ben, Kristina was in a four year romance with former celebrity Strictly dance partner, Joe Calzaghe, from 2009-2013
‘I don’t want to cause stress or further damage by stirring things up. But I’m just trying to recover from what has been the most horrific time of my life.’
When Ben split from Abby, he and Kristina denied that they had had an affair, despite being pictured with their arms around one another on the London Underground.
During the summer of 2015 they went to Turkey together but tried to hide this – even taking separate flights to the Turkish resort of Antalya.
Abby told The Sun in 2019, ahead of appearing on a series with Ant McPartlin’s jilted ex-wife Lisa Armstrong: ‘I know from personal experience what it’s like to hit rock bottom and it’s devastating. With wonderful family and friends I’ve built myself back up.
‘I’m not healed, I’ll never get over it but you just have to, I spent four years moping around crying – it’s poisonous.
‘I don’t think I’m ever going to get over it. But I’m taking a new path.’
In 2021 Abby expressed remorse over her comments about Kristina.
Abby also admitted that despite Strictly having caused the breakdown of their marriage, she feels the show ‘did her a favour’ in hindsight.
Abby told new! magazine: ‘At the time of the break-up, when hugely stressed, I once angrily referred to Ben’s partner as a ”f***ing Russian dancer” to a journalist hassling me. I regret that now.’
Opening up to new! about watching her marriage ‘disintegrate’ before her eyes, Abby – who fell in love with Ben after meeting him aged just 16 – explained: ‘I sat in the [Strictly] studio audience each week smiling, but looking back, I see I was terrified.’
Dance duo: When Ben split from Abby, he and Kristina denied that they had had an affair, despite being pictured with their arms around one another on the London Underground
She added: ‘Thankfully, I don’t recognise that frightened woman now, I’m so different. Perhaps Strictly did me a favour in the long run.’
While admitting that she won’t be watching Strictly this year as ‘even the music triggers too many feelings’, Abby also made sure to stress that Ben ‘was and still is a fantastic hands-on father’.
Revealing that the news Ben and Kristina were expecting a child of their own felt ‘like a dagger’ when it broke in 2016, Abby bravely added that ‘she couldn’t imagine going through this hell’ but insisted ‘if I can, anyone can’.
She also shared that she was unable to eat, sleep or ‘get out of bed’ when her and Ben’s marriage ended and suffered two mental breakdowns.
Looking to the future, Abby – who has since found love with her partner Dave – gushed that she is ready for her next chapter.
Before dating Ben, Kristina was in a four year romance with former celebrity Strictly dance partner, Joe Calzaghe, from 2009-2013.
Family: Rihanoff and Cohen have since had a daughter, Mila, six, together