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Strictly Speaking

Posted on September 7, 2015


After seemingly decades of celebrity reveals on every BBC outlet known to man (“Now the ident hippos will announce ‘Peter Andre’ via synchronised swimming!”), Strictly has finally begun in earnest and the pairings unveiled to an eager nation. Well, ish. To address the elephantine crystal ball in the room: this wasn’t so much of a reveal as a confirmation of the Mirror’s spoilerific “astrologer” “predictions” (truly, those are the hardest-working air quotes in history). I’ve consulted my trusty psychic hole punch and can predict Pulitzers for all involved.

Waltzing into Series 13, it’s hardly surprising that contestant narratives are becoming eerily familiar, but this year’s crop – or at least the carefully calibrated “J word” intro summaries – seem particularly haunted by past celebrities. So, look out for sparkly new segment Ghostly sightings. And, of course, please welcome back…

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

“You SHALL go to the ball! In a bedazzled blue duvet cover!” Honorable mention: Claud’s combo of beach wave hair and armoured boob tube. Should you run into trouble while clubbing in Newquay.

Other highs and lows:

  • The entire David Lynch-meets-panto Brief Encounter by way of Butlins fever dream opening. I salute you, suburbia “skit” AKA contest to find the very worst actor among the pros (Pasha, always – the rest of you might as well go home); dancing in the street to, well, “Dancing in the Street”, the first of many thuddingly literal choreographic choices; and swift replacement of one scandal (filming on train previously used for porn) with another (hello, Fifties gender politics: “You stick to serving tea, little lady, while us men take care of this train business”). HIGH
  • Sub-Blind Date matchmaking. Excruciating as always. LOW
  • Annual reminder there is no colour combination that cannot be Strictlyfied – see: female pros’ red, yellow, purple and pink beribboned folk dance glories, forever seared into the retina. Also joyous: male pros forming the world’s shiniest bowling team. HIGH
  • Neither Darcey nor Tess’s feet may touch the floor this year. It’s in their contracts. Alternatively, lifts were deemed their safest contribution to the opening number – more worrying for the “dancer”… LOW
  • Meanwhile, Craig is now to be paid on a pound-per-pirouette basis (and/or those new hips are stuck on the “Rotate” function), while Len has discovered Dickens’ Wikipedia page and is punning accordingly. These are hard times. LOW
  • Ghostly sighting: Ramps and Karen Hardy’s cha cha with “Let’s Get Loud”, but shockingly no pat-a-cake. Opportunity. Missed. LOW
  • Darcey already declaring this Year of the Man, while on the lookout for a new crush to lavish her breathy “This is not just perving. This is M&S perving” praise upon. (Duck and cover, Anthony.) HIGH
  • Strictly, like an ageing relative scrambling to keep up with da kidz, has recently discovered “Uptown Funk”, Jess Glynne (here attired in the Black Swan version of the glitterball trophy), and, err, return musical guest Gregory Porter (“Why hasn’t he taken his hat off? He won’t feel the benefit”). MISS
  • Accompanying those bold choices: limp glimpses of Latin and – gasp! – some actual ballroom in hold, the latter courtesy of Brendan in tails and his harem. Of course, he’s never fantasised about this exact scenario following a series of unfortunate “accidents” eliminating all other male pros. Not AT ALL. HIT
  • Caroline Flack returned to show us that…well, she was very good last year. Really. I know it’s hard to believe on the basis of that…salsa? Gradual descent into existential despair?…but hey. At least she brought great wisdom for our current contestants AKA a world record number of reality TV clichés packed into 10 seconds and the bleak reminder that the best case scenario is standing on the sidelines of a fading show with Olly Murs. Welcome back! MISS
  • Good news: we have new pros – Gleb (franchise veteran, too sexy for his shirt; Ghostly sighting: Artem), Oti (the show’s first black pro, already a strong presence) and Giovanni (more Italian than Bruno’s mamma’s lasagne; Ghostly sighting: Vincent). Bad news: introduced via budget superheroes VT and try-hard Strictly: After Dark! rock number: White Stripes, Goth exotic dancer styling, the entire series’ smoke budget. We’re on BBC teatime, guys. Let’s not embarrass everyone by trying to be rebels. HIT/MISS
  • Claudia is back, and so are slyly mocking gems like this, to our boxer: “I like the fact you just used the word ‘superlatives’. Well done.” HIT

And now let’s meet the class of 2015… 

Ainsley Harriott

ainsely-harriott-natalie-lowe-credit-bbc-guy-levysimply so soVital stats Who knew about the Calypso Twins? And has anyone else been watching this on a disbelieving loop for 24 hours? Get out on the streets! Oh yes – also cooking. Ghostly sighting: will he sink to Gary Rhodes or Gregg Wallace levels? The hole punch remains silent.

