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Strictly speaking

Posted on September 8, 2014


group-pic-low res-It’s been a turbulent summer. Warring nations. Deadly disease. Ferocious independence debates. And, of course, a luxuriously bearded baking hipster getting a bit cross with someone from the WI. But fear not, morose nation! Strictly is back, and we can all now join together in admiration of the human body’s ability to turn, leap, shimmy and somehow survive the application of several thousand tonnes of fake tan.

But first, some awkward business. The doctor said it was best to humour him until the meds kicked in, and at least he’s stopped insisting the aliens are coming to get him. Yes, gone but not… gone, Brucie dropped in to remind us that the BBC doesn’t just schedule wildly overlong shows in order to screw Simon Cowell, but because it takes a full 85 minutes for our erstwhile ex-presenter to stutter his way towards a punchline. (Number of times it’s been worth the wait: -2.) “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” has never sounded so threatening.

Winners of the interminable Bruce-led Charlie’s Angels opening skit/manic group boogie: the Downton Abbey cast-off-costume supply service; Janette, giving excellent crazy eyes during the oh-so-smooth taped-to-live transition; Bruno, somehow managing to stir a cuppa salaciously; Pasha’s gloriously terrible acting ALWAYS. Losers: our poor pros forced into some kind of camp haka on the constricting red carpet; Craig, experiencing Phantom Sense of Rhythm Syndrome. Wading ahead into crazy/genius territory, the Strictly wardrobe department ALWAYS. (Enough tinsel fringe to smother a spruce meets Grease’s finest resident bowling team. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.)

And now to the return of our regular programming – plus a new addition…

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Satin asymmetrical gown, both juvenile (hint of sailor dress) and weirdly suggestive (unfortunate puckering).

WinkleFringe Watch
It has its own Twitter account, and now a section in this blog! What times we live in! This week, like Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, Claudia’s fringe is glossy, earnest and permanently parted.

tess-and-claudia-low res-Presenter drama and Strictly Blind Date coupling aside, the launch show offered its usual blend of sparkly highs and “Fine, I’ll go make tea. And then do the dishes. And then write an epic poem. And then make sense of Alex Salmond’s entire economic strategy. OH GOD, ARE THEY STILL SINGING?” lows.
• Len is now completely open about his 12-series bias towards sportsmen. He loves a big burly rugby bloke and he doesn’t care who knows it. You tell ’em, Len! HIGH
• Bargain-basement Crocodile Dundee throwing accidental shade at all of Ola’s former partners with “Hey, she can make anyone look good!” Cruel but fair. HIGH
• Ola herself spending several weeks deliberately trolling the producers, criticising salaries and – with no irony. NONE – excess fake tan and skimpy outfits. Ola, queen of the mahogany glaze, eye-watering catsuit and soft-porn swimsuit calendars. And then landing a halfway decent partner. IS THERE NO JUSTICE? LOW
• Claudia’s paso face. It is the best. HIGH
• Claudia’s ironic delivery of woeful links. It is even better. HIGH
• Warbling sixth-formers styled by short-sighted trainees at Romford’s Toni & Guy. LOW
• Karen and Kevin From Grimsby accompanying said aural torture with wafty contemporary, mainly composed of Karen slumped despondently on the floor. Mind you, the poor woman does have ears… LOW
• Claudia and Tess on a tandem. YES. Commission a whole series of this immediately. No excuses. YOU GAVE US TUMBLE. Also: The Bling Cycle. Just saying. HIGH
• “Yah” is back. Oh, Darcey. I’m not angry – just disappointed. LOW
• Abbey and Aljaž are still Jolie/Pitt levels of absurdly beautiful. Abbey still cannot do a heel lead to save her life. Overall LOW
• In casual group dance training, amidst a sea of sweaty tracksuits, Iveta rocks the slashed leopard-print mini, because of course she does. Iveta FTW. HIGH
• New pro Joanne (ballroom showdance champion, sister of Kevin From Grimsby) is bubbly and adorable. New pro Tristan (veteran of Dancing with the Stars) juxtaposes manly man tattooed guns with an oh-so-tender Irish lilt. He’s basically a walking romance novel. HIGH
• New pro Trent (Aussie, came through official feeder school Burn The Floor) looks disconcertingly like a roasted Ken doll. LOW
• New pros introduced via weird stilted solos in the middle of a disco mosh pit. “Welcome to Strictly! Our logic does not resemble your Earth logic!” LOW
• Smokey Robinson, wearing the transplanted face of a backing singer who cheeked him back in 1992. Imelda May, winning all the awards for not freaking the hell out while singing inches away from it. Our pros cha cha cha-ing dressed as tropical birds (girls) and Mormon missionaries (guys). I spent most of the time trying to figure out which female pro was which, because we now have a BILLION blondes. It’s all gone a bit Hitchcock. LOW
• One group dance with some actual ballroom and slick lifts. Minor issue: girls wearing extra-long fringe with the colour and consistency of rotting pond algae. Overall HIGH

