Annabel Croft says she can’t bring herself to collect husband’s ashes

Annabel Croft has opened up about the grief she has experienced following the death of her husband earlier this year.

The former tennis player and TV presenter is competing in the new series of Strictly Come Dancing, where she’s dancing with South African pro Johannes Radebe.

When she was first announced as a cast member on Strictly 2023, Croft, 57, shared that she hoped to “find some joy” on the show after her husband Mel Coleman died of stomach cancer in May.

Now, in a new interview, Croft has opened up about the grief she faced after her husband received an “unthinkable” diagnosis and died 16 weeks later, aged 60.

“On the day they said ‘Cancer, and it is everywhere’, I just went into total freefall. I was one of those wailing women in the hospital car park,” she told MailOnline in a new interview.

“Poor Mel was the one who’d been told he was going to die, and he was comforting me. Three months later, I was picking up a death certificate and our three children were having to process the fact their dad’s name was on there.

“Our son, Charlie, said it was as if a hand had come down from the sky and plucked Mel out, leaving our family with a gaping hole that will never be filled.”

Speaking of the grief following Coleman’s death, Croft said that she has cried every day since his death and that she has been unable to bring herself to collect his ashes from the crematorium.

Annabel Croft at Wimbledon


“I know I have to,” she said. “People say it’s a comfort to have them, but I just can’t. Ashes? Mel?”

“I didn’t understand what grief was until now. I didn’t even understand death, had never thought about it. Now I think: ‘God, Mel, you’ve done death. How is that even possible?’ How can I be a widow? We were a team.”

Croft and Coleman had been together for 36 years and he was her first serious boyfriend. She was just 21 years old when she met Coleman, at a time when her tennis career was at its peak and much of her life had been dedicated to the sport.

“I’d been in a bubble, playing from the age of nine, on the international circuit from 12. It was an adult world of managers, contracts, sponsors. I’d never gone to parties or gone dancing, like teenagers do. I wasn’t fully formed.”

The former tennis player recalled that when she met Mel, she realised there was a different life outside of the sport.

Annabel Croft and her late husband Mel Coleman

(Getty Images)

“‘It was the first time I’d hung out with people my age. I put normal clothes on – not tennis gear. I went to the pub. For the first time, I didn’t have to think about my forehand or my backhand, or walking out in front of crowds.”

“And once I met Mel, I realised I didn’t want to carry on doing that. I think I took strength from who he was. He gave me confidence. He taught me how to . . . live.”

Annabel Croft with her late husband Mel Coleman at their wedding at St. Martins Church in Kent in 1993


It was a bombshell announcement when Croft announced her retirement that year, but she stayed working in the sport: as a Wimbledon commentator and running a tennis academy in Portugal.

Croft shared the mental toll of being beside her husband’s hospital bed on the day of his death.

“Have you ever watched someone die? It is so traumatic. I was traumatised. I am still traumatised, but at the same time I cannot believe he is gone.”

“We used to hold hands in bed, chatting and now I look to his side and I say: ‘Where are you?’”

Still raw in her grief, Croft says that being on Strictly Come Dancing has helped her take her mind off of the feeling of loss.

“When I got the offer I thought, actually, what else am I going to be doing – coming home at 4pm to a dark, empty house, a house Mel built, in the winter?”

“Also, I’m an athlete. The idea of using my body to try to alleviate something – the pain, I guess – was appealing.”

Annabel Croft on ‘Strictly’

(BBC/Ray Burmiston)

“It’s bringing joy, or at least a glimmer of it, back into my life. I’m still crying every day, really, but in the last few weeks I’ve got home once or twice and realised: ‘I haven’t blubbed today yet.’”

Croft describes her dancing partner, Radebe, as an “angel” who came into her life to “alleviate the pain, a little”. She made it through the first results show of this series of Strictly, and will return to the competition for Movie Week this weekend (7 October). She and Radebe will be dancing a Waltz to “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Strictly Come Dancing continues Saturday 7 October at 6.20pm on BBC One.

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