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Strictly speaking

Posted on September 9, 2013


It’s back! Forget X Factor, forget Stepping Out, if you can (my eyes! Oh, my eyes!), for Strictly Come Dancing, the real star of Saturday-night entertainment, has returned, and it’s as joyously deranged as ever.

We have a new studio (lovely big floor), new celebs (ish) and, following the pro dancer mass exodus, new chiselled bodies to alternately titillate and depress us. BURNING QUESTION: will the addition of more pro couples (Karen and Kevin, Aljaz and Janette) mean fewer pro-celeb showmances, or more complex ones with exciting potential for Brendan/Natasha/Camilla-esque home wreckage?

The launch show, of course, is all about intriguing pairings: who will form this series’ perfect partnerships, and who will be hilariously mismatched? Well, with a dubious level of fame on the contestant side and a host of new faces on the pro side, this was less Celebrity Blind Date and more, well, Blind Date, making it hard to separate the winners from the cannon fodder at this stage, but I think the Strictly gods were mainly fair to all concerned.

Filling out the remaining 71 minutes of this 80-minute show was a selection of hits and misses:

  • Time-wasting spoof Pathé newsreel You know my feelings about “comedy” VTs. MISS
  • Red carpet mania Oof. Far too Big Brother. Where’s your BBC dignity, Strictly? MISS
  • Celeb intro From a chorus of “Who?” “You know, that guy from that thing” “Nope” “Try Googling him” arose this year’s contestants. Styling choice for women: Charlie’s Angels meets Angelina Ballerina by way of TOWIE. Styling choice for men: Britain’s Got Talent pity act meets office show choir by way of TOWIE. MISS
  • Pro intro Welcome, newbies! After Bruce awkwardly butchered their (cruelly foreign) names, the latest additions to the no-shirt-buttons club gyrated accommodatingly in the ruins of Television Centre before wowing with a slick routine and some impressive lifts. HIT
  • Tess “friendly” banter Sample: “It’s only going to get worse! HAHAHAHA!” Make it stop. MISS
  • Musical guests “I wish there was more Jessie J on our screens,” said nobody, ever. “You know what would make this more hip and relevant? Rod Stewart exchanging mumbled Glastonbury anecdotes with Brucie,” said nobody, ever. MISS
  • Winners’ encore After a quick reminder of their “J word”, 2012 champions Louis and Flavia reprised their breakthrough Charleston, for which Flavia realised she could give up on this performance malarkey and just choreograph Louis’s face. He hit all the tricks and fudged his way through the dancing (well, it’s been a year), while she emitted the serene glow of one no longer shackled to semi-famous clodhoppers. HIT

And not forgetting the return of our regular programming:

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

It’s H&M Christmas party on the top, Gothic funeral on the bottom! Tess, the only presenter who can spot an autocue at 20 paces, is prepared for all eventualities. Darcey, meanwhile, gathered up the leftover paper napkins at Tess’s H&M Christmas party and fashioned them into a frilly tent.

But most important, it was time to play Cilla and make some dreams (and nightmares) come true, kicking off with…

Sophie Ellis-Bextor

sophie-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soVital stats: The next person to mention “Murder on the Dancefloor” will discover its very literal meaning. Popstress, cannot stress enough that she’ll probably be crap at this, reacts hilariously badly to Blue Peter gags.

Also, FUN FACT: when I was nine, I performed in a children’s opera with Sophie – I was a soldier ant, she was a busking grasshopper. That’s the quality of showbiz anecdote you will find in this blog #yourewelcome

Partner: Representing the Originals and due a low-maintenance celeb after last year’s histrionics, it’s the Artist Formerly Known As the Bad Boy of Ballroom Brendan.

Most likely to… suffer from early nerves/awkwardness, suddenly blossom in a dreamy Week 6 Viennese waltz.

Deborah Meaden

deborah-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleVital stats: She’s in. She’s out. She shakes it all about. And she means BUSINESS. Because she is a BUSINESS WOMAN. (Oh, Brucie. Getting more Alan Partridge by the minute.) Could be a dark horse due to competitive nature, musical-prodigy past and lack of sizeable opposition.

