The Mail on Sunday
When world champion boxer Joe Calzaghe waltzed unsteadily on to the dance floor with his glamorous Russian partner Kristina Rihanoff in Strictly Come Dancing, he was an instant hit with millions of television viewers. But for one woman, far away from the sequined outfits and rapturous applause, the couple’s sultry dance moves hit a much more bitter note.
Model and actress Jo-Emma Larvin, 31, was the Welsh middleweight’s partner for more than five years and had dreamed of becoming the future Mrs Calzaghe.
But now, eight months after their relationship broke down, she has revealed for the first time how she watched fame, ambition and a spiralling dependence on cocaine change the amiable boxer, who to the rest of the world was the down-to-earth undefeated hero known as the ‘Pride of Wales’.
She describes how he began taking cocaine at parties but, as the drug took hold, was eventually using it up to three times a week – often while he was alone in their home.
Jo-Emma’s revelations come after Calzaghe, a former BBC Sports Personality Of The Year who has twice been honoured by the Queen, was forced to issue a humiliating apology to the nation last week following his confession that he used the class A drug. The 38-year-old boxer, who is now in a relationship with Siberian-born Kristina, claimed he had only taken cocaine ‘occasionally’ since retiring from the sport in February last year and told fans of his ‘regret’.
But Jo-Emma says he found it increasingly difficult to go more than a few days without using the drug. She says Calzaghe:
Threatened to make her ‘the most hated woman in Britain’ if she ever spoke out about him after they split up;
Allegedly cheated on her during their relationship with a woman he had only just met;
Was possessive and controlling and stood in the way of her modelling and acting career; and
Suffered bouts of intense jealousy and had alcohol-fuelled arguments with her.
Jo-Emma, who was brought up in Hull, is attractive and bubbly and it is easy to see why she caught Joe’s eye. Theirs was a passionate affair which began in early 2004 when the couple met at a gym in West London, well before Joe had hit the big time.
‘I really fancied him and thought he was gorgeous. We chatted and he invited me to a fight,’ she recalls.
At the time, Joe was in the middle of a divorce battle with his wife Mandy, the mother of his two children, Joe and Connor. Jo-Emma says he poured his heart out to her about his frustration. Mostly, he was upset about the amount of money he was having to part with.
‘He told people I was his angel, his rock. He said I came at a great time in his life and he needed the support,’ she says.
Within three months, Jo-Emma had given up her Surrey flat and moved in with Joe to a house outside Newport, Gwent. She happily put her career on hold so Joe’s could flourish and their relationship was ‘very normal – not at all starry’.
They went to the cinema, ate out regularly, spent evenings at home watching DVDs and bought a golden retriever puppy called Sonny.
‘Joe was down to earth. He still used to shop at River Island. He wasn’t vain and that’s what I fell in love with,’ says Jo-Emma.
The first time she saw him fight, she was terrified. ‘I cried before it even happened and thought, I just want you to do something else. But I learned some fighters are cleverer and think more about tactics and the more I saw how good Joe was, the easier it got, although I still got mad butterflies with the tension.’
Living far from London, it became easy for Joe to suggest she didn’t go to modelling auditions. Initially, she