Romanov: lord of the dance

IN THE dark days of the Cold War, he guided a hulking Soviet nuclear submarine under the Arctic Circle.

But now Vladimir Romanov has nimbly glided his way to winning the Baltic version of Strictly Come Dancing.

The Hearts tycoon and partner Sandra Kniazeviciute triumphed in the final of the Lithuanian equivalent of the hit BBC show, receiving 20,000 votes – 8,000 more than their rivals.

Romanov dazzled Lithuanian TV viewers as he danced the Paso Doble, Foxtrot, Waltz and Cha-cha-cha in front of an audience of one million – almost a third of the tiny Baltic state's population.

The win is the latest chapter in the rags-to-riches tale of the former Soviet Navy submariner, who first made money back in the USSR by selling bootleg Beatles records.

Romanov and Kniazeviciute, 24, lorded it up in the dance-off final of Sok Su Zvaigzde!, or Dance With Stars. They pipped top Lithuanian actor Leonardas Pobedonoscevas and his partner Viktorija Kunauskaite.

A spokesman for Romanov said: "He's delighted to have won the show. I think it shows that he's very serious about everything that he does."

A source on the show said: "There is a view of high-flying businessmen that they sit in meetings, work behind desks and jet off round the world.

"You never see them daring to take a risk like Mr Romanov has done by coming on the show. He has impressed a lot of people in our country and his gamble has paid off."

Partner Kniazeviciute said: "I am full of admiration for Vladimir's agility on the dance floor. I think he has surprised a lot of people."

Earlier in the series, Romanov, who also owns the football clubs FBK Kaunas in Lithuania and MTZ-RIPO in Belarus, donned a kilt to perform a contemporary take on a traditional Scottish dance.

The 60-year-old and his male backing dancers wore plain black kilts sent over from Edinburgh's 21st Century Kilts – which has also kitted out Robbie Williams and Hollywood star Vin Diesel.

Phil MacHugh, 24, a former British Highland dance champion who flew east to train the pair, said: "Vladimir brought Scottish dancing into the homes of hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians.

"Things were slow to start with, but Vladimir was eager to learn, and by the end everything was spot-on."

Romanov, the oldest contestant on the show, broke his arm in training at the beginning of the 15-week show, but was determined to continue.

In an attempt to win the title, the football kingpin, who lost two stone during the contest, had a private dance studio built at his head office in Kaunas, Lithuania.

Romanov made global headlines last year when he led Hearts to victory over Gretna in the Scottish Cup Final. The flamboyant multi-millionaire flew his former submariner comrades to the game and was bedecked in medals and Soviet regalia as he led celebrations.

Romanov has also proved to be a highly controversial figure in Scottish football – mercilessly ditching a succession of managers and filling the Edinburgh team with Lithuanian imports.

Veteran Labour MSP George Foulkes resigned as club chairman after crossing swords with the tycoon, describing him as a "dictator" and "megalomaniac".

Romanov runs a 300m business empire, including banking, property and textile interests as well as football.

The glitz of his business dealings and his Mediterranean yacht are a world away from his underprivileged upbringing.

He was born in 1947 in the region of Tver, northwest of Moscow. Romanov's family moved to the then Soviet republic of Lithuania at the age of nine. His mother had survived the horrors of the Siege of Leningrad and his father had fought in the Red Army. He took part in the storming of Berlin and remained in the military after the war.

Like many in the Soviet military, Romanov's father settled in the Baltic states; but at the age of 16, Romanov had to provide for his family after his father died. He had to apply to the authorities for permission to leave school and make money by driving a taxi. He earned extra income by selling smuggled western pop records before signing up for six years in the Soviet navy.

Romanov made money in textiles under Mikhail Gorbachev, then joined others to found Lithuania's first private bank, Ukio. Following Lithuanian independence in 1991, Romanov moved in on a series of businesses, including metal and food-processing.