But enough distractions. It’s time to meet – and instantly judge, for that is our right as faithful AKA snarky viewers – the stars of our show…


Greg Wallace
aliona and greg-low res- 1struggles sparkleVital stats: The one off MasterChef whose slavering devotion to puddings hints at undisclosed childhood trauma, possibly involving home invasion and a Bakewell tart. Made the mistake of judging Craig on a celeb special and now sleeps with a carving knife under his pillow.
Partner: A very grumpy Aliona. Her terrible poker face is a perpetual joy.
Most likely to… Give us a couple of weeks of Aliona pole-dancing around a human egg.


Jake Wood
jake and janette-low res-simply so soVital stats: The requisite EastEnders refugee. Doesn’t want people to refer to him by his character’s name. That won’t be an issue for 99 per cent of the Strictly viewing audience. Early play for shameless Family prop points.
Partner: Janette, who is far better at feigning enthusiasm than Aliona. Or at least louder.
Most likely to… Charm with some bloke-y ballroom before falling victim to the samba in Week 5.


Steve Backshall
steve and ola-low res-simply so soVital stats: Dives with sharks. Wrestles with snakes. And risks the apathy of an adult voting public by doing all of that on CBBC. It was nice knowing you, Steve!
Partner: Ola, visibly thrilled not to be axed on live TV.
Most likely to… Suffer animal-themed choreography, styling, music and judging puns before a respectable mid-series exit.



Thom Evans

thom and iveta-low res- 1strictly sensationalVital stats: The latest in the long line of rugby hunks squeezed into Lycra (god bless you, Strictly), not averse to a spot of nude modelling (god bless you, Strictly), brief spell in the world’s worst boyband.THEY SUPPORTED MCFLY.
Partner: Iveta. World domination right on schedule.
Most likely to… Get many votes while wearing very little, endure panting Bruno “ball handling” innuendo.

Caroline Flack

caroline and pasha-low res-strictly sensationalVital stats: Presenter of truly appalling reality TV companion shows, collector of famous Harrys (Prince, Styles), won BBC Three’s Dancing on Wheels, so there’s our first RINGER KLAXON.
Partner: The ever-lovely Pasha.
Most likely to… Follow the traditional “Oh gosh I’m really no good at doing sexy, oh wait it turns out I am!” Dirty Dancing-esque female celeb J word, all the way to the final.

Jennifer Gibney
jennifer and tristan-low res-simply so soVital stats: Her husband plays her mother on Mrs Brown’s Boys. Can we please take a moment to acknowledge this frankly alarming fact? IS THE WORLD NOT A DARK ENOUGH PLACE ALREADY?
Partner: Fellow Emerald Isle resident Tristan, who could not have looked more delighted. Then again, he’s partnered Pamela Anderson and Nancy Grace on DWTS, so he’s probably just relieved to dance with someone a) sane and b) possessing an actual soul.
Most likely to… Debut a Charleston/Riverdance mash-up in Musicals Week and actually BREAK LEN.


Pixie Lott
pixie and trent-low res-strictly sensationalVital stats: Waning pop career, a personality so muted she’s inspired a Farrow & Ball off-white skirting-board paint, went to Italia Conti but absolutely DID NOT learn any ballroom during her (ahem) professional dance training. Well, maybe just a bit of waltz, but that’s only because she tripped and fell into a double-reverse spin with throwaway oversway and the big boys made me do it and, oh yeah, RINGER KLAXON.
Partner: Bleached-blonde Trent, who looks disturbingly like her long-lost brother.
Most likely to… Get consistently good scores, land in a shock dance-off.


Simon Webbe

simon and kristina-low res-strictly sensationalVital stats: Went from Blue to a failed solo career to Eurovision to… talking about Blue. “We’re not really renowned for our dancing,” he yelled over the blare of the RINGER KLAXON. Nor for their singing, come to that. Nor “renowned”. But, you know, Series 12. And, err, times are tough. COST OF LIVING CRISIS, PEOPLE!
Partner: Kristina. Surprising given that she had the (theoretical) choice partner last year in the form of Ben Cohen.
Most likely to… Peak early, battle for a final place.