Partner Alas, poor ringer-less Natalie.

Most likely to… Win coded praise for “natural rhythm”; wear even more shirts Maria Von Trapp fashioned out of Liberace’s shower curtains.   



Iwan Thomas

iwan-thomas-ola-jordan-credit-bbc-guy-levysimply so soVital stats Runner/aspiring stripper; about as attention-averse as Katie Hopkins; personality already equivalent to drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth. Ghostly sighting: similarly stag do-minded Gavin Henson.

Partner Ola, immediately upended by Iwan, leaving her in one of her “tasteful” calendar states of undress. Bodes well.

Most likely to… Sport matching thongs by Week 3.

Jay McGuiness

jay-mcguinness-aliona-vilani-credit-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleVital stats The one who made no impression in that boyband you’ve already forgotten. What a booking! Sports either a marvellous man bun or Mick Hucknall wig; so cripplingly shy it seems unlikely he can even leave the house, let alone participate in any form of public entertainment. What a booking!

Partner Aliona, who’s been sporting her “Another geriatric no-hoper! I’M THRILLED!” sarky smile for so long, she’s forgotten how to express human joy.

Most likely to… Spend a morning with an acting coach learning how to embody a three-legged rabbit trapped in a box.

Jeremy Vine

jeremy-vine-karen-hauer-credit-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleVital stats Might there be some sort of pun involving his election coverage swingometer and a dance style? MIGHT THERE? Family prop points for swiftly referenced daughters; already shipping him and his sparkly top hat.

Partner Karen. The Strictly gods have not forgotten Mark Wright. Their judgement is swift and merciless.

Most likely to… Make so many bad jokes that even Tess starts to get antsy.

Helen George

helen-george-aljaz-skorjanec-credit-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalVital stats Let the Ringer Race 2015 commence! Contender No.1: the Call the Midwife star owning her Sylvia Young heritage by mentioning a childhood bedroom plastered with Darcey posters. Take that, Week 7 Daily Mail “SHE’S A FRAUD!” scoop. Ghostly sightings: ye olde ringers, still haunted by that shock exit.

Partner Aljaž, aiming for his second trophy in three years. (A reminder: Anton has been on the show for 300 years.)

Most likely to… Chuck Darcey-baiting ballet moves into everything on their way to the final.


jamelia-tristan-macmanus-credit-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalVital stats “Most people know me from my song ‘Superstar’.” Keep telling yourself that, love. Ringer Contender No.2; Family prop points for handily photogenic daughters; has never had an unexpressed thought. Ghostly sightings: similarly gregarious washed-up pop star Alesha and bemused Matthew Cutler.

Partner Tristan, who didn’t manage to get in a single word. And never will again.

Most likely to… Lip sync while dancing (some habits are hard to break); make it to the final two.

Georgia May Foote

georgia-may-foot-and-giovanni-pernice-credit-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalVital stats Couldn’t pick her out of a soapy line-up? No matter: she’s already dished up her J word in handy bite-size pieces. She’s the youngest (YOUNGEST) and people see her as a girl (YOUNGEST) but she wants to be thought of as a woman (YOUNGEST). Also Northern, in case that garners the odd vote. Ringer Contender No.3; Ghostly sightings: major Vincent and Louisa Lytton vibes.

Partner Giovanni (YOUNGEST), this year’s recipient of the Bruce Forsyth Memorial Comedy Foreigner Prize.

Most likely to… Start strong and face a shock dance-off mid-series.

Kirsty Gallacher

kirsty-gallacher-brendan-cole-credit-bbc-guy-levysimply so soVital stats Yes, she’s a sportsperson and sportspeople are competitive and of course she loves being the best, but not as much as HAVING FUN! She’s totally chill, guys! Life of the party! I mean, not the kind of party where people can ignore drinks coasters or play silly games without a clear winner, but still… Rebranding! Woo! Ghostly sighting: hello, Gabby Logan 2.0.

Partner Reformed uber-competitive Brendan. Watch him backslide at double speed.

Most likely to… Inspire a thousand think pieces about double standards for overtly competitive men and women.



Anthony Ogogo


anthony-ogogo-otlile-mabuse-credit-bbc-guy-levysimply so soVital stats Injured his shoulder, so naturally a strenuous televised dance competition was what the doctor ordered. And by “doctor” I mean “agent” and by “ordered” I mean “waved cheque around madly while mentally upping the fee for future metrosexual modelling gigs”. Ghostly sighting: let us take a moment to remember the cautionary tale of Joe Calzaghe.

Partner “Hi, Oti, welcome to the show. Have a one-armed boxer!”

Most likely to… Mention the injury regularly en route to a respectable top half finish.