Partner: Robin. Poor Robin. Isn’t it time we rewarded this rainbow-souled fashionista-vest-wearer with a proper ringer?

Most likely to… “scandalise” with some uncomfortable Latin and make a cheerful exit mid-series.

Natalie Gumede

natalie-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalVital stats: Wants to prove she’s not just a villain. For those of us who’ve never seen Coronation Street, that should be easy enough. Standout in the dodgy group number, Strictly superfan, amazing hair.

Partner: Artem, back with a contender after grumpily squiring Fern Britton. (May have been hoping for Sophie E-B after discovering she could speak his native tongue, causing a smile to light up his face for the briefest moment like a flickering ray of sunlight during an iron Moscow winter.)

Most likely to… endure muttered stage-school ringer accusations, ride to the final on a wave of perfect scores.


Rachel Riley

rachel-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalVital stats: Countdown brainbox with a sizeable wardrobe (booked to capture that, err, unemployed teatime-totty-loving demographic?). Another early favourite frantically lowering expectations, but honestly, could she ever be worse than Vorderman?

Partner: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride (or, you know, the manly version of that), Pasha will be hoping to go one better than runner-up this year.

Most likely to… struggle with the dramatic dances, charm with the cheeky ones.


Patrick Robinson

patrick-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soVital stats: One of several celebs to bury us in an avalanche of dropped names, appeared in Casualty AND LOTS OF OTHER THINGS WITH VERY FAMOUS PEOPLE but mainly Casualty. Darcey’s early pick due to impressive musicality.

Partner: New pro Anya, who set pulses racing with Pasha back in Season 3 of So You Think You Can Dance and in stage show Burn The Floor.

Most likely to… hover in the middle of the pack before breaking out with a suave American smooth mid series.

Ashley Taylor Dawson

ashley-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalVital stats: Requisite Hollyoaks hunk, gloriously embarrassing past as member of short-lived pop band allSTARS*, showed soap instincts by stressing baby might be delivered DURING THE LIVE SHOWS OMG and hammily “fainting” after partner announcement.

Partner: Ola, queen of the eye-popping catsuit and resident no-hoper whisperer. What might she do with a proper contender?

Most likely to… wear as little as humanly possible, produce a showdance of astonishing cheesiness.


Julien Macdonald

julien-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soVital stats: Quick! Take shelter! More dropped names rolling down the mountain! Regularly mangles the word “godet” during fashion-pundit appearances on It Takes Two – this will either have endeared him to Strictly voters or, like me, you are already building a sequinned wicker man.

Partner: New pro Janette, also coming to us via SYTYCD and Burn The Floor. Lover of crazy tricks (Exhibits A and B), hadn’t heard of any of the “celebs” except Julien.

Most likely to… don more crystals per square inch than a TOWIE vajazzle.


Tony Jacklin 

tony-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleVital stats: First (and probably last) golfer on the show, appealing to that elusive blind-straight-male-sports-historian demographic. FUN FACT NO 2: My dad is a golf journalist, so I have an excellent store of golfing puns at the ready. I’ll get them all in during my Week 1 recap since, you know…

Partner: Aliona, unceremoniously fired after last series, now subbing for the injured Natalie Lowe and presented with a rotund, ancient golfer. Welcome back, Aliona! (And also get well soon, Nat! You’ll be sadly missed.)

Most likely to… head back to the links early on, possibly taking Brucie with him.


Abbey Clancy

abbey-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalVital stats: I hate to use the word WAG, but…. Well. Let’s just admit that not many part-time models would be considered celebrities unless their husbands happened to be footballers. Yes? Yes. (Oh, what a bumper crop this is…)

Partner: Sizzling new pro Aljaz, who we won’t objectify AT ALL. Instead, we’ll comment professionally on his experience in Burn the Floor and the interesting fact that he went to medical school. And the thought of him wielding a stethoscope does NOTHING for us. NOTHING.

Most likely to… stoke steamy showmance rumours in the press, while protesting they want to be taken seriously on the show.


