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Strictly Speaking – 2018 Launch Show

Posted on September 10, 2018

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Marianka Swain introduces the contestants…

Hello again, Strictly fans! It’s Series 16! Woohoo! Series 16, AKA the one where Marianka continually squawks “A YouTuber?” at her screen in the manner of Lady Bracknell’s “A handbag?” and feels about 102 and begins to contemplate the yawning void of mortality, and then remembers the state of the world and kind of welcomes it. Series 16!

So, there’s no escaping the fact that this isn’t exactly a banner year, A-list casting wise. That old joke about the dancers becoming more famous than the celebrities is now kind of…fact, except we also have new dancers, so this is a learning experience for everyone. Very much a “Back to school” week, but with fake tan and terrible eye patch jokes.

However, by the time we came to the pairings – for my money, all spot on except for the last two – even the most cynical viewer must have felt a grudging respect for the Strictly casting department. Though lacking that big name, it’s another brilliantly varied bunch, promising all kinds of tantalising drama and unintentional comedy (sorry, Seann Walsh). Bring on the sequinned escapism!


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

For the last time, Tess, step away from the bacofoil. Claud: entirely gorgeous in a smart tux.


Other highs and lows:

  • Glad to see the return of Twirly Shirley, and all hail Dame Darcey. Does Craig get a similar fanfare next time he’s in panto? Here’s hoping. HIGH
  • Bless Shirley skirting around saying the celebs should get, well, close to their pros (Daily Mail Sidebar of Shame is at the ready!). But then she did marry two partners on her way to world titles, so she’s not wrong. HIGH
  • Are we seriously asking Bruno how the contestants SMELL? Like he needs more encouragement… LOW
  • Which will happen first: a universally agreed Brexit solution, Crossrail works ending, the discovery of vibranium outside of Wakanda, or Ginger Neil finally getting a partner? #justice4gingerneil LOW
  • Conversely, Anton AKA Last Original Standing AKA Discount Miley Cyrus seemed happier paired with his giant glitterball than an actual human… HIGH
  • We have new pros! Apparently. Johannes Radebe and Luba Mushtuk joined Ginger Neil in Group Dance Limbo, while Graziano Di Prima is thus far (and not entirely without reason) defined as romance novel hunk: More Hair Than Shirt Buttons. Here’s hoping we get to know all three properly over the coming weeks. LOW
  • Dave Arch’s wide-eyed panic when wrangled into Tess’s jokes is everyone’s fear of “audience participation” writ large. Always a treat. HIGH
  • Craig David & Friends gave us music that actively fought any attempt to dance to it. And so it begins… LOW


But most importantly, let’s meet our Class of 2018!


Kate Silverton

Kate Silverton, Aljaž Skorjanec – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Beloved BBC broadcaster, and if that voting bloc fails, already fully prepared to deploy those Family prop points. Mostly concerned with finding a towering pro, just to really rub salt into former pro Brendan Cole’s wound… Expect a barrage of “Harder for a tall person!” critiques, especially in Latin.

Partner Aljaž Škorjanec

Most likely to…Be a class act, last a few weeks.




Vick Hope

Tess Daly, Vick Hope, Graziano Di Prima – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Also teeing up familiar storylines, including ye olde busy schedule and a glimpse of the Northerner Card. (Or, per Grandma Tess, she can simply mesmerise voters with ALL THAT HAIR.) DJ Vick is, indeed, familiar with the concept of music – which might seem inconsequential, but, on early evidence, is not the case for everyone this year…

Partner Graziano Di Prima

Most likely to…Get the tabloids panting on their way to the closing stages.





Faye Tozer

Tess Daly, Faye Tozer, Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Ringer Defence No.1: Yes, she’s danced before, but Steps choreography didn’t exactly run the full gamut of movement possibilities, and anyway that’s all better best forgotten. Not sure it’ll do the trick – but then who could resist if they chuck in that delightful “Look, it’s my face!” move from “Tragedy” mid-paso doble.

Partner Giovanni Pernice

Most likely to… Endure some ringer mutterings, reach the semi-finals.




Susannah Constantine

Anton Du Beke, Susannah Constantine – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Another early-Noughties throwback, and already has a full Loose Women “I went through menopause, but now I’m hitting play!” inspiring story arc worked out; accompanying ebook and webisodes to follow. Although if she was hoping for a nice Strictly hunk to seal the “You go, Golden Girl!” deal…er, not so much.

Partner Anton du Beke

Most likely to… Make an early exit.





Lee Ryan

Lee Ryan, Nadiya Bychkova – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats The heady combo of boyband Blue and EastEnders – two casting pools apparently irresistible to the Strictly producing team. Ringer Defence No.2: Suspiciously quiet on the stage school training (Sylvia Young and Italia Conti), but has dismissed Blue dancing as just leaning and air grabs. Colourful history of self-sabotage, so it probably balances out.

Partner Nadiya Bychkova

Most likely to… Provide quality TV drama, crash out around Halloween.





