Amanda Abbington’s path to Strictly, from Sherlock to drag show controversy

Strictly is back, and Sherlock star Amanda Abbington is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable faces on the lineup.

The actor, 51, known for her role as Mary Watson in the hit BBC detective series opposite Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, was at the centre of a furore in the lead up to the competition thanks to a resurfaced tweet about a drag show.

The tweet in question was about a baby sensory and cabaret show aimed at parents and their infants aged up to two.

Abbington had tweeted that the show was “not for babies”, saying: “If you think it is, there is something fundamentally wrong with you.”

The tweet did not go down well, and was exacerbated by the upset over the anti-drag laws sweeping the US. Abbington quit X/Twitter in the ensuing backlash.

When the controversy reared its head again in response to her Strictly casting, Abbington posted a video to her critics, saying: “I’m sorry if my tweet about drag shows made you feel like you can’t watch Strictly. And I think if you got to know me, you’d quite like me.”

“I need to make this very clear,” she added. “I love drag. I think it’s an amazing form of entertainment and I f***ing love drag queens. I think they’re hilarious and brilliant...

“But my tweet back in March was regarding a 12-year-old who was doing it in front of adults. And it just upset me because I saw a kid, a little kid, a 12-year-old, doing something very oversexualised and I didn’t think it was right.

“That was my tweet. I didn’t associate that with the trans community, nor would I associate that with the trans community, because I think they’re two separate things. And I’m not transphobic... I am a firm supporter of the legitimate trans community.”

This was not Abbington’s first brush with controversy – she has previously been vocal on social media about trans issues, as well as trophy hunters and US politics.

Amanda Abbington (Getty Images)
Amanda Abbington (Getty Images)

Abbington is likely to take naturally to the demands of the Strictly ballroom. Growing up in Hertfordshire, she was a passionate dancer until an injury from doing the splits put an early stop to her aspirations, with a teacher encouraging her to pursue acting instead.

Her first screen role came in police drama The Bill in 1993, and she has also appeared in the TV shows Casualty, Doc Martin, Inside No 9, Cuffs, Mr Selfridge, and Sherlock. The latter is the show she is best known for, having played Mary Morstan, a former assassin and the cunning wife of John Watson, played by Abbington’s then real-life partner Martin Freeman.

Freeman and Abbington met in a make-up truck in 2001 while filming a Channel 4 drama, Men Only. They moved in together two months later and were in a relationship until 2016. They had two children together: Joe and Grace, both now teenagers.

During a 2019 Desert Island Discs interview, Freeman opened up about the difficulty of playing Abbington’s on-screen husband in Sherlock while breaking up offscreen. Abbington later said: “I’m sure I’ve given my children some kind of emotional damage from the fallout of breaking up with Martin.”

Her current partner is Jonathan Goodwin, who was a professional escapologist and stunt performer until, in October 2021, he was left permanently paralysed when a stunt went badly wrong. He was crushed between two cars while hanging upside down 30ft in the air, strapped into a straitjacket.

Abbington has said that, while Goodwin has told her he can “accept” it if she doesn’t want to stay with him, she cannot imagine life without him.

Strictly Come Dancing airs on Saturday and Sunday nights on BBC One.