Rachel Riley: Strictly Come Dancing ‘fix’ claims explained - what did Countdown presenter say about JK Rowling

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Rachel Riley took part in the competition in 2013, where she was paired up with professional dancer - and future husband - Pasha Kovalev

The BBC has spoken out against comments made by former contestant Rachel Riley that Strictly Come Dancing is “fixed”.

The Countdown co-presenter made the claim in a new interview with the Times, Riley said that the dancing competition “[knows] from the start who they want to win”.

This is everything you need to know.

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What did Rachel Riley say about the show being ‘fixed’?

In a new interview, Riley said that the dancing competition is “very produced”.

She said: “I think they know from the start who they want to win and what journeys they want to take different people on, to have the right balance, and they can obviously fix scores.”

Riley took part in Strictly Come Dancing in 2013, appearing in the 11th season of the show. She was partnered with professional dancer Pasha Kovalev.

Rachel Riley took part in the 11th season of the dancing competition (Photo: BBC)Rachel Riley took part in the 11th season of the dancing competition (Photo: BBC)
Rachel Riley took part in the 11th season of the dancing competition (Photo: BBC) | BBC

Riley and Kovalev were ultimately eliminated in week six of the show after losing a dance off with model and TV presenter Abbey Clancy and her dancing partner Aljaz Skorjanec, who ended up winning the series.

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Not long after her season of the show ended, Riley and Kovalev started dating and in 2019 the two married in Vegas.

Riley gave birth to their daughter, Maven Aria, in December of that year and on 5 November 2021, the couple welcomed their second daughter, Noa.

Riley and Kovalev’s relationship has often been cited as an example of the Strictly curse, which refers to contestants, and professional dancers, whose relationships have suffered as a result of close bond between participating celebrities and their professional partner. This bond, on more than one occasion, has turned romantic.

Rachel Riley and her husband Pasha Kovalev (Photo: Instagram/@rachelrileyrr)Rachel Riley and her husband Pasha Kovalev (Photo: Instagram/@rachelrileyrr)
Rachel Riley and her husband Pasha Kovalev (Photo: Instagram/@rachelrileyrr) | Instagram/@rachelrileyrr

Prior to going on the show, Riley had been married to Jamie Gilbert, whom she had met whilst they were both studying at the University of Oxford - however in November 2013, the pair announced their separation.

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Riley spoke out against their relationship being described as a “curse” in her Times interview.

She said: “Are you calling my babies a curse? That’s not right! If you have cracks [Strictly] can expose them. It gave me the distance to make the break that was going to happen anyway.”

How did the BBC respond to fix claim?

In response to Riley’s claims that the programme fixes scores, the BBC said: “This claim is categorically untrue.

“The BBC has strict procedures and editorial guidelines in place regarding impartiality and Strictly upholds all of these.”

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Judge Craig Revel Horwood has addressed fix claims in the past, telling the Mirror in 2021: “It’s sort of impossible and I can tell you why.

Craig Revel Horwood attends the red carpet launch of Strictly Come Dancing 2015 at Elstree Studios on September 1, 2015 in Borehamwood, England (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)Craig Revel Horwood attends the red carpet launch of Strictly Come Dancing 2015 at Elstree Studios on September 1, 2015 in Borehamwood, England (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
Craig Revel Horwood attends the red carpet launch of Strictly Come Dancing 2015 at Elstree Studios on September 1, 2015 in Borehamwood, England (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images) | Getty Images

“We have to vote personally on a keypad, and we have to push that keypad within seven seconds of the dance finishing and we can’t change our minds.

“Once we’ve chosen a mark, that is it and we don’t know what the other judges are choosing until it’s too late. Not until we get our paddles ready to vote do I know what everyone has voted.

“Because I have given fours when other people have given nines! So I go, “Wow!”, so I’m as shocked as everybody else because it’s their own personal opinion and no one can change it.

“So once I’ve done it, it’s too late.”

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What else did Rachel Riley say about the show?

Opening up about her experience with the show, Riley said that psychologist Linda Papadopoulos told her that she suffered from a mild case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Riley said: “It’s a really intense period. I had insecurities about my dancing because your whole self-worth is built around it.

“And you have this team mentality, then you’re suddenly dropped. It still carried on but you’ve been put in the bin. And you don’t do the exercise you were doing, so you have the loss of all the serotonin… When I was doing it, it was the best fun, then in the years that followed it was just… tricky.”

Rachel Riley described her time on Strictly Come Dancing as ‘a really intense period’ (Photo: BBC)Rachel Riley described her time on Strictly Come Dancing as ‘a really intense period’ (Photo: BBC)
Rachel Riley described her time on Strictly Come Dancing as ‘a really intense period’ (Photo: BBC) | BBC

Riley continued: “A lot of people end up with some sort of mental misalignment from it. Sophie Ellis-Bextor said that they needed to have a bit more care for contestants. I’m glad I’m away from it now.”

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She told the Telegraph in 2015 that she developed issues with stage fright and has to resort to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Riley said: “As soon as the music would start, I would have a fuzzy brain and it was like an out-of-body experience.

“I learned that as soon as you’re scared, you stop breathing and then you get lightheaded.”

What did Rachel Riley say about JK Rowling?

In the same interview with the Times, Riley defended Harry Potter author JK Rowling against the online “attacks” the writer has invited after years of backlash incurred for speaking out against transgender women and trans-inclusive language on Twitter.

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Her views on transgender issues have lead to many labelling her as a “TERF” - a trans-exclusionary radical feminist.    

She said: “I think the attacks on JK Rowling are really because she spoke out for Jews and against Jeremy Corbyn and antisemitism.”

J.K. Rowling arrives at the Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore world premiere at The Royal Festival Hall on March 29, 2022 in London, England (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)J.K. Rowling arrives at the Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore world premiere at The Royal Festival Hall on March 29, 2022 in London, England (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
J.K. Rowling arrives at the Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore world premiere at The Royal Festival Hall on March 29, 2022 in London, England (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Riley added: “[Rowling] has made a real difference to the world. And [just saying] this will get us both cancelled.”

The Countdown co-presenter also said: “On social media a few people with a pile-on can really influence what’s said and gets done.

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“You can see how scared everyone is to say what a woman is. In their mind they are thinking if they say something, Twitter will get them.

“It takes the power away from people and puts it in the hands of a small number of extremists.”

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