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Strictly Speaking 2019: The Launch

Posted on September 9, 2019

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Marianka Swain introduces the Class of 2019

Hello and welcome back to the safe, lovely, happy, sparkly world of Strictly Come Dancing! Here there are no rogues proroguing (just the odd lord – or maybe viscountess – a-leaping), and the only Article 50 we are concerned with is the 50th consecutive bewildering article of clothing that Tess Daly has willingly paraded on national television. Have more sequins! And hugs! HAVE SOME KYLIE!

OK, Series 17 may not be a classic in terms of celebrity casting – it wasn’t just the dancers “meeting” these people for the first time – nor has it been entirely free from drama. Yes, one of our (*cough*) celebs has already departed for the giant biscuit tin in the sky, with Jamie Laing, McVitie’s heir and professional Being On Reality Shows Person, sustaining a Strictly-ending injury.

BUT not before the pre-record of the launch show, making this a very peculiar viewing experience. There’s Jamie goofing around in rehearsals! Rightly delighted at landing Goddess Oti! Forming an admittedly already annoyingly bromance with Karim! (Find a new friend, Karim!!) It was like watching flashbacks of the victim in a murder mystery, or scanning the Zapruder Film for vital clues.

But fear not: this is happy sparkly Strictly-land, so while Jamie will have to await his ballroom debut (most likely only till 2020, the casting department’s not exactly fighting off Tom Cruise), Goddess Oti is still with us, and has been blessed with… someone else unknown to me, but promising nevertheless. Welcome, soap hunk Kelvin Fletcher – you SHALL go to the ball!

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Tortured velvet, of course, never change Tess. Claud alarming in wet-look fire-engine red. But sparkles!

Other highs and lows:

Welcome also to the ballroom new judge Motsi Mabuse! We can never have too many Mabuses on our TV screens, and Motsi proved a Strictly natural by a) dropping the “J word” within five seconds, b) displaying her ballroom creds while KILLING IT in the judges’ dance, c) providing feisty, upbeat energy, and d) wearing the biggest dress ever seen on the show, possibly the planet. In fact, it may have housed a planet. Can’t wait to see her in judging action. HIT

Plenty of filler – er, performances – from our pros, including newcomer Nancy Xu immediately impressing, yet somehow remaining overlooked while Nadiya gets another celeb to squander. At least we FINALLY have partners for Luba, Johannes and Ginger Neil. HIT/MISS

But I still miss Pasha. MISS

Kylie!! She came, she sang a medley of hits, she shimmied in sequins, she is the spirit of Strictly. That’s how it’s done, kids. HIT

Conversely, Mark Ronson and Yebba brought to our dance show a song that actively discourages dancing (see: the accompanying choreo consisting of 80 per cent miserable standing around. Woo.) MISS

Twirly Shirley has still got it! Motsi is dynamite! Craig and Bruno…were also there. See also: Bruno genuinely unable to articulate his role on the show, bless him. HIT/MISS

The Tessbot prepared lines, they return with a vengeance. Woe betide the celeb attempting unscripted banter – Tessbot will stare. You. Down. MISS

Karen’s amazing new hair fully deserves its own bullet point – it is Shiv from Succession levels of fierce. HIT

Less fun for Karen (and many of us): 2018 champ Stacey Dooley and now official paramour Kevin returned to semi-paso. MISS

MOVING ON. Let’s meet our Class of 2019!

Catherine Tyldesley

Tess Daly, Catherine Tyldesley and Johannes Radebe. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of the BBC

Vital stats Long-rumoured contestant, Coronation Street veteran and vaguely ringer-ish stage school background. Her intro acting reel featured her Corrie character both throwing a drink at someone and, while wearing a meringue wedding dress, shoving someone else in a fountain, so safe to say Strictly’s, er, heightened reality will be familiar territory.

Partner Johannes Radebe (yay Johannes!)

Most likely to… make a decent run at the final.

Saffron Barker

Tess Daly, Saffron Barker and AJ Pritchard. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of the BBC

Vital stats Another one off the YouTube, since Joe Sugg proved such a hit. Saffron, whose contributions to humanity include only eating certain coloured foods, wearing roller boots and letting her Uber driver control her Starbucks order (bants!!), was born in the year 2000, so there’s a bleak meditation on mortality. Also: played the nan card WAY too early.

Partner AJ Pritchard

Most likely to… endure many, many “yoof” references, depart mid-series.

Michelle Visage

Tess Daly, Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice. Photograpr: Kieron McCarron courtesy of the BBC.

Vital stats RuPaul’s Drag Race judge and queen of my heart, Michelle will match the judges quip for campy quip – Craig’s already sandpapering his tongue in preparation. But, with a background in performance and engaging personal story (doing it for her kids/proving her worth at 50 etc), could also prove a strong, savvy contestant.

Partner Giovanni Pernice

Most likely to… be an audience favourite, bow out after Blackpool.

Alex Scott

Tess Daly, Alex Scott MBE and Neil Jones. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats Pioneering female footballer-turned-pundit, already a bookies’ favourite after winning the Comic Relief version of Strictly. Expect ye olde “tomboy to princess” arc (yawn), but hopefully also real dedication in training and great resulting routines. Plus: what she perhaps lacks in reality TV-friendly personality, Ginger Neil is more than ready to provide, for THIS IS GINGER NEIL’S TIME.

Partner Neil Jones

Most likely to… challenge for the glitterball trophy.

