Former senator Natasha Stott Despoja ‘blindsided’ by the end of 20-year marriage with Ian Smith

Worm dance man Ian Smith jokingly promised to leave Adelaide “for the big time” after his death-defying routine caught the eye of pop star Rita Ora, but the businessman has now made another departure, from his marriage to Natasha Stott Despoja AO.

Described by friends and colleagues as South Australia’s best kept secret, the high-profile couple quietly separated over summer.

Former senator Natasha Stott Despoja, 54, was “blindsided” by the end of the couple’s 20-year marriage according to friends.

Her husband, Ian Smith, an internationally renowned corporate adviser, company director and former political adviser, has told friends that the decision was mutual.

The couple remain loving parents to their two teenage children.

Just a year ago, the lobbyist went viral on social media after performing the worm dance in front of Rita Ora.

She later posted to her 16 million followers that she needed “to find this man”.

Mr Smith was in New York for the Prince’s Trust Gala dinner, where the British pop star was performing.

After mingling with Hollywood A-listers including Kate Beckinsale, Sienna Miller and Kate Moss, he hit the dance dance floor, jumping into the air before theatrically landing onto the floor as part of his signature dance move he’s been practising since he was a teenager.

But if the dance moves got people talking it was a video of Rita Ora to her Instagram and TikTok accounts, that made him a social media star.

“Are you kidding? Yes! Everyone, do this,” Ora said in the video.

“Find him, find this man. I need him at every show, I need you in my life.”

Mr Smith then did the rounds of ABC breakfast, where he joked he was going to “give up political advisory lobbying”.

“I’ve left Adelaide for the big time now. The worm goes global,” he said.

“When Rita Ora put this on her Instagram, it sort of dawned on me that at long last … after about 40-odd years of doing this dance, that someone finally appreciated it.”

Mr Smith subsequently revealed that he briefly met the popstar and had his picture snapped with the singer after “Natasha sort of saw her and said, ‘My husband is the worm guy’,” he said.

The lobbyist has apparently been working on the dance move since he was a teeanger and has previously busted it out at weddings and parties.

He is currently the deputy chair of the King’s Trust, a national charity that helps young people prepare for the rapidly changing world of work, inspires veterans and their families into entrepreneurship and self-employment.

Sadly, while his international charity work and lobbying business has gone from strength to strength, it’s his marriage that appears to have hit a permanent snag.

Mr Smith and Ms Stott-Despoja wed in a romantic beach ceremony in northern NSW in 2003, shortly after her tenure ended as Australian Democrats leader.

She was reportedly barefoot and wore an ivory halter-neck Collette Dinnigan dress with plunging back and yellow flowers in her hair and bouquet.

She had resigned as Democrats leader in response to crippling party disunity, after former leader Meg Lees quit the Democrats and Senator Andrew Murray compounded the damage, declaring himself a “Democrat in exile”.

Ms Stott Despoja had previously dated TV journalist Hugh Riminton in 2001, before embarking on a serious relationship with Mr Smith, a public relations executive, the following year and announcing their engagement in April, 2002.

While newspapers suggested the time he provided informal advice when she challenged Meg Lees for the leadership the previous year, the couple had actually known each other for years, ever since she was elected as the Student Association President in Adelaide University

Born in the UK, Mr Smith moved to Australia as a journalist in 1986 and became an adviser to state political leaders before becoming CEO of Australia’s largest communications and public affairs agencies and establishing boutique consultancy Bespoke Approach.

He is also the United Kingdom’s Honorary Consul in South Australia and is deeply involved in refugee advocacy.

His wife was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia in 2019 for her work on gender equality, was the founding chair of Our Watch, a national foundation to prevent violence against women and children, and served as national Ambassador for Women and Girls from 2013 to 2016.

In November 2020, Ms Stott Despoja was elected to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, becoming the first Australian member in 28 years.

In March, she was appointed as South Australia’s Royal Commissioner into Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence.

For many years, Ms Stott Despoja has also funded a scholarship for female arts students at the University of Adelaide, which pays the students’ tuition fees for the first year of their degree.

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