Dancing With The Stars professional dancer Karen Byrne has rushed to the defence of her celebrity protégé Des Cahill.
"Lay off my Delightful Des!" That’s the message from gorgeous Karen Byrne, the professional partner of RTE broadcaster Des Cahill on hit show Dancing with the Stars.
The sports presenter has come under fire for his questionable dancing expertise, but has won the hearts of the public – and Karen – for his perseverance.
“At the beginning, people asked ‘what did it feel like when you first found out you were dancing with him?’ Of course, I was thinking ‘oh god, he’s the oldest, I don’t know whether we’ll get on’,” explains Karen (24).
“But no lie, literally within half an hour of being in the studio with him I was like ‘he’s definitely up my alley’. It’s like exactly the same personality, despite the age gap.”
Karen points out that Des has thrown himself into practising for the show despite his gruelling RTE schedule.
“He’s one of the few on the show now that’s practising as well as working,” she points out.
“He’s up at 4.30am, going to do the radio and then coming to me with a cup of coffee going, ‘Karen, off we go’. He’s the hardest working.
“He’s also the funniest man that you would ever come across – but yet he’s such a softie.
“You’d look at him and never expect him to be so soft, but as soon as I played the song the Marino Waltz and said ‘if we get through we will be dancing to this’, he was sobbing – so I knew on the night it was going to be emotional.”
Karen changes her cheerful mood when asked about critics laying into Des.
“Critics can sit at home and write whatever they want,” she storms. “He is somebody that had zero dancing ability. He said to me ‘Karen if there’s a wedding, I’m standing at the bar, you wouldn’t get me near a dance floor’ – now he says to me ‘I’d actually get up and dance’.
“Anyone that does any type of drama or acting, they have all done a stage school that has some sort of dancing in it, whereas Des did nothing. Now he’s actually improving every week, so anybody that criticises someone that’s improving, I’d love to meet them!”
“He believes in himself much more,” she insists. “He is very conscious on fitness, he’s changed his lifestyle because of the show.”
“He comes across exactly how he is,” Karen notes. “See how people see him on the television, that’s how he is with me in the studio.
“I know it sounds so clichéd, but I couldn’t have wished for a better partner. There’s a few of them I might have thought at the beginning ‘oh I would have loved to have danced with them’. But to me Des is the main man on the show, he’s the gent on the show and to me has the personality.
“He is just so kind and loving and he just always has your back and always makes sure you’re okay. He doubts himself a little bit, but he’s really popular with the public.
“I know I’m young enough to be his daughter, but Des is so relatable. He’s an auld fella basically. He’s like your Da getting up and learning how to dance.”
Karen grew up in the Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot. She and her three sisters all studied dancing from a young age, with a good pedigree in the art from their mother and grandfather.
But Karen almost gave up her beloved Latin American and ballroom dancing because there were no boys to practice with in Ireland. She then took the astonishing decision at the age of 13 to fly back and forth to England to dance regularly with a partner there.
“If I didn’t go to England I wouldn’t be dancing now, because there’s not enough interest with boys here,” she reflects. “I was flying over on my own and my dance partner’s mother was meeting me at the airport.
“I’d be saying to my mam now, ‘Jesus I’d never do that now’, but back then it was something that I just did on my own’.”