Inside Strictly star Robert Webb's secret health battle from 'slow-killing' himself with booze to life-saving heart op

ROBERT Webb stunned fans last night as he announced his shock withdrawal from Strictly after just three performances.

The comedian from Boston, Lincolnshire reluctantly stepped away from the show due to an ongoing health battle which saw him undergo open heart surgery in 2019. 

The 49-year-old – who is best known for starring alongside David Mitchell in the hit comedy Peep Show – performed three spectacular dances with pro partner Dianne Buswell, before revealing his retirement from Strictly. 

In a statement shared on social media, Robert wrote: “I’m extremely sorry to have to announce that I’m withdrawing from Strictly Come Dancing due to ill health. 

“Two years ago I had open heart surgery and although I believed I was fit enough to take on Strictly and its demanding schedule, it became clear that I had bitten off way more than I could chew for this stage in my recovery.

"I had begun to feel symptoms that led me to seek an urgent consultation with my heart specialist, and it was her view that it would be better for the sake of my health to step back from the show."

But despite Rob’s sad departure, his dancing debut marked a triumphant milestone on his road to recovery after his surgery two years ago left him unable to “walk to the end of the street without help”. 

'Wouldn't make it to Christmas'

Just weeks ago the comedian opened up about his heart problems, which stem from a defect at birth.

Speaking at Oxfordshire's Henley Literary Festival earlier this month, Robert said: “One of the valves in my heart had prolapsed instead of opening and shutting nicely.

“It had almost doubled in size, it was this really weird shape and it was doing all this just to keep the show on the road.” 

It was only when Webb went for a routine check-up in 2019 that he discovered he was facing serious issues. 

The doctor’s grave warning left the dad-of-two fearing he “wouldn’t make it to Christmas”. 

The cardiologist told me, 'I'm not saying you are going to have a heart attack in the next fortnight but if we don’t fix it… this heart will fail'

He recalled: “My heart thought that I was running up a hill when I was asleep, and I had not noticed. I thought: ‘Well, I am tired, as I treat my body like a skip.’

“I saw a cardiologist and they said I had ‘severe regurgitation’ – that the blood that should have been pushed around my body was flowing backwards into a different chamber, causing all sorts of trouble.

“The cardiologist told me, ‘I am not saying you are going to have a heart attack in the next fortnight but if we don’t fix it in the next two to three months this heart will fail.’"

'Slow-killing myself with booze'

The Cambridge graduate told how the discovery gave him the shock he needed to take a serious look at his life choices. 

Robert admitted he had been “slow-killing” himself with alcohol, upping his intake while working on his novel Come Again. 

He revealed in April 2020: “I was drinking a lot and I made it a lot harder than it needed to be.

“Addiction specialists call it ‘permission beliefs’ and it is those things that give you permission to start drinking at 8am – like, ‘I am feeling very blocked at the moment.’

“It is not as though I became angry, it is just that drunks are tired all the time.

“I tried everything but that week in hospital was the gap in the domino topple I needed. That circuit breaker.”

It is not as though I became angry, it is just that drunks are tired all the time

Instead Robert, who has been married to comedian Abigail Burdess for 15 years, made the slow turnaround after his surgery in 2019 to get his life back on track. 

He recalled: “My body had been through a really traumatic thing. All I want to do is do right by it. I wanted to look after it.” 

The determined star went from struggling to lift a kettle after surgery to slowly walking and then becoming a runner – he even did weights and training during Covid. 

'Weeping' at intense Strictly schedule

Webb’s transformation to fitness junkie left him feeling confident to attempt to win the Glitterball Trophy.

Surprisingly it was the comic’s near-death experience that made him accept the Strictly challenge. 

Robert said prior to the first show: “This was not the first time they asked, and I knew there would be a collision between me and Strictly very likely to happen in the future.

“But it goes back to the heart surgery – now I think I have got something to offer.”

Despite feeling fitter than ever, the demanding preparation for the show with Aussie partner Dianne, 32, took Robert by surprise. 

As a result of training from 8am to 6pm, Robert admitted he's lost weight since starting the show.

Speaking after the second episode, he gushed: “I have got through two dances and that is a big rush. Dianne is terrific.

"But it is a lot of hard work. Today there was a bit where I could not get it at all and I was almost weeping as it is so intense.

“It is like, ‘I have got to do this on Saturday. I am never going to do this bit.’ A lot of the time I am not wired up right, as my brain refuses to put this leg over this leg.” 

But despite immense pressure, Robert and Dianne delighted fans with their well choreographed dances. 

Kicking the show off with a speedy Cha Cha Cha, the pair took on the Tango in Week Two, earning a respectable 27 points from the judges. 

Robert and Diane’s final performance of a Quickstep dressed as muppets put a smile on the judges' and viewers’ faces. 

'Too eager to impress' fellow heart patients

While Robert’s Strictly journey may now have come to an end, the star’s statement held an important message for those who have endured heart surgery. 

He said: “It was always going to be a difficult mountain to climb (for one thing it’s made of glitter so it’s very skiddy) and I’ve been especially touched by the support from fellow heart patients.

"I think perhaps I was too eager to impress them. They will know that recovery doesn’t always go in a straight line, and I hope they’re not too disappointed that I ran into the limits of my resilience much sooner than I’d hoped.” 

After the actor’s statement, dancing pro Dianne hailed Robert’s performance on the show.

It was always going to be a difficult mountain to climb

She wrote: “As a massive fan of Robert’s, I was delighted to find out that he was joining the Strictly family. On top of this, to find out he was my partner was the icing on the cake.

"We made a great team, worked hard and had a good laugh along the way.

"I am so proud of the three amazing dances we produced. I know Robert had a lot more to give to the competition but his health of course comes first and I wish him a speedy recovery.

"I feel lucky to have danced with him and to call him a friend."

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