Daniel O’Donnell

daniel-odonnell-kristina-rihanoff-credit-bbc-guy-levysimply so soVital stats The size of Daniel’s fanbase cannot be overstated. You are never more than six feet from a Daniel devotee. Or is that rats? Other blessings include : ringer-lite dance experience; Irish vote; Catholic vote; granny vote; smile and hair both remain unmoving in a stiff breeze; dead behind the eyes like a shark.

Partner Kristina, getting a welcome tabloid breather.

Most likely to… Extend the running time of each show by about 20 minutes while royally waving to his fans.

Peter Andre

peter-andre-janette-manrara-credit-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalVital stats Reality TV in human form. Family prop points instantly for cute kids; quick flash of the “Mysterious Girl” abs; gives Mr Vine a run for his money in the terrible jokes department. Also the early favourite and Ringer Contender No.4.

Partner Janette. But he wanted Anton! Not this year, mate. (For my thoughts on Strictly same-sex pairings, see our October issue.)

Most likely to… Earn more Family prop points than the rest of the cast combined; reach the final two.

Anita Rani

anita-rani-gleb-savchenko-credit-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalVital stats Just days ago, Anita was some unfortunate exclaiming over cow dung on Countryfile. Now, she is the voice of a nation. “I’m not sure how he’s going to teach me to dance, because I can’t actually look at his face,” she sensibly explained when told that smouldering hunk of Gleb would be partnering her. Ghostly sightings: designated tomboys like Caroline Flack. (By “tomboy”, we mean “Doesn’t yet have their own line of organic lip gloss”.)

Partner Aforementioned hunk of burning Gleb.

Most likely to… Be this year’s Jeremy Corbyn AKA surprise package.

Kellie Bright

kellie-bright-kevin-clifton-credit-guy-levystruggles sparkleVital stats Welcome back, hoary “The one part I’m scared of playing IS MYSELF” nervous soap actress storyline. Ghostly sightings: Patsy Kensit et al. Ringer in theory with Sylvia Young on the CV; gets in the demanding work schedule excuse early; exhibits the jittery energy of one mentally counting her remaining diazepam pills.

Partner Kevin, who is apparently her parents’ favourite. Just what every bloke wants to hear. “He’s never been in a dance-off!” points out Claud. Kellie openly weeps.

Most likely to… Provide a solid couple of episodes for Strictly’s more sadistic viewers. (Hi!)

Katie Derham

katie-derham-anton-du-beke-credit-bbc-guy-levysimply so soVital stats The doyen of the Proms is clearly a cuts-deflecting fembot developed in a BBC lab to hit David Cameron’s naughty-but-nice, oh-so-middle-class sweet spot. Family prop points for marginally embarrassed but jolly supportive daughters, one sporting an on-trend circle scarf. YOUR MOVE, DAVE.

Partner Anton, still in the throes of a wild dancegasm since this one can actually count!

Most likely to… Hear the words “class” and “lady” regularly; be felled by Latin. See also: Ghostly sighting Cherie Lunghi.

Carol Kirkwood

carol-kirkwood-pasha-kovalev-credit-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleVital stats Forecast: enough terrible weather jokes to make the Met Office think they’re better off out of it. If things get desperate (AKA Week 1), we may also get a visit from the Ghosts of BBC Breakfast Champions Past, much as we’d all like to pretend Chris Hollins never happened.

Partner Last year’s winner Pasha. His lips say “Fantastic!”, his eyes say “Taxi!”

Most likely to… Draw Craig’s 3 paddle and the series’ first “disaaaaahster”.




Group dance

group-shot-credit-bbc-guy-levyThis is, of course, the highlight of the series, though there’s been disappointingly little carnage over the past couple of years. Instead, it’s become a good barometer of performance (I mean, not tabloid “astrologer” good, but for us mere mortals…). To that end:

  • Jamelia, Peter and Helen cement their favourite status
  • Anthony has hit the free bar and is ready to get this wedding disco started
  • Kirsty attacks every move with the determination of one nearing the end of an SAS assault course
  • Ainsley puts the “flan” in “flamboyant”. (I know, I know. I stole it from Len)
  • Katie tends to prance like a particularly graceful dressage pony
  • Jeremy gives major Blue Steel
  • Jay’s captors have told him they will release his family unharmed if he just raises his right arm. Now his left. Stay with us, Jay
  • Georgia is locked in mortal combat with the beat
  • Carol is having a WONDERFUL time, and really that’s all that matters

What do you think? Are you happy with the pairings? Who’s your pick for the trophy? 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 25. In the meantime…keep dancing!

Simon Oliver has been production editor of Dancing Times since 2010 and is highly experienced in design across print and online magazine production. Throughout his career, Simon has worked on a diverse range of subjects including music, family history, book collecting and poker.

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