Alexandra Burke: Strictly is my happy place where I force myself to leave my grief at the door

Burke says she would be lost without Strictly – but wishes her late mum was here to see it

Alexandra Burke Strictly (BBC Pics, EH)

It was a joy to dance the samba on Saturday — Gorka and I had so much fun performing and rehearsing it, which was a relief after the intensity of our jive the week before.

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It was a really hard week for me, emotionally and mentally. As everybody probably now knows, my mum, Melissa, died a couple of weeks before this year’s Strictly started, from kidney failure. I decided not to pull out of the series because appearing on the show had been a dream of hers, as well as mine, but it has been incredibly hard.

If I could lock up my grief and my emotions in a box and throw them in the sea, I would. I’m not somebody who wants to cry on TV, believe me. It’s the last thing I want to do and I’ve tried really hard not to, but following our jive the emotion just got too much for me.

I wasn’t that happy with it in rehearsal and I wasn’t expecting to perform it that well or get the high scores I did, so that minute and 37 seconds on the dance floor felt electric. It was the happiest I have been for a very long time. But then I saw my brother in the audience on the screen and, within a split second, my delight turned to overwhelming sadness as I imagined my mum sitting alongside him. I immediately felt guilty for feeling such joy.

My dance partner Gorka also cried after the show finished — he was upset that I hadn’t told him how much I’ve been struggling. But, to be honest, I don’t want to bring my personal stuff to rehearsals. The rehearsal room has become my sanctuary — it is a happy place where I force myself to leave my grief at the door and focus on being creative and having fun. I don’t want Gorka to feel burdened by what I’m going through.

What I have learnt is that I can be more open. The public’s reaction has been so supportive — I’ve had a lot of people writing to me about the loss of their loved ones and their grief and telling me that I’ve given them hope and strength, which means so much to me.

The only thing I’ve found hard to cope with is the newspaper story saying I’d had a feud with my mother over the past couple of years, which is just not true. As a teenager we had our ups and downs — but what parent and child doesn’t? In recent years, we had the best relationship a mother and daughter could have; my mum was my biggest supporter. And the only thing that stopped me from getting incredibly upset was that I could hear her saying, “Forget about it, it’s nothing, we know the truth.”

Ultimately, even though there is so much going on, I am genuinely having a wonderful experience on the show, and I don’t know what I would do without it right now. I am so grateful for those couple of minutes on the Strictly dancefloor every Saturday night, when Gorka and I get to dance all my troubles away.

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By Alexandra Burke