James Cracknell

Tess Daly, James Cracknell OBE, and Luba Mushtuk. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats Olympic medal-winning rower, perfectly nice chap I’m sure, but his eyes are already signalling “Good god, that cheque wasn’t nearly big enough to cover this level of humiliation”. Which…does not bode well. Mind, I can’t lie – I REALLY want to see someone who moves like an oar attempting a samba.

Partner Luba Mushtuk. Sorry, Luba.

Most likely to… make an early exit.

Karim Zeroual

Tess Daly, Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats *Pause while we all Google “Who is Karim Zeroual?” and discover his Wikipedia page just redirects to CBBC* So. Erm. Another sickeningly young person, gets up to some ker-azy hijinks in the service of entertaining da kids. Very much a ringer after attending the ringer-iest of theatre schools, Sylvia Young, and basically graduating just last week.

Partner Amy Dowden

Most likely to… score the first 10, finally get a Wikipedia page to call his own.

Chris Ramsey

Tess Daly, Chris Ramsey and Karen Clifton. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats This year’s comic relief – so, hi, please don’t snog anyone and cause a national scandal! We need our happy, sparkly escapist world more than ever… Should provide a few LOLs by sparring with the judges, and his wife is former pro dancer Rosie Winter, so that’s at least one VT sorted.

Partner Karen Hauer

Most likely to… be a game comedy duffer, head home around Halloween.

David James

Tess Daly, David James and Nadiya Bychkova. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats Former England goalkeeper, vaguely promising flamboyance in his dress and general approach – I’m already obsessed with whatever magic is keeping his hair at that particular height and angle – if perhaps not an abundance of grace. Also a giant, so prepare for the onslaught of “X dance is harder for tall people” comments softening the blow.

Partner Nadiya Bychkova

Most likely to… last a few rounds and many ball jokes.

Emma Barton

Tess Daly, Emma Barton and Anton Du Beke. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats This year’s obligatory EastEnders entrant, ringer-y drama school/musical theatre background, self-professed Strictly superfan, and the latest woman to be sacrificed on the altar of Anton’s ego. Anton, who chivalrously hurls every partner under the bus, conveniently forgets the brilliant Katie Derham, and overlooks the fact that it’s his own Latin work standing in his way. Joys!!

Partner Anton du Beke

Most likely to… narrowly miss out on the final.

Emma Weymouth

Tess Daly, Viscountess Emma Weymouth and Aljaz Skorjanec. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats In a series of unknowns, having two Emmas is Not Helpful, Strictly. Anyhow, this Emma’s intro featured the pretty unbeatable combo of modelling, cooking on Saturday morning telly, nursing exotic animals at Longleat Safari Park, and repeatedly using the word “viscountess”. Which rather puts Saffron’s “OMG I chugged a blue yogurt!” in the shade.

Partner Aljaž Skorjanec

Most likely to… wow in elegant ballroom en route to the semi-final.

Anneka Rice

Tess Daly, Anneka Rice and Kevin Clifton. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats Anneka is UP FOR THE CHALLENGE – yes, expect to hear that repeatedly. The plucky broadcaster does have actual name recognition (at least in 2019 cast terms) and the possibility of a relatable, vote-winning, if modest “J word”, especially since she somehow avoided the inevitable Anton cul-de-sac.

Partner Kevin Clifton

Most likely to… enjoy a heart-warming mid-series run.

Mike Bushell

Tess Daly, Mike Bushell and Katya Jones. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats Diminutive sports presenter, AKA that guy who fell in the swimming pool mid-interview. And apparently fell into/off/over a bunch of other things too. Coordination, one imagines, may not be a strength, but he’s (ahem) a safe pairing for Katya, and, well, let’s not forget Chris Hollins. (#JusticeForRickyWhittle)

Partner Katya Jones

Most likely to… keep the dad dancing tradition alive.

Will Bayley

Tess Daly, Will Bayley and Janette Manrara. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats Paralympic table tennis champion who suffers from arthrogryposis (congenital joint contracture), poised to be this year’s inspirational celeb – and, on early evidence, very likeable character. Also attended the BRIT School, so definite potential as a performer as well as, er, being able to hit very tiny balls very fast and other such transferable skills.

Partner Janette Manrara

Most likely to… garner some “dark horse” praise.

Dev Griffin

Tess Daly, Dev Griffin and Dianne Buswell. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats Radio 1 DJ and presenter, no stranger to celeb reality shows, but also something of an unknown quantity. Another theatre school vet, so could well have some moves – plus, presumably, a certain degree of musicality via his day job. Will also get plenty of vote-handy social media exposure thanks to…

Partner Dianne Buswell (now coupled up with Joe Sugg)

Most likely to… be an early surprise hit.

Kelvin Fletcher

Kelvin Fletcher. Photograph: Ray Burmiston courtesy of The BBC.

Vital stats Speaking of surprises… This year’s late addition, announced on Sunday following a genuinely tense launch show cliffhanger, Kelvin comes to us via Emmerdale and is also a keen racing driver, so plenty of punning material available. Most important, he ensures the continued presence of Goddess Oti, who otherwise would have departed with Jamie Biscuits.

Partner Oti Mabuse

Most likely to… ride that Cinderella story into the final.

Group dance

Strictly Celebrities and Pro Dancers. Photograph: Kieron McCarron courtesy of The BBC.

Ah, the car crash group dance – which this year had an ACTUAL FATALITY. Or close enough, with Jamie… doing nothing very much, but still having to be stretchered off. Other quick impressions:

  • Strong openers from Karim, Alex, Dev, Emma 1 and Emma 2
  • Michelle has stage presence for days
  • James… does not
  • Counting may not be David’s strong point
  • Mike looked like he was drowning on dry land

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 21. 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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