Debbie McGee has said she is “heartbroken” for Giovanni Pernice after he was left out of the new Strictly Come Dancing line-up amid allegations about his teaching methods.

The TV star and widow of magician Paul Daniels was partnered with Pernice when she took part in the show in 2017, just a year after her husband’s death in 2016.

The duo made it to the final but were defeated by Holby City actor Joe McFadden and his partner Katya Jones.

Sharing a photo of the two of them on the show, the 65-year-old wrote on Instagram: “I am heartbroken for @giovannipernice My experience on Strictly will always be happy and life changing.

“Gio nurtured me through my grief and gave me confidence I could do things I thought was beyond me.”

McGee is the first of Pernice’s celebrity partners to speak out in his defence.

The 33-year-old Italian has been on the BBC One celebrity dancing show since 2015, when he reached the grand final with Coronation Street star Georgia May Foote.

However, the BBC did not announce him as part of its line-up of professionals for 2024 following claims of abusive or threatening behaviour, which he has strongly rejected.

Pernice previously said in a statement that he looks “forward to clearing my name”.

The dancers who will return include Amy Dowden, who missed competing on Strictly last year after she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, and 2023 winner Vito Coppola.

Former Strictly professional Kristina Rihanoff, who appeared in the show from 2008 to 2015, said it is “very sad” that Pernice will not be part of the line-up.

She told ITV’s This Morning: “He produced some really memorable dances, I think the show will lose a wonderful dancer and choreographer.

“I think all of us on the show are quite strong perfectionists. Coming from a competitive background, we want to be the best, not just for ourselves but for our celebrities too. I think we all can be very strict, maybe even brutal sometimes, because we want to deliver a good dance.

National Television Awards 2022 – London
Kristina Rihanoff said it is ‘very sad’ that Giovanni Pernice will not be part of the 2024 line-up (Ian West/PA)

“There’s absolutely no way that we need to be, as it was reportedly said, abusive or anything of that nature.

“But we do have a job and it’s a lot of stress, a lot of pressure on us to deliver a great dance.

“Because if it’s a bad dance, and not-so-good choreography, we’re also in the wrong, we’re also going to be dragged through the public comments, saying we don’t do good choreography.

“But if we push a little bit and we say something, then you’re also in the wrong. So it’s a very difficult territory to be in, and I’m not here to defend or offend anyone, I’m just here to say what I know of Giovanni and my time with him on the show.”

She continued: “Giovanni has said it himself, he is a perfectionist, he is driven to deliver.

“If there was something said in the wrong way, I suppose we are yet to find out. What … is not very nice to see is months and months and months of stories, and we still yet don’t know the facts.

“When he worked on the show with me, and we danced in some group numbers, he was always a very nice, easy-going guy, who’s there just to do his job.

“It can be a very difficult space when all of us professionals come together and do a dance, there are a lot of strong personalities in the room.

“He was one who was very easy to work with, for me, for what I know of him as a professional dancer – obviously, I wasn’t there with him in the room when he was teaching a celebrity.”

Sicily-born Pernice, who won the show in 2021 with EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis, was last paired with Sherlock actress Amanda Abbington, who withdrew from the competition in 2023 citing “personal reasons”.

Strictly Come Dancing 2023
Amanda Abbington danced with Giovanni Pernice in the 2023 series but withdrew for ‘personal reasons’ (Ray Burniston/BBC/PA)

Looking ahead to the forthcoming series, when Strictly will celebrate 20 years on television, Rihanoff said: “I think the show will always go on and do great things because they have a great pool of dancers.

“I think it is sad that Giovanni is not going to be there. I personally always look forward to his choreography because that’s what I appreciate because this is the job I love and used to do.

“And I think he produced some beautiful dances and it’s always exciting to watch what he would choreograph, so to me, personally, I think the whole situation is very, very sad.”

Fellow professional Ola Jordan, who competed in the show from 2006 to 2015, said: “On the 20th anniversary they’ve got this cloud hanging over them.”

The Sun Military Awards
Ola Jordan said there is a ‘cloud hanging over’ the 20th anniversary series of Strictly (Yui Mok/PA)

A legal firm acting on behalf of complainants said the broadcaster is “evidence-gathering” but the BBC has not confirmed whether any probe has begun.

In May, Pernice wrote that “you will be as surprised as I am that allegations have been made about my dance teaching methods in the media this week” and the public has seen him “passionate and competitive” on Strictly.

“Of course, I reject any suggestion of abusive or threatening behaviour, and I look forward to clearing my name,” he said.

He added: “No-one is more ambitious for my dance partners than me.

“I have always striven to help them be the very best dancers they can be.

“This has always come from a place of love and wanting to win – for me and my dance partners.”

A statement from law firm Carter-Ruck said: “There have been numerous serious complaints made to the BBC who are now in the process of evidence-gathering.

“As it is still an ongoing matter no further comment can be made at this stage.”