Maia Dunphy on 'intimate' Dancing With The Stars moves and surviving the reality show 'curse'
Maia Dunphy will be cheered on by her comedian husband when she struts her stuff on TV, writes Niamh Horan
Known as 'the curse' of television dancing shows, it is a phenomenon that is said to hit celebrities and their real-life partners. Long schedules, sexy moves and time away from home have led to high-profile splits.
In the UK, nearly a dozen couples have split up because of Strictly Come Dancing, while in Ireland love blossomed on RTE's Dancing with the Stars when model Thalia Heffernan fell for dancer Ryan McShane.
With your beautiful wife living in another country, it is no wonder then that Johnny Vegas's ears pricked up when Maia Dunphy told him she would be taking part in this year's Dancing with the Stars.
"Johnny's sister loves dance shows and when I went over to visit she got excited and asked me to show her the dresses but the first thing Johnny said was 'show me your dance partner'," says Maia.
"I said 'ah, Johnny, sure what does it matter? And he said 'just show me him'."
Looking effortlessly elegant dressed in a mohair jumper and black leather mini-skirt sipping tea and eating biscuits in the Marker Hotel, Maia whips out her phone. Staring out from the screen is the tanned, shirtless, bronzed god known as Robert Rowinski.
I let slip an expletive and she laughs. No words of reassurance can accompany a picture like this but Maia shrugs that good old-fashioned concern is a positive in any relationship.
"Healthy jealously is a good thing. I was speaking with someone recently about this: do you know that feeling when familiarity gets into a relationship and then you go out in a group and you see someone flirting with your partner? It kind of reminds you what you fell for in the first place."
It's no wonder then that Johnny, one of the UK's biggest comedians, will be sitting front and centre of the audience tonight.
He has been using his dry wit to talk down the new man in his wife's life. "Since he saw that picture there is a certain element of 'well… how's it going today? How's the ugly lad?'" says Maia.
It might help for Johnny to know that Maia and Robert got off to a bad start: "He was so tough, telling me I was really bad. I said 'Rob, you have to do some positive reinforcement'," she says.
It might also help to know that Maia sees the sexy dance moves as mechanical. "The weird thing is it's all very hands on. He is always behind me, straightening my shoulders and pushing my stomach in and it's intimate but it's almost like going to a doctor. It's not sexual. It's like 'right, stick your thigh into my thigh and make sure it's right up the top of my thigh' and you go 'ok' but to me it's nothing more."
Still, if Johnny does get a bit antsy, like any good woman, Maia has a back catalogue of evidence to present to her husband.
There is the still from the show he shot with Kara Tointon, the former EastEnders actress who won Strictly in 2010. "It's a dream sequence and Paul Weller is by his bed playing a guitar and he is in bed with Kara who is insanely beautiful. He is snogging her semi-naked so I have that still ready to go," she laughs.
And the clip from Celebrity Juice, where he once kissed Kelly Brook. "It was a game where you have to suck and blow on a playing card and of course the card dropped and he said well that was an accident! He was getting high fives all over Twitter for that so I am keeping all these things on the back-burner in case our dances get up close and personal," says Maia.
Still, the couple, who will have been together 10 years in March, are going strong and she knows the ribbing is in jest. "Johnny is quite a sensitive soul so that idea that it would 'keep him on his toes' is not for me. I wouldn't want to hurt him."
While their successful careers have forced the couple to spend the first two years of their marriage living apart, they share son Tom and know long distance has its positives. Although the plan is for Johnny to move to Ireland in the coming years, Maia says: "It's about being positive and it keeps things really fresh. The seven-year itch will probably come after 20 years."
Maia, who has just released a book, The M Word, says: "We speak every day and we FaceTime every second day because it's really important for Tom. He sees pictures of him all over the fridge and by the bed and he adores him.
"In fairness, it's also really hard on Johnny because he is missing out on a lot of time with his son. He could say 'what the hell are you doing in Dublin? London is our home now you should be back here' but we let each other do our thing."
The second season of Dancing with the Stars begins tonight at 6.30pm on RTE One.