We were cruising around Lake Geneva in August. The Alps were alpine, high and mighty, the peaks dusted in snow, nice top, the water still, deep, blue, the air warm, temperate, our bodies recovering from Lord Ted’s 50th the night before. Ice creams were three Swiss Euros, lagers four; we were grateful that grandma got the round in. And we toyed with famous names, word play, banter, rhymes, association, me, ma, Loopy, Fatty, Lord Ted, together for a full weekend for the first time in 13 years. As the Bank Holiday drew to an end summer was arriving at its terminal; the countdown to Christmas had begun.
There was much to look forward to. The return to Blighty, to Juddge Lulu, to a bed that didn’t creak, to a flat with soundproofing, to cheaper beer, to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, to a few singing shows, and the dance floor was itching, needing a scratch, for summer is a quiet season in the land of the glitter ball. Lola was off, preparing for motherhood, The Salsa Shed dusty, soon to be feathered down again, The Ranch boarded up, the recession murdering the dance floor.
And a week on Friday Strictly would be back, hosted by a Knight of the Realm for the first time. Sir Bruce. A late accolade. Too late. Deserved and cherished.
That was three weeks ago when Strictly 2011 was kicked off, when pairs were announced, when the celebrities were revealed. I say celebrities. I’m not sure what passes for a celebrity these days. But suffice to say we were told without a hint of disbelief, or a thought for those previously involved, that it is the best ever line upp. The best ever. Five star. Even without me and Billy Travolta. A ratings winner for sure.
The smart and the anal amongst you will notice my deliberate usage in the last paragraph. Yup, it’s a cut and paste from last year because that’s exactly what was said then. Word for word. You’re never sure if the writers do it on purpose, or whether it’s just marketing hype; only the coming months will reveal if the class of 11 can live up to the standards set by Pammie, Kara, Matt and Scott.
This year there are again 14 cupples, 7 celebrities of each gender, 23 to 64 years old, the winner unlikely to carry a bus pass. Here they are.
Edwina Currie, née Cohen, tops the age list at 64, a former MP famous for salmonella and for having an affair with another MP. In her post-Westminster career she has been a self-publicist and a writer, her novels containing graphic sex, scenes that one can only imagine were born in reality. Enough to put you off your eggs.
Anita Dobson is described as the Queen of Soaps having played Angie Watts on EastEnders back in the 80s. She was in the show for 3 years. 23 years ago. A short reign then. She left when her hair was entwined with that of her partner, Brian May, a guitarist.
Lulu Kennedy-Cairns OBE, not to be confused with Juddge Lulu, is famous for acting and singing, and claiming to have won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1969. That was the year that the title was split four ways, France, Spain and The Netherlands equalling the points awarded to the UK. I guess she kept the trophy for three months.
Russell Grant, star gazer and multi-millionaire, claims to have lost ten stone in weight since he was approached to be in the show. Looking at him it’d be difficult to tell. Medics will be on hand when he attempts the more aerobic dances.
Chief satirist and the finest mimic of his generation, the Scot, Rory Bremner will add grace and humour to the show.
For no other reason the New Yorker Nancy Dell’Olio is famous because she dated the manager of the England team, a celebrity by association, that’d be football association. There is no truth in the rumour that she is the long lost mother of the former England rugby captain Laurence Dell’Oglio.
Neighbours supplies two contestants, Kylie’s ex, one time coke head, his words, not mine, Jason Donovan is one of them. A singer, actor, used to a coat of many colours, he will be in the mix come Christmas.
Someone that won’t be is Olympic Gold Medallist boxer, Audley Harrison. Back in 2000 in Sydney the super heavyweight division was his oyster, a black pearl. The professional ranks have proved more problematic for the spent force, sorry A-Force, adverts are now found on the soles of his size 17 shoes.
GMTV supply a former tennis player, UK ranked 18th, famous for once having beaten Tim Henman, their super-tall, confident, charming sports editor, Dan Lobb.