Fiona Fullerton

fiona-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleVital stats: Bond girl. Vague attempt at a Len crush story. That’s all we’ve got. “I was really surprised to have Strictly approach me – I’ve been retired for years!” she said brightly in an interview. Welcome to Frantic Casting 2013, Fiona.

Partner: “Comedy” staple Anton, who looked stunned when presented with an unusually sane, elegant partner. Will he still go the “We’re laughing with you, folks!” route or actually attempt to teach?

Most likely to… make an early, graceful exit.

Vanessa Feltz

vanessa-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soVital stats: Professes to be known for her no-nonsense approach to broadcasting. Actually known for semi-psychotic meltdowns on every reality TV show known to man. Who can forget this?

Partner: James. JAMES! Excuse me while I laugh hysterically and finally acknowledge the existence of Strictly karma.

Most likely to… provide the entire series quota of backstage drama, judge spats and eye-wateringly awful performance. In the first week.


Susanna Reid

susanna-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soVital stats: Feeling the pressure of the BBC presenter legacy, past form as winner of the 2011 Children in Need Strictly special.

Partner: New pro Kevin, Grimsby’s finest. And it’s fantastic to see a British dancer among the newbies, so we’ll avoid making snide comments like noting that his gleaming northern hue is still visible beneath six layers of fake tan.

Most likely to… have a jolly good go, head for the exit around Week 5.


Dave Myers

dave-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleVital stats: Hairy, biker, chef, less of him than there was at the start of his latest reality show adventure. Potential to be this year’s Russell Grant, according to Len. (That’s a mighty feather boa to fill, say I.)

Partner: Karen, who fared well with the equally challenging Nicky Byrne last year and won the launch show’s Incredible Fake Enthusiasm award.

Most likely to… entertain for all the wrong reasons, approach the “comedy” VTs with demonic intensity.


Ben Cohen

ola-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalVital stats: Huge advantage as one of the few 2013 contestants to be a) athletic, b) pleasing to the eye, and c) easily identified without the aid of Wikipedia. Expect regular doses of jocular advice from buddies/past Strictly stars Matt Dawson and Austin Healey.

Partner: Kristina, who has another shot at the title after her Jason Donovan disappointment and another sports-star-showmance possibility following her Joe Calzaghe split.

Most likely to… impress with competitive focus in training, struggle with sequins.


Mark Benton

mark-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleVital stats: Stresses Waterloo Road role, but stealth experience touring in Hairspray, so “unlikely dark horse” narrative not out of the question. (See above re: lack of sizeable opposition.)

Partner: Newish pro Iveta, who subbed for injured Aliona last year, who in turn is now subbing for injured Natalie. Somewhere out there is a fourth-substitute female pro with steely determination and a bumper pack of voodoo dolls.

Most likely to… try to win votes with genial “Ooh err, this dancing lark, eh?” comic affability, but actually impress with commitment to performance.


All done? Yes. Finally. My god. Anyhow, now we’ve got everyone married off, it’s time for my FAVOURITE part of the entire series: the ramshackle car-crash first-glimpse-of-potential-talent group dance! Sadly, it wasn’t nearly as appalling as the Golden Age of Car-Crash Group Dances, but we could glean the following:

  • Natalie’s in a different league
  • Sophie and Rachel are beautifully ethereal when relatively still
  • Patrick has good rhythm
  • Tony’s movement is… minimalist
  • Abbey’s mastered advanced hairography
  • Susanna and Mark have the OTT faces down
  • Vanessa will kill you with her eyes

tess and bruce groupLast year, my amazing critical analysis of said group dance/wild late-night guesswork successfully predicted two finalists (Louis and Kimberley), which obviously means I’m clairvoyant, except for the fact that I also put Victoria there. But seriously, who saw that coming? NOT BRENDAN.

So, this year my pick for the final three are: bookies’ favourite Natalie and Artem, Ben and Kristina, and Ashley and Ola, plus Rachel and Pasha if we get a final four. First out: “golf legend” (oxymoron as far as I’m concerned) Tony and Aliona. Welcome back, Aliona!

Who’s your early favourite? Are you happy with the pairings? And what dances, drama, themes and challenges do you want to see this series? Leave your thoughts below.

I’m back when the action kicks off properly later this month. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was published last year in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

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