Abby Cohen reveals how she’s found new love 

Abby Cohen is sick to her back teeth of being labelled ‘that victim of the Strictly curse’ after her childhood sweetheart, former rugby international Ben Cohen, left her for his Strictly Come Dancing partner Kristina Rihanoff six years ago.

‘I’m bored of the subject,’ she says. ‘My whole world fell apart when Ben made the decision to end our marriage. It’s like a bus has hit you. I was broken — completely broken.

‘One moment you’re a family unit, the next you not only lose your husband but your children when they’re with their dad.

‘I couldn’t handle being in the house without them. I’d go to the home of my best friends Scott and Georgie Bayliss in the next village and just sit on their sofa, staring at the wall, while Scott tried to convince me everything would be OK.

‘I didn’t believe him. I’d just cry so much. But now I honestly don’t remember being that vulnerable woman.

‘I thought, ‘I won’t — I can’t — ever recover’ but…’ Then her face lights up like, dare I say it, the Strictly glitterball.

Abby Cohen is sick to her back teeth of being labelled ‘that victim of the Strictly curse’ after her childhood sweetheart, former rugby international Ben Cohen, left her for his Strictly Come Dancing partner Kristina Rihanoff six years ago

Today, Abby has a new life with her 12-year-old twins Harriette and Isabelle in a new home, and a career as a successful photographer.

Last week she went ‘Instagram official’ after posting a joyous photograph of herself in the arms of her boyfriend of a few months, Dave, with the caption ‘Windy, Rainy, Sunshine and this perfect man’.

‘I use Instagram as an advertising tool for my business,’ says Abby. ‘When I downloaded the picture, I was struck by the lens flare — when the light hits the back of the lens. I hardly recognised myself, I looked so happy. I haven’t looked like that for a long time.

‘I put it on Instagram without really thinking. When I woke up the next day, loads of people had started to follow me. Then a publicist I use for my work called to say, ‘You’ve got a new boyfriend’.

‘I thought, ‘Everyone still labels me Ben’s ex’ but I’m not that Abby any more. I’m me. I’ve got my two girls. My life. I’ve finally met a really nice man. I want to be known as ‘Abby the good photographer’ or ‘Abby the great mum’. I’m very different. I’m stronger.’

This is the first interview Abby has given since the life she once knew ended six years ago.

Abbey pictured with her ex husband Ben when they were childhood sweethearts aged 17

Abbey pictured with her ex husband Ben when they were childhood sweethearts aged 17

She probably doesn’t really want to be here, in a swish London hotel room. The 41-year-old is a deeply private woman who prefers a ride in the countryside around her Northamptonshire home.

‘I don’t like being the centre of attention. I posted that photograph innocently, not thinking it would be plastered everywhere.

‘When the Strictly curse is brought up, I find it really difficult as it brings back the dark feelings I had then. I was in such turmoil. I’ve worked really hard and had all sorts of therapy to get through that misery.

‘This is my first and only interview on the subject and I hope it will draw a line under it.’

In truth, the glitz of BBC1’s Strictly, on which Ben appeared in 2013, is a world away from the contented family life he and Abby built together after meeting when they were 16.

‘Ben and I had a lovely marriage,’ she says. ‘We were just Abs and Ben. We had no problems and he was always loyal to me. He was a really good husband who just happened to be a famous rugby player.

‘I was immensely proud of him. He did his job and came back to our little bubble where I had my horse.

‘I did eventing and ran a livery yard from our home. Our door was always open and there was a fridge full of food.

Kristina Rihanoff and Ben Cohen were partnered on Dancing on Ice six years ago

Kristina Rihanoff and Ben Cohen were partnered on Dancing on Ice six years ago 

‘I guess we weren’t used to that showbusiness world. It’s different, isn’t it? I don’t like it. I don’t watch Strictly. But it’s what Ben chose to do in his career, so…’ She shrugs.

Abby doesn’t want to throw brickbats at her former husband. Their daughters both idolise him.

‘He’s a great dad to them,’ she says. ‘All I’ll say is, I was married to Ben and he got paired up with a dancer and now he’s with that dancer.

‘I’d supported this man throughout his career. We were going to grow old together but Ben chose a different path and I didn’t fit in with that, sadly. I was left behind.’

She adds: ‘It took me a long time to accept, as it would any woman who has married her childhood sweetheart. It was like I was lost in a boat at sea, not knowing where the shore was. There was a huge storm and I wanted to find dry land but I didn’t know which way to go.’

Such was Abby’s distress that she went grey almost overnight. She now knows she suffered a breakdown, although much of the detail of what happened is a blur of tears, sleepless nights and pain.

‘I can’t even remember what year I got married,’ she says. ‘I only know it was July 13, which is ridiculous.

‘I think when you suffer absolute heartbreak, your brain has the ability to block it out. ‘I felt such massive despair. It hurts. It’s just b****y awful. You want out. You want to shut your eyes and not wake up.’

Abby is rightly proud of having put herself together again. She wants to reassure those stricken with grief that ‘the sun does come up again’.

‘For me, it didn’t come up for a very long time,’ she says. ‘But I had an incredibly supportive family and a really good network of loyal friends. Without their support, I don’t know what would have happened.

‘You wake up at night and it’s there in your solar plexus.’ She clasps the pit of her stomach. ‘It’s crushing. Your heart keeps beating fast. You sweat. You can’t breathe. There were times I felt really vulnerable.