Tim Wonnacott
tim and natalie-low res-simply so soVital stats: This year’s antique contestant, weirdly proud of the Bargain Hunt slo-mo cancan, more sweetly wants to learn to dance for his wife and shows promising ability to banter with Claudia.
Partner: Natalie. Poor Natalie. Oh Strictly gods, can ye not be merciful?
Most likely to… Coast on feel-good comedy factor for a few weeks, auction off Brucie’s jokes for £26.99.


Scott Mills

scott and joanne-low res-simply so soVital stats: Radio 1 DJ, self-proclaimed klutz, impressively awful in Let’s Dance for Sport Relief. In launch outfit, resembled an insurance salesman halfway through a tacky stag night. Does not bode well.
Partner: New girl Joanne. She probably hoped for better, but should at least make a decent impression with a superfan partner.
Most likely to… Charm us with earnest ballroom, scar us with woeful Latin.

Mark Wright
mark and karen-low res-struggles sparkleVital stats: Famous (“famous”) for appearing on The Only Way Is Essex. BBC, this is surely one of the signs of the apocalypse. I want my licence fee refunded.
Partner: Karen, amusingly flummoxed by his assessment of her as patient and gentle. Clearly Mark is unfamiliar with the show. And with irony.
Most likely to… Turn the raunch factor up to 11 – to Bruno’s delight and the Daily Mail‘s horror, meander off the reservation during a theme week.


Alison Hammond
000alison and aljaz-low res-simply so soVital stats: Offering the most vocal celebration of “real women” since that last Dove ad, has turned a stint on Big Brother into some kind of celebrity-by-association career via This Morning and a never-ending parade of dismal C-list reality shows.
Partner: Last year’s winner Aljaž, as is only right and fair.
Most likely to… Turn in a series of increasingly OTT performances until the public tires of her. And/or Abbey returns to the studio and bundles Aljaž into the trunk of her car.


Judy Murray
judy and anton-low res1-simply so soVital stats: Coach, proud mum of Andy and the-one-who’s-not-quite-as-famous-as-Andy, hopes Strictly will show she’s not over-competitive, bossy or any other adjective disapprovingly employed by the tabloids. FUN FACT: this would not be necessary if she were male.
Partner: Disappointingly, Anton – she’ll turn out some pleasant ballroom with him but dodgy Latin, and won’t make it as far partnered by Strictly‘s resident ham.
Most likely to… Endure 3,489 tennis gags, be the subject of editorials about flying the flag for older women, last till Week 7.


Sunetra Sarker
00suneter-and-brendan-low res-simply so soVital stats: Show of hands: who knew they still made Casualty? Anyone? Bueller? Yup, me neither. Well, anyway, she plays a doctor (?) who…argues with paramedics (??) and has a turbulent romance (???) after watching a rebellious blind foster child fall off a precarious playground swing (????). Cute nephew: early Family prop points.
Partner: Brendan AKA Former Bad Boy of Ballroom AKA Yes Less Bullish But Now Displays Suspiciously Cult-like Total Serenity.
Most likely to… Meander through the middle of the pack, be totally forgotten by November.


Frankie Bridge

frankie and kevin-low res-strictly sensationalVital stats: Enduring culture contribution through not just the Saturdays, but also S Club Juniors (what are you waiting for, Liz? Dame Frankie, I say!), newly WAG-ed, not about to trouble Mensa. Oh yes, and obvious RINGER KLAXON.
Partner: Kevin From Grimsby, rewarded after his strong debut last year.
Most likely to… Ease through the pretty/sexy styles, come unstuck on tango or paso.


Group dance
Everyone’s favourite part: the drunken-wedding-disco-utter-car-crash group dance! Important revelations included:
• Caroline is promising, but far too timid
• Judy doesn’t so much smile as employ a rictus grimace promising bloody revenge for those who dare criticise her
• Alison is a force of nature
• Tim, Scott and Gregg are in a three-way battle for Most White British Rhythm-challenged Contestant Ever

After careful analysis/consulting the ballroom oracles/hurling names in the air and seeing which ones land nearest my keyboard (bad luck, Steve – you headed straight for the bin), I am ready to make the following final predications: Tasty Thom, Simon, Frankie and Caroline, with Tasty Thom taking the glitterball. Seriously, this is utter guesswork and I am never right. Do not put money on it. Or if you do, don’t blame me if you lose it. Or if you win big, send me a cut. I really need to top up my Oyster card.

What do you think? Who’s your early favourite? Are you happy with the pairings? And what dances, themes and challenges do you want – or not want – to see this year? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain 

I shall return when the competition begins in earnest on September 26. 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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