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Strictly Speaking 2017: The Launch

Posted on September 11, 2017

Contestants 1 BBC Guy Levy e1505206977627
Marianka Swain introduces the contestants…

Welcome back, dance fans! Doesn’t everything feel great and not at all like the End of Days?! Honestly, Series 15 of Strictly Come Dancing could not have come at a better time, bringing sparkle, humour and warmth to combat the, er, Biblical plagues and imminent nuclear annihilation…

Not that it was all joy, with the show pausing its launch festivities for a well-judged tribute to Brucie – including a lovely trad ballroom number – that left Tess and I’d imagine most viewers choked up. Good game, good game.

Shirley Ballas with the Strictly professional dancers (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

There was change afoot, too, with Head Judge Len Goodman passing on the baton to Queen of Latin Shirley Ballas (you’ll find my interview with her in the October issue of Dancing Times – in short, she’s promised to be eagle-eyed about errant ballroom footwork and thus is my new heroine).

A packed launch show meant Shirley’s was a fairly brief intro, but she struck a good balance of experienced expert and openness to creativity, as well as MAJORLY raising the bar when it comes to the judges’ entrance. Can’t wait to see her in action, and to find out whether Craig accepts his demotion from Tough Judge or starts crafting minus score paddles…


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman, Tess Daly – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Why have one split when you can have two? Meanwhile Claudia was under attack from the Seventies Frill Monster.


Other highs and lows:

  • There was a comedy intro. I’ll spare you the details. LOW
  • Anton’s singing – send help. Also “Get Lucky” is back, horror villain style. LOW
  • It bears repeating: SHIRLEY’S ENTRANCE. Good luck following that, lesser mortals. HIGH
  • Fringe, fringe everywhere! Truly you cannot have too much fringe. If I ever start a cult, that will definitely be in the dress code. HIGH
  • Is there some kind of gender war raging on Strictly? The pros’ opening group number seemed to consist mainly of the girls suffocating the guys with feather fans. Riveting stuff. HIGH
  • Oh yes, there are three new pros. Who…have poor timekeeping skills? Or would rather limit their involvement with any sub-Charleston/Cirque du Soleil nonsense, in which case: respect. LOW
  • But Ginger Neil and Baby Chloe are still benched – BOO. We’d better see great things from AJ to justify that call… LOW
  • Shania Twain came to us live from the studio! Or perhaps from a cave. In Australia. In 1982. Where rolled-up jacket sleeves are still a thing. LOW
  • And Rita Ora…came to appeal to a BBC exec’s idea of da youth? Well, it can only get better from here musical guests wise. LOW
  • The Claudia jokes returned, as always better with minimal Tess involvement. The breakfast news one was a winner. HIGH
  • Ah, the annual Well We Definitely Haven’t Danced This In A While! champions’ dodgy encore. Hello and goodbye again Weepy Ore and one of the many Cliftons. LOW


And now let’s meet the new class…


Gemma Atkinson

Tess Daly, Gemma Atkinson, Aljaz Skorjanec – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats If you like soap actors, boy is this your year! Gemma comes to us via Hollyoaks, Casualty and Emmerdale, plus a slew of celebrity specials and glamour modelling. But never mind all that – she’s just a TOTALLY NORMAL NORTHERN LASS. Expect her to play that card early and often.

Partner Aljaž Škorjanec

Most likely to… Be stunned by her success in ballroom, reach the semi-final.




Debbie McGee

Tess Daly, Debbie McGee, Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats My prior knowledge of Debbie is basically just this, but definite ringer rumblings since she once ran her own ballet company. The denials came in early: “Yes, I’ve danced, but NOT SINCE THE TITANIC WENT DOWN!” Expect her to far outstrip late husband Paul Daniels’ stint on Strictly (low bar though that is).

Partner Giovanni Pernice

Most likely to… Give us a cover version of Felicity Kendal and Vincent’s respectable journey.




Chizzy Akudolu

Tess Daly, Chizzy Akudolu, Pasha Kovalev – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Holby City’s finest, lucky us. Thus far, Chizzy’s personality could best be described as “CAN YOU HEAR ME IN SPACE?”, but she was a fun, confident presence in the group number, and good comic potential in the odd coupling of this motor-mouthed actress and Pasha, Endearing Killer Of All Scripted VTs.

Partner Pasha Kovalev

Most likely to… Entertain us en route to a mid-series exit.




Ruth Langsford

Tess Daly, Ruth Langsford, Anton Du Beke – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats The Loose Women and This Morning presenter wants to have a red-hot, “You go, girl! Life begins at 50 according to Nancy Meyers!” journey and make Eamonn dead jealous by fanning showmance rumours with her super-sexy pro partner. And she’s dancing with…Anton. Oh. Better luck next time, Ruth.

Partner Anton du Beke

Most likely to… Last a few weeks thanks to her established fan base.




Aston Merrygold

Tess Daly, Aston Merrygold, Janette Manrara – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Sure, the JLS band member is a DANCER who judged a DANCE competition, but he’s never done BALLROOM, he’s never even BEEN IN A ROOM you guys! Expect numbers emphasising his hip hop background and much seething from me. Also: child on the way, family prop points in stock for an off week.

Partner Janette Manrara

Most likely to… Spark ringer controversy on their way to the final.




