Ellie Leach's won the hearts of Strictly viewers and her dance partner

Strictly’s Ellie Leach overcame betrayal from her boyfriend and Coronation Street axing to win the hearts of BBC viewers and her dance partner Vito Coppola – now she’s looking forward to pastures new

Festooned in an exquisite feathered dress, she looked every inch the sophisticated ball- room diva.

Indeed, watching Ellie Leach’s sizzling performance of the American Smooth last week, it was all too easy to see why her Strictly pro dancing partner, Vito Coppola, appears to have fallen hard for the pretty 22-year-old.

Slinkily sexy, and with the lightest of feet, Ellie had the Italian dancer — not to mention the judges, who gave the couple an almost perfect 39 out of 40 — eating out of her hand.

So it was hardly surprising that this week Vito chose to caption a sultry black-and-white photograph of himself on Instagram, fondly describing the former soap actress as his ‘baby’, seemingly outing the pair as a couple.

Their gentle on-screen chemistry has provided clues to their budding romance for some time. And as the show passes its halfway point, the couple have become the new favourites to pick up the glitterball trophy. Everyone, it seems, is falling in love with Ellie.

But few fans will know that behind her assured Strictly performances lies a double heartache. Just months ago, the vivacious brunette was at her lowest and had written off 2023 as her ‘annus horribilis’.

Festooned in an exquisite feathered dress, she looked every inch the sophisticated ball- room diva

Friends say she was ‘broken’ in April after being axed by her bosses at Coronation Street. Ellie was devastated to lose the role of gymslip mum, Faye Windass — a part she had played for 12 years, having been cast when she was just nine years old. Sources say it was entirely ‘unexpected’.

A month later came another blow: Ellie was left distraught after discovering her boyfriend of five years, model Reagan Pettman, had been cheating on her. Their relationship promptly ended.

One friend said: ‘It broke Ellie. It was a terrible time for her. She saw no way out. She had lost everything she loved.’

READ MORE: Strictly’s Vito Coppola CONFIRMS romance with Ellie Leach by calling her ‘my baby’ in seductive Instagram post

The call from Strictly bosses in the spring gave her a new focus. Instantly taking up the opportunity, and making a conscious decision to ‘throw herself into it’, she vowed to ‘have the time of her life’.

One friend says: ‘As soon as she got the call, she knew she had to do it. Her whole life had changed in a matter of weeks, she had lost both loves of her life. Then the chance to dance her way out of the heartache came along. The thought of glamorous dresses and learning a new skill excited her.’

Her composure in the Strictly studio is extraordinary when one considers that she has no dancing background at all.

Yet determined to make the most of her experience, friends say that she is ‘quietly’ wanting to win.

So far, the leaderboard has been on her side; the week before last, she picked up 38 points, and the one before that, 37 for a particularly steamy Paso Doble.

Speaking about signing to Strictly, Ellie herself spoke candidly, saying: ‘Being cheated on was upsetting, but now’s the perfect time to put my all into Strictly and give that 500 per cent.’

A lost job and a cheating boyfriend would be hard for anyone to overcome — but, friends say, Ellie is particularly tender-hearted.

Still living at home with her parents and sister Daisy in Bury, Greater Manchester, she was raised in a loving working-class household. Attending Fairfield High School for Girls, an outstanding school known for its traditional ethos, she was raised to put family first.

While she has admitted to at times struggling with the attention she received for her soap career, she credits her family with helping her keep her feet on the ground. In that vein, unlike other ambitious stars who use their social media accounts for wall-to-wall brand partnerships, Ellie prefers to post homely pictures and videos of herself with her family.

Friends say she was ‘broken’ in April after being axed by her bosses at Coronation Street. Pictured: With ex, Reagan Pettman

One sweet video shows her at a Coldplay concert with her dad, who has his arm around her. Ellie captioned it: ‘To hear this live with my family was a dream come true.’