On the radio and TV Robert William ‘Lily’ Savage provides expert punditry on soccer. A former Premiership journeyman of a player with a good engine and a short fuse, yellow cards aplenty, Robbie was never far away from controversy. He was even further away from silverware.
The One Show is the grown up version of Blue Peter and its former host Christine Bleakley did okay on Strictly in 2008 before she started courting that bloke from Chelsea. When she left (The One Show) she was replaced by a lookalike with a squeaky voice and a heaving bosom. Alex Jones.
Another slipping into the world of curvitude is the other Neighbour, Holly Valance, singer, (remember that hit ‘Kiss, Kiss’?), actress, a Kiwi with an English mother and a Serbian father. Her real surname is Vukadinovic.
Harry Judd, the drummer with pop band McFly can boast 7 number ones, six more than Holly. He’s not the most famous drummer ever – Cozy Powell, Ringo, Fat Phil – but timing shouldn’t be an issue.
The bayba of the group is 23 year old Mancunian actress Chelsee Healey, daughter of Austin, an actress from Waterloo Road, a dysfunctional version of Grange Hill. She was delighted to be invited on Strictla, a chance to miss school, another with a heavy chest, a challenge for the costume department if not a surgeon.
So there you have them. There has been one change in the professional ranks, Jared Murillo, American, being replaced by Siberian Pasha Kovalev, more proof that there are no male professional ballroom dancers in the UK. Can’t be any girls either. Let me know when you spot one on our screen. This really is one of the show’s greatest failings.
There have been no changes to the line up of juddgies. Craig Revel Horwood has again been appointed pantomime dame, sorry, villain, straight into character, mean, moody, acerbic, unforgiving. Len Goodman, the only person other than a candle maker who uses the word wick, rightly heads the panel, Alice Dixon adds the beauty, and Bruno Tonioli the voice, a man who sometimes needs reminding that the show is not just about him.
The first weekend showcased all fourteen cupples doing either a Waltz or a Cha, no one leaving for a week, points scored carried forwards, the de-selection process starting for proper in October,
Let’s take a look at the Cha. Or not as the case may be.
It’s time that there were some rules on this show, a bit like ice-skating and dressage where certain figures are compulsory. We’ve had eight Chas and already the search for basic steps has begun. It is as disgraceful as it is frustrating and as you may have guessed, annoying. Adding content, simple content, content that beginners can do, would enhance the show, it would showcase dancing rather than demean it, the current status quo. Why do they do it? Who decides? The dancers? The producers? Either way, they have got it wrong, so wrong.
Holly Valance has been paired with last year’s winner Artem Chigvintsev, R-Tem, and she scored 28 points in spite of her poor lines, weak leg extensions, variable transition steps and the aforementioned lack of content. Step repetition raised its head – in the first dance of the show – and that is as scary as being first upp. I’ve seen aerobic classes better than this.
The legend that is Lulu has had three weeks to get ready to mess up and she duly obliged. You almost couldn’t invent it. Brendan Cole, her papally clad partner, looked great and danced well. He remembered all his steps, she forgot most of hers and the plane crash followed, a sad indictment of her preparation, if there has been any. Seventeen points was generous.
Robert ‘Lily’ Savage paired with Ola/O-la/Olla Jordan, no relation to big Joe, suffered from a lack of content in an aggressive routine dominated by hair, hers and his. Plenty of fights for the straighteners in that dressing room. Ola has been guilty of not giving her celebrity enough to do in past shows and she continued the trend. 19 and not good. Robbie, you are formally invited to the Travolta School of Dance for private lessons.
With the defibrillator plugged in at stage side Russell Grant, looking like a plumped up Keith Barron, minced his way to 21 points even though all eyes were on that great violinist Flavia Cacache, a beauty to turn any girl. I’m told that a lesbian would want to rip her clothes off with their teeth. Makes me a lesbian too.
