Strictly Come Dancing

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Strictly Come Dancing

September 10, 2017 - 12:57
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The autumn nights are drawing in, which can only mean one thing...Strictly Come Dancing is back. ‘The part which Tess has been looking forward to since 17 December 2016’, when we saw Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton lift the Glitterball Trophy. Claudia may have been joking, but for me it was more than a little relatable.

Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly

By Matthew Gormley @MatthewPGormley

The autumn nights are drawing in, which can only mean one thing...Strictly Come Dancing is back. ‘The part which Tess has been looking forward to since 17 December 2016’, when we saw Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton lift the Glitterball Trophy. Claudia may have been joking, but for me it was more than a little relatable.

The 15th series of the pro-celebrity dancing competition began, as in previous years, with a glitzy red-carpet premiere, in which we’re bitten by the dancing bug only to be left hanging onto the edge of our sofas for a few more weeks.

This one off programme was a bumper 100 minutes of pure escapist entertainment, as the 15 new celebrities met their professional dance partners for the first time. As ever, some of the partnerships were predictable, others were surprising. There was also a new Head Judge and three new professionals to introduce, musical performances and a fitting tribute to the late, great Sir Bruce Forsyth.

Last year, Strictly ‘launched’ quite literally, with a totally ridiculous opening sketch in which we saw the entire cast onboard a spaceship, bound for Planet Strictly. Thankfully, this year’s VT, in which we saw the cast arriving at BBC headquarters, greeted by Ms Daly and Winkleman in reception, was subtle and went as far as it needed to go. Before long, the hosts lead us to the red carpet and Strictly fever gripped the nation once again. There was a stunningly glamorous Hollywood dance medley from the professionals, as they sashayed off the red carpet and into the studio, setting the bar for another year of spine-tingling ensemble routines.

Following the departure of Len Goodman, Shirley Ballas made her much-anticipated debut as the show’s new Head Judge, sitting alongside returning stalwarts Craig Revel Horwood, Darcey Bussell and Bruno Tonioli. As a former British Champion, European Champion and ten times US Open Champion, ‘The Queen of Latin’ has knowledge and experience in spades. Despite having nothing to prove, she shimmied her way across the floor during the opening routine, demonstrating that, despite retiring in 1996, she’s still got the moves. Shirley will, no doubt, adopt a no-nonsense approach to judging and we can expect her to bring a more contemporary style to the panel. Whilst Len was a staunch traditionalist, never approving of ‘mucking about’, Shirley said she appreciates an ‘outside the box’ attitude to routines. Sitting alongside flamboyant Bruno, she’ll soon get used to ‘outside the box’. We’ll miss Len and his cheesy analogies, but I’m already looking forward to seeing what Shirley will bring to the show.

Shirley wasn’t the only newbie. Three new female professionals made their ballroom debut – Amy Bowden, from Wales, paired with comedian and old-school entertainer Brian Conley, Dianne Buswell, from Australia, who partnered the Revered Richard Coles, and Ukranian Nadiya Bychkova, who was paired with EastEnders actor Davood Ghadami. They replace the likes of popular former pros Natalie Lowe and Joanne Clifton, although with brother Kevin and his wife Karen still on the show, it remains very much a family affair.

As the current champion, Joanne did return, along with Ore Oduba, to remind us why they were the ones to lift the Glitter Ball nine months ago. They took to the floor with a performance of their slick Jive, set to the Bruno Mars hit ‘Runaway Baby’ – an adrenalin-fuelled, fast-paced masterpiece.
Other promising partnerships include JLS singer Aston Merrygold and Janette Manrara, Good Morning Britain’s Charlotte Hawkins and Brendan Cole, and Susan Calman, whose fantasies were realised when she was paired up with Kevin Clifton, whom she proclaims to love more than her own wife. Since joining the show back in 2013, Kevin from Grimsby has yet to be voted out of the competition, having reached the final with his celebrity partners in four consecutive years. No pressure, Sue.

Actress Gemma Atkinson was, perhaps, the first celebrity in the programme’s history ready to embrace the infamous ‘Strictly curse’. Subsequently, she was paired with Aljaz Skorjanec, who is married to fellow dancer Janette, immediately putting the kibosh on any chance of romance blossoming. My early favourites are Ruth Langsford and Anton du Beke, who are a match made in heaven and guaranteed to be a scream.

This year’s launch was always going to be tinged with sadness, as it was the first show since the death of Sir Bruce Forsyth. The centrepiece of the night was a moving tribute to the incredible man, who was the beating heart of Strictly for 11 series. We were treated to a montage of his magical moments, interspersed with members of the Strictly family sharing their memories of the host with the most. This was followed by a beautiful routine to ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, which Brucie himself performed on the show back in 2004. With the men dressed in top hats and tails and the women in elegant pink ball gowns, it’s exactly the kind of routine which Bruce would have adored. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as, on the final bar, the pros went into Bruce’s trademark ‘thinker’ pose, as his silhouette illuminated the screen above the dance floor. Following a standing ovation and an extended round of applause, Tess couldn’t fight back the tears as she paid tribute to her dear friend, former colleague and ‘partner’. As she beautifully put it, ‘Thank you for entertaining the nation with every song, dance and joke. Brucie, partner, we’ll miss you’. Her voice cracking and her eyes misty, it was genuine emotion which could have brought a tear to a glass eye.

Strictly will forever be lacking something special. Since Sir Bruce stepped down from hosting duties in 2014, his warmth, humour and rapport has been missed. This year, as we settle down every week to watch the class of 2017 strut their stuff, the King of Saturday night television will always be in our hearts. I hope they do him proud.

For now, it’s time for the celebs to don their sequins, spray on their fake tans and start dancing. The Strictly juggernaut is back and I can’t wait. Roll on 23 September.