Another picture shows Ellie and Daisy, snuggled on the sofa on Christmas Day, with their mum, Karen, sandwiched in between. The smiling trio are all wearing strawberry-print pyjamas.

Ellie says: ‘I think growing up in Corrie and the profession I am in, working with adults since a young age, helped me to have my head screwed on. Mum and Dad have kept me grounded. I wouldn’t be any different. I have always had that guidance.’

READ MORE: Ellie Leach admits she can ‘see her body changing’ due to intense Strictly training and now has confidence after ‘really struggling’ with body image

Described as ‘the least starry’ star you could ever meet, Ellie has zero theatre school training. Her big break came when she won her role on Coronation Street with a little help from cousin Brooke Vincent, who plays Sophie Webster in the soap. They are very close, and Ellie is godmother to one of Brooke’s children.

Despite her lack of formal acting experience, the young Ellie captivated the soap’s casting bosses when she auditioned for the part of Faye, a young girl who would be fostered by the Windass family.

Ellie’s natural pizzazz, however, was to be kept firmly under wraps in the role: her character of Faye became known as one of the most miserable in soap. Pregnant at 12 — the youngest character ever to have a baby — she later gave up her child, was sexually assaulted and then imprisoned.

Yet despite the grimness of her storylines, Ellie loved her role, and once said she hoped to be on Coronation Street ‘for ever,’ adding: ‘It is an amazing job and I love being there.’

Thankfully, Strictly stepped into the void left by Coronation Street. And as one of the lesser-known celebrities in the competition, Ellie and Vito spent the opening weeks firmly in the background while bigger stars dominated the headlines. But quietly, away from viewers’ eyes, a bond was beginning to grow between the pair.

At present, neither Ellie nor Vito, 31, have commented officially on any budding romance. It should, however, be pointed out that dating his co-star is a path the Italian Latin champion has been down before.

In 2021, Vito won the Italian version of Strictly with popstar Arisa. They grew close during the show and started dating after they picked up the glitterball trophy. Although their romance ended shortly before he moved to the UK, Vito says they have remained friends.

Indeed, watching Ellie Leach ‘s sizzling performance of the American Smooth last week, it was all too easy to see why her Strictly pro dancing partner, Vito Coppola , appears to have fallen hard for the pretty 22-year-old

Described as ‘the least starry’ star you could ever meet, Ellie has zero theatre school training. Pictured: Ellie as a child on Coronation Street

Ellie’s fans will be hoping their romance is destined for a happier future. The prospects look good. For weeks now, Vito has made no secret of his affection for Ellie, declaring his adoration for her on social media, along with his cute nickname for her, Lulu.

Taking to Instagram, he wrote: ‘My Lulu . . . I am so proud of you . . . How much I believe in you so just keep going and keep working hard as you are already doing every day. You are doing great baby. See you tomorrow for another beautiful day together.’

Ellie replied: ‘This man amazes me EVERY SINGLE DAY. You are one special human, thank you to YOU! Love you love you love you.’

Public events have seen them firmly attached to each other. After a charity event at Mayfair’s Grosvenor Hotel a few weeks ago they were described as ‘tactile’ and were later seen in the same taxi. As they left, Vito gave yet another hint of their romance as he made a heart shape with his hands, while Ellie giggled.

And just a few days ago, Amanda Abbington, the Sherlock actress who left the show due to medical conditions last month, appeared to confirm they are an item, posting that they were ‘the most beautiful couple’ followed by a number of love hearts.

Now, as Ellie becomes one of Strictly’s most loved stars, ITV bosses — and indeed her ex-boyfriend — are likely to be watching, and wondering whether they made the wrong move. But will she be looking backwards?

‘Absolutely not,’ says a friend. ‘For Ellie she is focusing on what is the most brilliant thing to ever happen to her.’

Tonight, she will dance a Rumba to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours in a bid once again to finish the night at the top of the leaderboard.

In her every step will be memories of bad times past, and what looks like a most rejuvenating new romance…

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