Rev Richard Coles

Tess Daly, Rev Richard Coles, Dianne Buswell – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Member of Eighties band The Communards-turned-beloved Radio 4 staple and gay vicar, the Rev’s casting a wide net Strictly voter-wise. His group performance already suggests the Second Coming of Jeremy Vine, with a soupçon of Ed “Glitter” Balls dad dancing – plus they blinged up his clerical shirt, which is basically irresistible.

Partner New Aussie pro Diane Buswell, who…has red hair! And religion puns!

Most likely to… Be this year’s comedy crowd favourite.




Davood Ghadami

Tess Daly, Davood Ghadami, Nadiya Bychkova – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats EastEnders lad with a serious clothes allergy. He’s come to the right place. Obvious candidate for this year’s Curse of Strictly showmance: he’s paired with new Ukrainian pro Nadiya, who the tabloids have ecstatically outed as a former Playboy Playmate. Expect Bruno to convulse over them on a weekly basis.

Partner Nadia Bychkova

Most likely to… Make a sultry bid for the trophy.




Simon Rimmer

Tess Daly, Simon Rimmer, Karen Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats I keep forgetting about Simon even while he’s still on screen. Anyhow. Chef, which means following in the illustrious footsteps of past screen sirens Dave “Hairy” Myers, Ainsley “Juicy Juicy Tomatoes” Harriott, and Gary “that piano bit still haunts my dreams” Rhodes. Expectations somewhere south of hell, basically.

Partner Karen Clifton

Most likely to… Be one of the first out.




Charlotte Hawkins

Tess Daly, Charlotte Hawkins, Brendan Cole – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Good Morning Britain’s Charlotte is eyeing her ITV alumni options – will she be a Susanna Reid or a Kate Garraway? Or will she be the dead-eyed, fixed-grin presenter-bot to finally outdo Tess Daly? Perhaps sensing the need for human points, she’s already swiftly deployed the cute two-year-old – expect frequent appearances.

Partner Brendan Cole

Most likely to… Hit a few dance-offs before they exit.




Mollie King

Tess Daly, Mollie King, AJ Pritchard – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats She might SEEM like a Barbie doll pop star, but Mollie’s actually a loveable tomboy, just like you normals! The group number did suggest she’s not totally ringer-tastic; hard to tell from her time with The Saturdays given that their dance style was more…casually gathering, like sexy birds on a telephone wire.

Partner AJ Pritchard (I swear he’s gotten younger)

Most likely to… Be this year’s “shock” exit.




Susan Calman

Tess Daly, Susan Calman, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats “I’m really sorry, I’m doing an Ore!” And with these words, comedian Susan Calman became my 2017 favourite. It would take a viewer with a heart of stone not to love her super-fan enthusiasm, sincere belief in Strictly’s transformative powers, and dedication to Kevin that delightfully borders on watching-him-while-he-sleeps territory.

Partner Kevin Clifton

Most likely to… Garner “You’re what this show is all about” comments.




Alexandra Burke

Tess Daly, Alexandra Burke, Gorka Marquez – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Was it buy one, get one free at the X Factor store? Alexandra has since done musical theatre (but there’s no dancing in THAT!), so expect more ringer murmurings. Enjoyably OTT already, promising wild-eyed drama and a full hair-pulling breakdown mid-series – probably following a “shock” bottom two placing.

Partner Gorka Marquez

Most likely to… Fight tooth and nail for the trophy.




Joe McFadden

Tess Daly, Joe McFadden, Katya Jones – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Another Holby City casting. Not that the BBC is trying to halt a ratings slide or anything. Joe also has plenty of musical theatre experience (reminder: NEVER involves dancing, totally static art form), but a comparatively low public profile means he’ll likely fall into the dark horse category.

Partner Katya Jones

Most likely to… Start out shy and craft a decent late-series journey.




Jonnie Peacock

Tess Daly, Jonnie Peacock, Oti Mabuse – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats The gold medal-winning sprinter is Strictly’s first Paralympian, which should make for a genuinely interesting and inspiring story (Jonnie has a prosthetic leg, so more challenges there than the usual “My filming schedule! My nerves!”). Charismatic and, you know, not HARD to look at, plus the addition of lovely Oti bodes well.

Partner Oti Mabuse

Most likely to… Make a strong bid for the final.




Brian Conley

Tess Daly, Brian Conley, Amy Dowden – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Did something variety-ish with a puppet back in the day? I don’t know, this one’s already making me hunt for the mute button. Expect hammy VTs, overworked interviews and goldfish mouth flapping on the dancefloor, but the musical theatre/panto background might give him a few weeks. Joy.

Partner New Welsh pro Amy Dowden

Most likely to… Exceed my prop threshold almost immediately.




Group dance

The Strictly Come Dancing 2017 contestants – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Hurrah! The car crash group dance has been disappointingly competent of late, but this year’s was more of a mad sprawl. Notable moments included:

  • The Rev getting DOWN
  • Joe and Debbie quietly impressing
  • Simon…not so much
  • Charlotte employing serious “I will do this if it kills me and then you and then everyone else” steel
  • Mollie proving she’s more of a feet-off-the-floor dancer. Illegal lifts ahoy


What do you think? Are you happy with the pairings? Who’s your pick for the final? And what dances and themes do you want – or not want – to see this year? Leave your thoughts below or contact me on Twitter: @mkmswain


I shall return when the competition kicks off on September 23. In the meantime…keep dancing!

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

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