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WE ARE AN ITEM; EXCLUSIVE STRICTLY COME DANCING COUPLE CONFESS.

Byline: By BETH NEIL

T O anyone watching their red-hot tango on Saturday night, the chemistry was obvious... their passionate performance was so charged it practically crackled. Yet Camilla Dallerup and James Martin denied there was any romance - until now.

In their first joint interview, the Strictly Come Dancing duo have confirmed exclusively to the Daily Mirror that they are indeed an item.

The couple have finally admitted that a deep bond has developed between them and romance has blossomed as they have enjoyed a series of secret trysts.

"Yes, we've been out to dinner a few times," confesses Ready Steady Cook chef James, 33.

"And we're on the phone all the time. Camilla blows my mind. I'm in awe of her. It's incredible, unbelievable.

"We're having a great time together and we get on extremely well. There's a brilliant rapport going on. You can't fake it on the dancefloor on Saturday night. We're having good fun and everything's good."

Camilla, a 31-year-old professional dancer, adds: "We have the basis of a great friendship and we'll see what happens.

"At the minute there's a lot of pressure with doing the show. But we're very close and we can be straight up with each other.

"You can't beat the feeling of two bodies moving as one. It's very emotional."

Outside it's a cold, damp November morning in West London, but inside a certain dance studio in the middle of a drab industrial park, the temperature is positively sizzling.

Today, chatting to the pair during a break from rehearsals for next Saturday's show, it turns out that they were both aware of a spark between them within minutes of meeting.

S INCE then, their relationship has deepened into something much more than friendship.

Camilla pokes fun at James's Yorkshire accent. And he takes the mickey out of her inability to get out of bed in the morning.

Their body language speaks volumes, too. Neither misses a chance to touch the other - be it a playful punch or a tender squeeze of reassurance.

There's definitely some serious flirting going on here...

"Do we fancy each other?" giggles Camilla. "Oh! You can't ask that!"

James grins at her and quips: "Some mornings she looks a bit rough, to be honest."

But then he quickly adds: "I have so much respect for her. Total and utter respect. I think she's amazing."

Still, it's nice to hear that the doll-like Dane is not all perfect.

"I tried to show her how to cook a risotto the other week," begins James before Camilla jumps in.

"It was a disaster," she shrieks. "I think I'll stick to dancing. Or maybe James could give me a cooking course after the series ends."

They certainly make a lovely couple and it's easy to see why they have fallen for one another.

Even dressed casually and with her blonde hair pulled back in a pony-tail, Camilla looks stunning.

Her tanned skin complements her huge blue eyes and her cheekbones are to die for.

And James, who has shed a stone and a half in five weeks, looks trim and handsome. His easygoing personality makes him a natural charmer.

"I admire him so much," says Camilla. "He's a chef, a businessman and now a dancer and he can switch so easily between his roles. Wow!"

Strictly Come Dancing viewers have been willing the pair to get together. They would love to see a happy ending for Camilla, who was publicly humiliated after series one by Brendan Cole - her then fiance and fellow professional dancer.

He turned his back on their eight-year relationship and left her for newsgirl Natasha Kaplinsky. But that fling ended after four months and has left Brendan regretting dumping Camilla.

Last week he opened his heart to the Mirror and confessed to still being in love with her. But seeing Camilla with James, it's clear that Brendan - whose current Strictly Come Dancing partner is Mirror columnist Fiona Phillips - doesn't stand a chance of winning her back.

"No, we won't get back together," says Camilla. "We've both moved on.

"What we had was special and it always will be. We're friends now which makes me happy.

I AM where I am today because of Brendan and vice versa. I'll always be there for him in some way. But not as a couple."

Although they have made time for romantic evenings together, it hasn't been easy. James in particular is finding it tough fitting everything in.

With a restaurant, a deli and a bakery to run, a new book to promote and a regular slot on TV's Ready Steady Cook, it's a wonder he can still manage five hours of dance lessons a day.

"Nothing gets in the way of training," he insists. "If you didn't put the hours in, you'd fall flat on your arse.

"I'm surviving on four hours sleep a night, but I'm really into it and I want to make it work. Sometimes I look like a prat and I'm no Billy Elliot, but we're in this for the long haul. The series ends on December 19 - on December 20, my restaurant goes bust."

James has surprised himself with his dedication. But the judges haven't been so impressed. Arlene Phillips said the only good thing about their tango was James's make-up. And Bruno Tonioli said he looked like a murderer.

"It hit me hard," says James. "After we finished I was elated and the audience was going mental. Then Arlene questions my commitment and Bruno comes out with the murderer comment.

"You can see from my face that I'm thinking: 'One more word and I'll come over there and lynch you'."

Camilla agrees: "Fair enough, give constructive criticism on technique, but to say you haven't been working hard isn't fair. It's like a boot camp in here during the week."

James laughs: "Too right it is. Last week I pulled all the muscles in my back. I've never been through pain like it. Did I get any sympathy? No way."

But the pain hasn't dimmed his commitment. And anyway, he can't let all his mates down. Apparently, there are 15 top chefs in London who are making their diners wait until after he has performed on the show.

"People are sat in the restaurant and the chefs are all gathered in the kitchen watching the show," he grins. "They've asked me if I can be on a little bit earlier next time.

"It's a great show to be part of. We're raising money for Children In Need and learning a fantastic new skill."

And, of course, he's also met Camilla. James smiles at that, and you just know that, inwardly, he's tripping the light fantastic.

Strictly Come Dancing is on BBC1 on Saturdays at 6.20pm and 9.10pm. To vote for James and Camilla, call 0901 121 4005.

CAMILLA ON HER EX, DANCER BRENDAN COLE

We're friends but we've both moved on now

CAPTION(S):

IN STEP: Practising their moves; AFFAIR: Brendan and Natasha
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 3, 2005
Words:1168
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