There’s something about Nancy Dell’Olio. Perhaps it’s her self- described “mystery and charisma”, or maybe it’s her jet-black hair, olive skin and enviable figure. Either way, heads never fail to turn when she walks into a room – something the 50-year-old Strictly Come Dancing contestant is well aware of.
“There has to be a reason why I’ve been the centre of attention for the past ten years in this country,” she tells hello! as she sits down after our photoshoot. Wearing a figure-hugging blue jumpsuit, accessorised with earrings and bangles that bear her initials, she certainly is striking.
“People probably find something very fascinating or interesting about me and
I’m quite pleased about that,” she adds, smiling. “That’s why we’re here talking.”
Within days of the Strictly line-up being revealed, the Italian businesswoman was already making headlines. Rumours that she was “a bit of a handful” and creating “real tension” soon surfaced.
Not that Nancy is affected by such gossip, which, she says, is unfounded. She claims never to read articles about herself, but feels there are lots of misconceptions created by them. “There are different aspects to everyone,” she says. “The real me is very private and shy. I have always been like that since I was very young.”
Nancy has a sense of humour and warmth that doesn’t always come across in the media. She is, she says, getting on
with the Strictly cast. “The atmosphere has been great,” she says. “They are a nice bunch of people and we all want to go out for dinner before the first live show.”
She’s also bonding with her Strictly dance partner, Anton Du Beke. “He is very sophisticated, very intelligent, a proper gentleman. We’re having a lot of fun,” she says. The opportunity to take part in the show came at a good time for Nancy. As she exclusively tells hello!, it draws attention away from rumours about the status of her relationship with theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn.
“Last month, we decided to put things on hold,” she says, finally setting the record straight about their five-month romance. “Trevor was busy doing The Tempest [he is directing Ralph Fiennes in the Haymarket Theatre production in London’s West End] and I was busy with different things, so we decided that we needed a bit of time to think about it. The problem was that we were in the public eye too much, which was not our decision, and it [the relationship] was running too fast.”
High-profile relationships are nothing new to Nancy. As the ex-girlfriend of the former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, she has weathered stormy headlines on such matters as Sven’s two infidelities (in 2002 with TV personality Ulrika Jonsson and in 2004 with a Football Association secretary), as well as her characteristically flamboyant dress sense (a skin-tight red catsuit worn to a Number 10 reception in 2002 is now the stuff of legend). She loyally stayed with Sven, but their nine-year union came to an end in 2007. Does
she accept that her relationships will always come under scrutiny? “It makes my life very complicated,” she says. “I’ve had a few situations where men got scared of this, but this is my life. If a man cannot cope with all this…
“My previous partner, he couldn’t cope with my popularity. Men sometimes find it difficult to cope with a woman who is the centre of attention.”
a life in the spotlight
Wishy-washy men need not apply for the position of Nancy’s next boyfri end. “I’m very successful, very strong and very independent,” she says. “But at the same time, I’m very vulnerable. I need to feel protected by my man – that’s why I need a strong personality. Of course, he has to be successful and someone I can laugh with and he has to be very confident. I think a man has to be a man.”
A true Italian, she is an eternal romantic. “It’s lovely to be in love and to have desire,” says Nancy, whose marriage to lawyer Giancarlo Mazza ended after her and Sven’s affair started in 1998. “Will I get married again? Probably. And I think I will.”
She has never had children, but, she says: “I like kids and they like me.”
She adds, however: “I would not like them full time with me – it’s the hardest job. They seem to have a lot of fun with me, but I don’t like to see many of them at the same time. They are quite wild when you get two or three together.”
Nancy admits that she is happy with her own company. “Listen, I have never had such a fantastic time as I have when I’ve been single,” she says. “I was in long relationships from the age of 25, so when I separated from Sven it was the first time and of course the beginning was not easy.
There are aspects I love about being in a relationship, but I will never give up my space totally for someone else. I have discovered that being single can be magical – the freedom, the independence is priceless.
“The best thing is dating,” she says, before laughing and adding, “and to have a lover.”
Does she get asked out a lot? “Yes,” she replies without hesitation – and in a manner that more than implies: “Of course!”
“I’m never short of requests, but I have so many friends that it’s difficult to find the time.”
Further stretching Nancy’s time is her close- knit family. The eldest of four children, she flies back to her family’s home town in Puglia every five or six weeks to visit her parents.
Nancy, who studied ballet between the ages of five and 17, is finally fulfilling a childhood ambition. “I always wanted to act,” she says, “but I knew my parents wanted me to go to university.”
In fact, she attended two – in Sapienza, Rome and New York. “I was always conscious I was attractive and when you are nice-looking, you want to show that you are smart and intelligent at the same time,” she says of her education. “I’ve always been quite a deep soul.”
Did she think she was destined for the spotlight? “I never wanted to be an actress or model strongly enough to pursue it, but at the same time I knew that my life would never be conventional,” she says. “I knew that my life would be special, that one day I would be the centre of attention, whether I wanted to be or not.”
Her appearance in Strictly will give her that attention – and she’s ready to embrace it, dressed in slashed-to-the-thigh glitzy gowns. “I am quite confident about my body,” she says. “I am much more confident than I was ten or 20 years ago. Confidence has to come from inside you.”
dressed to thrill
Indeed, Nancy exudes old-school glamour. It’s hard to imagine, for example, that she’d ever leave the house without make-up or turn up to Strictly practice in tracksuit bottoms.
“Glamorous is a mental attitude and comes subconsciously,” she says. Will she dress down for dance rehearsals? “I always like to look my best and be comfortable,” she says.
Nancy regularly exercises with yoga, swimming and power walking and a masseur visits her home three times a week. Strictly will improve her fitness even more. “I need to eat four or five times a day to keep my sugar levels up. I don’t want to lose too much weight,” she says. “When I’m under pressure, I tend to lose my appetite and I don’t sleep. I have to be quite careful.”
Her figure is all natural, she says, but adds that she’s not opposed to cosmetic surgery. “I do think it’s absolutely fantastic, but personally, I’m quite scared. I hope to postpone it as much as possible and thank God I don’t need it.”
She “feels and looks much younger” than her 50 years, a milestone she celebrated last month with a lavish three-day celebration in Puglia.
It was a party unforeseen by many, given Nancy’s previous evasiveness about her birth date. “It is very provincial to ask about that,” she says. “For me, people are ageless. I don’t understand why someone has to know the age of anybody.”
Strictly is a “new adventure” in her already eventful life. “I have to say that I am quite serious and I need to laugh more,” she says. “I need to have more lightness in my life.
“For me, it is like doing meditation. It can be really relaxing for your mind to be focused on something and release all the other tensions because you don’t have time to think of anything else. I am enjoying having a new routine because usually I don’t have one – my routine changes every day.”
When the show ends, she will return to her business projects. “I like networking, putting people together,” says Nancy, who works with charities including the Terrence Higgins Trust, Truce International, the Red Cross and Save the Children, as well as cancer and cystic fibrosis organisations. She is also writing her first novel and a travel book and plans to launch a jewellery range.
And she’s delighted with her new role as an “agony diva” in the Sunday Times Magazine, in which she offers advice on relationships and life’s dilemmas. “I was so happy when they asked me to do it,” she says. But is she qualified to offer advice? “I think so,” she says.
She’s also relishing the process of learning something new on Strictly. “I hope people vote for me,” she says. “I hope I will be entertaining – myself and them.”