‘I’d wake up at 3am and phone my brother Oz. He and my dad massively supported me.’

Abby with her new love Dave

Abby with her new love Dave

Abby is a creative soul with a mind that jumps around — and for a time, her racing mind drove her half mad.

‘It consumes you 24/7,’ she says. ‘I remember going to see a therapist who said, ‘Try to give your brain a break from it for a few hours every day — so at 4pm, don’t think about it until 6pm. Then try to add half an hour every day.’

‘She told me, when I thought of a dark moment, to picture it in black and white. She said keep all your happy times in colour. So when I was on my horse or with my family, those were vibrant, happy thoughts and saturated in colour. Strictly — everything that happened during my breakdown — was all grey.

‘Eventually, the grey thoughts go to mush and disappear.

‘I gradually recovered but I was kicked in the face a few times. I lost our chocolate Labrador, Rolo, to cancer at the time the marriage ended, and three years later, I had to have my horse Barney put down — he broke his leg.

‘That was very difficult. He was 27. Ben bought him for me when I was 20. We based our home around horses. Before my children, he was my child.

‘The house had gone, everything had gone. Other than the children, he was our last tie.’

Her eyes fill with tears. ‘You get to a point where you think, ‘Enough is enough. What else can go wrong? What did I do to deserve this?’ You try to evaluate what has happened and you can’t find any reason for it. The only way, after that, is onwards and upwards.’

Work helped, she says.

Photography began as a hobby. When the livery stables went with the sale of the family home, Abby decided to make it her career. She was encouraged by local jeweller Steffan Suter, who texted each day to check how she was.

‘He’s a lovely, eccentric man. Ben and I got our wedding rings from him. He’d message me saying, ‘How are you? What’s your score today on a scale of one to five?’

‘If I said, ‘Oh, it’s a two,’ he’d say, ‘Right, let’s meet for a coffee.’ He believed in my photography and challenged me to photograph 40 of their [jewellery] pieces.’

She fiddles with the rose gold stirrup bracelet that was designed by Steffan’s wife Julles.

‘Photographing jewellery is tough because every edge has a shine or curve, so the lights have to be just right.

‘He threw me in the deep end, so I researched it and… she smiles. I suppose he was my therapist without me realising it.

‘You have to move forward and photography gave me that break.

‘I think the change happened when I stopped trying to fight something I had no control over. I began to feel better as I became increasingly obsessed with my job. I built a studio in our new home. I lost myself in there for hours. It really is my passion.

‘It’s as addictive as exercise. You know when you get that adrenaline high after a run? That’s how I feel when I do a shoot and make my clients happy.

‘I began to let go of the past and realise, it’s happened. I can’t get my old life back. Ben has moved on. He’s happy. He made his choice. I’ve got to accept that he wants to be with a new person and won’t be coming back.

‘Once I began to accept that I couldn’t change things, I started to feel better and the sun came out. I think my biggest regret is spending all those years crying — I don’t know how my body produced as many tears as it did.

‘Five years was a long time to be sad.’

Abby is now co-hosting a makeover show with the Duchess of Cambridge’s hairdresser Richard Ward, make-up artist Lisa Armstrong and stylist Erica Matthews for Mail Plus TV, in which she helps guests with their photographs for online dating sites.

‘When Richard phoned to ask me, I thought, ‘Yes, I can do that,’ she says. ‘I can empathise with the guests. I’ve been on the floor and I’m ready to meet someone new.’

‘It’s only recently I’ve felt ready. When you’re single, to start with it’s bloody awful. You don’t get invited to things and feel like an outcast.

‘Ben had been my sweetheart since I was 16. I’d never done the dating thing. People asked the whole time, ‘Have you met anyone yet?’ It drives you mad. I’d lost so much confidence.

‘Rejection is the worst thing — you go through these feelings of ‘I’m not nice, not pretty enough’. Then, as you get your self-worth back, you start to think ‘maybe I am attractive’.

Researching for the show, Abby was on various dating apps when she met 46-year-old Dave. They both swiped right and have been seeing one another for a few months.

She continues to glow as she talks about her boyfriend.

‘I’d begun to despair of ever meeting anyone. I just remember walking into the pub to meet him — it was a really cold and windy night and I wasn’t feeling in the dating mood; I was hoping it would be a quick drink, then head home and back to square one. The modern dating game is pretty brutal.

‘Within minutes of meeting him, I knew it was going to be good. He’s tall, dark and handsome but it was more than that. His kind and thoughtful nature was what bowled me over — we clicked.

‘I remember lying in bed that night, hugging myself and thinking ‘thank God’. I knew I’d met someone I could fall in love with again, which I’d thought I never could. I just knew. As Ben used to tell me, my intuition is always right.

‘But I’m no longer the Abby Ben married. I’m very different. I have so much more confidence.

‘I now appreciate that when you’re living with someone who’s in the limelight, you begin to exist as an extension of them, rather than a person in your own right. We were together from such a young age, then he became famous so quickly, you feel as if you’re living in their shadow. It’s …’

She fumbles for the right words. ‘I wasn’t really myself. I wasn’t Abby. I was Ben’s wife.

‘Now I’ve found myself and I actually quite like who I am. I’m that happy girl in the Instagram photograph with a colourful future ahead of her.’