He’s a mysterious, laid-back Russian and she’s a beautiful, vivacious actress. Together Strictly Come Dancing winners Artem Chigvintsev and Kara Tointon have captivated us with their unfolding love story. Now, in their first exclusive interview as a couple, they reveal how their romance is blossoming – they are making plans to move in together – and that they secretly fell for each other just two weeks into the show.
“I knew pretty quick that I’d met someone special,” says ex-EastEnders actress Kara, as Artem holds her hand. They are chatting to hello! at the Crazy Bear hotel in Beaconsfield
during time off from the Strictly live tour. “We were getting to know each other and I thought, ‘Oh God, I really like him,’” she adds.
Two weeks into their training, they decided to take some time out with a cinema break. “I think you made the first move,” laughs likable Kara, 27.
“I held her hand,” says Artem, 28.
“Then we kissed after that,” adds Kara, who’s clearly smitten. “Artem’s the one person I’ve really been able to be myself with. I totally feel he brings out the best in me.”
In spite of their immediate chemistry, the couple agreed that they wouldn’t officially date until
after the series had ended as they wanted to focus on their dancing. “I would hate to regret not working my hardest,” says Kara. “I was scared after that. I thought, ‘Oh no, is it going to be weird? Say it goes wrong and we have to work together so closely?’ But what’s so amazing about Artem is he’s so chilled and cool that nothing is really a problem.”
The couple first crossed paths during rehearsals for the launch show’s group dance, when they didn’t know whether they would be paired with each other. “I thought he was pretty gorgeous,” admits Kara, who was the one to
introduce herself. She certainly wasn’t looking for romance as she was so nervous about the weeks ahead. “I had been adamant that I wasn’t going to have a relationship,” she says. “But then you can’t help it when you meet someone like him.”
Artem has spent the past seven years living and working in the US and has appeared in So You Think You Can Dance?, the American version of Strictly, but was new to the BBC show. He was attracted to Kara straight away but was too shy to say hello. “I thought, ‘I’m going to look stupid,’” he says.
Kara turns to Artem and says: “You’re a listener and an observer, which I found quite mysterious. I’m the complete opposite.”
Opposites clearly attract and they make a loving and good-looking couple. “He has a calming effect,” says Kara, who affectionately calls him “honey”. “If I have a problem, he’s the first to talk it through with
me. He makes sure I’m okay, never lets me carry a bag. I’ve never really met a gentleman like that before.”
Kara, who was born in Basildon, Essex, says this relationship feels special. “It’s like I’ve got my best friend here who can guide and help me; and it’s so nice to have someone who has your best interests at heart. Every time I’ve arrived at a station or an airport he’s waiting with flowers.”
‘WOW, HE’S GOOD!’
Artem also has the enviable skill of being able to buy perfect gifts. “For Christmas, he bought me my first Dior item – a handbag,” beams Kara. “I thought, ‘Wow, he’s good!’”
Which of Kara’s qualities is Artem most attracted to? “I love many things,” he says. “She’s the most kind person I’ve ever met and takes care of me all the time like no one has before. She’s smart, she knows what she’s doing. I practically love absolutely every single aspect of her.”
He concedes there’s one thing he doesn’t like. “She always takes a long time to get ready,” he smiles.
“Do I, honey?” asks Kara in mock surprise.
The intensity of the Strictly schedule, which involves training for an average of six days a week, means they got to know each other quicker than most couples. “After a month, Artem said it was the equivalent to us being together six months,” says Kara.
They saw one another stressed and tired, so any barriers were quickly broken down. “I was so upset because I didn’t want him to see this horrible side, with me screaming,” says Kara. “I said, ‘This isn’t nice, is it? I really like you but you’re seeing the devil. This can’t be attractive.’
“He sat me down and said, ‘We all have a side when we’re stressed and you’re seeing that side of me, too.’”
Kara is extremely close to her family and introduced Artem to her parents Ken and Carol
and her sister, The Inbetweeners actress Hannah, quicker than she might have done with another romance. “From very early on, he felt like part of the family,” says Kara. “He just fitted in.”
Artem appreciated their warm welcome. “To feel part of the family so quick… I’ve never had that experience. They were so nice.”
“It has been my dream to meet someone that my family would love as much as I did,” adds Kara.
She has been introduced to Artem’s mum Anna, who lives in his hometown Izhevsk, via Skype. “Artem translated,” says Kara. “She’s really lovely. I wish I could speak to her. It will be lovely to meet her.” Artem, who speaks to Anna
most days, is planning to fly her over to watch them perform during the Strictly Come Dancing live tour.
Anna encouraged her son to start dance lessons at the age of 13 and just two years later he was on his way to Germany to further his career. Growing up in Russia gave him his drive and ambition, but he knew he’d have to leave his beloved homeland to succeed. “In Russia, you don’t have so much. You try to make the best of what you’re given,” he says. “Eight months of the year are winter so you don’t spend much time outside. After school I’d be in the studio.”
As a child, he shared a bedroom with his parents and brother.
“I remember going to the shop with my parents and waiting in long lines to get butter, meat, sugar. You’d go into a store where there was nothing apart from matches and cans of seaweed.”
“I love learning about this,” says Kara. “Artem’s childhood is so different to mine, it’s fascinating. Russia to me is so mysterious. I can’t wait to go.”
Artem moved to the States when he formed a ballroom dance partnership with Giselle Peacock, who became his wife. She recently told a newspaper that he was obsessed with fame and money and claimed he dated women who’d further his career.
“It’s not the first time she has
done that,” says Artem, who also had a two-year relationship with Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba. “I want to leave it all behind because it creates more mess and more bad feelings.”
“By the time that story came out, we’d told each other everything,” says Kara, who has previously dated fellow EastEnders actor Joe Swash, with whom she split last May, as well as James Alexandrou and ex-Busted singer James Bourne.
“But it did make me feel a little bit down,” adds Artem, dismissing his ex- wife’s story.
“I think it’s not morally correct to do that,” says Kara. “The people in my past would never do it. I know how Artem felt and it affects you momentarily but you have to rise above it.”
The pair are now concentrating on their own romance and plan to set up home in North London. They are renovating a flat Kara bought and plan to get a Savannah cat. “Artem loves cats,” says Kara. “I’ve already got my dog Winston, who Artem says I’ve spoilt, which I have, so as long as our cat gets on with Winston…”
When the tour ends, they will go on holiday and Kara hopes to return to her first love: acting. “My ambition has always been to do more theatre so I’m going for a few meetings. I love singing so a play or a musical would be great.”
They may also spend a few months in Los Angeles, as Artem may not be able to get a UK work visa for a full year. “I could get a holiday visa for a few months but I’m a workaholic, so not being able to work would be quite hard,” he says.
Would Kara audition for roles in America? “It’s something I’ve never thought about,” she says. “If there was an audition, I would go for it. But I’m not aiming to crack America.”
Artem, who has appeared in the West End and Broadway in dance show Burn the Floor, has also acted, taking a role in US teen drama The OC and has film work in the pipeline.
Kara hopes they can carry on dancing after the tour. “I’ve fallen in love with it,” she says, while admitting that it will be strange to watch Artem with another partner next series. “But he’s so wonderful at what he does that I’m going to love watching him do well at anything in his career.”
She has high hopes that their love story will endure. “Long may it continue,” she smiles. “Right now, I couldn’t be happier.”