Dr Ranj Singh

Tess Daly, Dr Ranj Singh, Janette Manrara – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Has tended to TV puppets and braved This Morning, so what terrors could Strictly possibly hold? Also a REAL DOCTOR, HONEST – but don’t imagine that’ll stop the producers semi-mocking him with doctor songs at every turn. Matches his partner in the high-decibel chatty stakes, which…could go either way.

Partner Janette Manrara

Most likely to…Have a decent mid-series J word.





Danny John-Jules

Tess Daly, Danny John-Jules, Amy Dowden – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Casts a wide net fanbase wise, with Death in Paradise, Red Dwarf and Maid Marian, plus can rock a sparkly hat. Ringer Defence No.3: Smoothly bypassing West End experience like CatsBarnum and the original cast of Starlight Express, plus music videos, Danny summarised his past as “disco dancer” – with an accompanying dismissive hand gesture for the ages.

Partner Amy Dowden

Most likely to… Become this year’s Debbie McGee.





Joe Sugg

Tess Daly, Joe Sugg, Dianne Buswell – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Strictly targeting da kids. Since I am apparently too close to the grave, I was heretofore unaware of Joe’s social media renown – though I had heard of his sister Zoella. Still, he’s clearly done his homework, sounding both the Nan and Blackpool Klaxons within five minutes of arriving.

Partner Dianne Buswell

Most likely to…Inspire a thousand impassioned think-pieces, exit early.





Katie Piper

Tess Daly, Katie Piper, Gorka Marquez – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats A genuinely inspiring tale in the works here: the survivor of an acid attack and founder of a burns charity who now wants to reclaim her carefree, nightclub-going self. Dance ability unknown, but should have plenty of audience goodwill during the learning process – plus encouragement from lovely Gorka.

Partner Gorka Marquez

Most likely to… Join the dark horse ranks.





Stacey Dooley

Tess Daly, Stacey Dooley, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Swapping the casual attire of investigative journalism for princess glamour – and if that well-worn story doesn’t hit, also has a good Mum Card in reserve. Like Katie, a Strictly-ready personality and great J word potential; no word on dance experience, but that could be an asset amongst the ringer rumblings.

Partner Kevin Clifton

Most likely to… Hit a few bumps en route to Blackpool.





Lauren Steadman

Lauren Steadman, AJ Pritchard – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Paralympic athlete with a silver medal from Rio and the competitive spirit to match – the latter always a high-wire act where the female contestants are concerned (#everydaysexism). As Oti did so well with Jonnie Peacock, AJ will have to find the right level of supportive coaching – and not, you know, drop her on her head in the launch show…

Partner AJ Pritchard

Most likely to… Enjoy a few weeks.





Ashley Roberts

Ashley Roberts, Pasha Kovalev – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Pussycat Dolls member and ACTUAL DANCER who judged on Dancing on Ice BECAUSE SHE’S A DANCER. Ringer Defence No.4: Woeful, but never mind that, because her partner is PASHA, Teddy Bear in Human Form. So now I’m seriously torn between much-deserved snark and cheering on the Pasha Glitterball Express.

Partner Pasha Kovalev, Teddy Bear in Human Form

Most likely to… Be this year’s “surprise” dance-off or ringer-related exit.





Seann Walsh

Tess Daly, Seann Walsh, Katya Jones – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats Not much competition for Comedy Duffer, so Seann should be set to follow in the uncertain footsteps of Sergeant, Widdy, Balls et al. Also seems determined to NOT play it for laughs, which invariably makes the results much funnier. Also funny? Katya thinking the producers might allow her a second glitterball this year.

Partner Katya Jones

Most likely to… Entertain viewers – if not the judges.





Charles Venn

Tess Daly, Charles Venn, Karen Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats The requisite Casualty casting – but, he’s eager to stress, no stranger to the big screen! The surprise standout of the Car Crash Group Dance, so could well get a nice career boost here (though more “Doctor Who guest spot” than “Hollywood mega franchise”). Both he and the nation seemed keen to pair him with Oti, but, well…

Partner Karen Clifton

Most likely to… Deliver some serious smoulder, bow out mid-series.





Graeme Swann

Oti Mabuse, Graeme Swann – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Vital stats And Strictly continues is mission to rehouse retired cricketers. The big question: are we looking at a People’s Choice Gough, a Secret Snake Hips Ramps, or Michael Vaughan Takes An Axe To The Jive: Part II? Mind, even Tufnell had a surprisingly long run, so Graeme’s assault on the floss may be with us for a while.

Partner Oti Mabuse

Most likely to… Either find a dark horse J word or fail spectacularly.





Group dance

Graeme Swann, Aljaž Skorjanec, Katie Piper, Giovanni Pernice, Faye Tozer, Pasha Kovalev, Lauren Steadman, Susannah Constantine, Anton Du Beke, Katya Jones, Charles Venn – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Yay, the car crash group dance – always an annual treat. My highlights:

  • Poor Ashley looking so VERY uncomfortable in this TOTALLY DIFFERENT style of dance
  • Charles and Vick have all kinds of promise
  • Dr Ranj gives good wedding disco
  • Susannah…does not
  • Kate gives good “dance face”
  • Sean… can almost wink


What do you think? Are you happy with the pairings? Who’s your new favourite? 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 22. 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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