As soon as it was announced that Ricky Whittle had split from his partner of two years – Hollyoaks co-star Carley Stenson – tongues started wagging that the curse of Strictly Come Dancing had struck again.
And with the soap hunk sharing secret dates with his dance partner Natalie Lowe, 29, it certainly seems so.
He tells Now: ‘Whenever we have a spare minute, which is not very often, we’ll go out for dinner and try to unwind. I’m happy when I see her happy. She’s the best.’
Ricky admits to being nervous when he was recently introduced to Natalie’s parents, who were over from Australia. They had a meal together along with his aunt, who’d flown in from Jamaica, at the Big Blue Hotel in Blackpool – but, tellingly, they arrived and left separately.
Ricky, who turns 28 this week, won’t confirm the romance and a Hollyoaks spokesman says: ‘There is absolutely no relationship between Ricky and Natalie.’
But the on-screen chemistry between the pair and the way he speaks about his dance partner tell a different story.
‘I have the best dance partner,’ Ricky gushes. ‘I mean, everyone’s biased and loves their partner, but I honestly believe she’s the best.’
Friends blame Ricky’s split from Carley, 27, on a tabloid story linking him to a busty brunette last month.
All Ricky will say is: ‘I don’t want to go into that – it’s personal. I just want to stick to Hollyoaks and let the rest speak for itself.’