As previously mentioned our drummer boy Harry Judd has great timing and he showed that in his first dance. We too had to count the beat given that the choreography didn’t highlight it. Alioni Vilani, his professional partner, is in her third series and at Christmas the clever money says that she will be in with a great chance of winning this competition. 28 and comfortable. His points not age and lifestyle.
James Jordan, professional dancer and one time bad boy – image created – has turned into a nice boy learning that you catch more flies and contracts with sugar than vinegar. And how Alex Jones loved it. Sexy, teasing, playful, flirty, she enjoyed the friction, the odd bit of frottage, an illegal lift and 22 points.
One of the best pairings is Edwina Currie and Vincent Simone; that relieves the stress on the rest of the population immensely. Dancing to a classic Jive song (God bless you Jerry) this Cha had some basics but not enough dancing. Craig scored a 2, his third of the night, a miser, yet a point higher than a later Waltz.
The last Cha, the 8th from 14, went to Jason Donovan and Kristina Rihanoff, and this routine topped to pops for the night with 32 points. With his experience of the West End Jason strutted with confidence, good feet, nice timing and a fun display. But the finery wasn’t there. A weak, sagging top line points to the gym. Fingers, hands and arms were as refined as crude oil.
The first thing that you notice about Dan Lobb is his size. Big feet, big bloke, if things go badly at GMTV he could get a job as a security guard in Sainsbury’s. The Waltz is a dance that demands grace, elegance and charm and Dan and Katya Vershilas had this aplenty. He too though had first dance nerves and little sophistication, the sophistication that comes with rise and fall, with sway and knowing when to relax and release the stiffness. 24 points was a safe start.
My favourite Aussie Natalie Lowe has been allocated Audley Harrison and on first glance she looks like she has a tough ask on her hands to progress far into this contest, 20 points not scaring the leaderboard. Craig called his hands spatulistic, Len thought it charming. Bruno said it was light and graceful. Alice wasn’t troubled by Bruce for her views. Audley took the criticism on the chin. Just like his boxing.
Anita Dobson and Robin Windsor produced a twee Waltz, 28 points, nice to watch if not a touch sickly, something that you might think easy for someone that studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. An Olivier nominated actress, an early dark horse.
A point behind was Rory Bremner and my favourite Kiwi Erin Boag, sadly still married and thus ineligible to do the washing up at Travolta Towers. Rory focussed on his heel leads, a face akin to Roland Rat or was it Blair, frozen, botoxed, and he too added panache to the parade. But here was another consumed by fear and nerves, no surprise. When he relaxes the gapping will disappear and a glint will appear in the Bremner eye.
By the looks of things Pasha Kovalev hasn’t read the Waltz rule book. He and Chelsee Healey were supposed to Waltz but what they produced was more of an American Smooth, a hybrid, half in hold, half out, some moves testing her core balance, some wobbles from her, 27 matching Rory. It was an encouraging start from her, and hopefulla she can build on this.
Anton du Beke, real name Anthony Smith of Bristol, you are accused of routine repetition, poor comedy and using the same storyline as you used with Ann Widdecombe last year. How do you plead? Guilty, milord.
The start of the dancing was delayed, Nancy Dell’Olio playing hard to get, before she succumbed to his charms only for her to trip up over her feather boa, or was it an ostrich, while they were in hold, entangled, powerless. The routine was ruined, the prop winning the day, Anthony embarrassed, adding a sympathetic illegal lift, Craig reaching for the ‘1’ paddle, his lowest of the weekend, Nancy favourite now to return to relative obscurity next week.
What a weekend, a blur of nerves, colour, music, gaiety, the Knight on top form, relaxed, chilled even, the hostess, Tess ‘Twice’ Daly, half wearing one outfit, cavorting in a curtain for another, Alice beautiful, especially her verb conjugation, Dave Arch and his singers on fine form, refreshed after their break in the Cayman Islands, the frocks and outfits stunning, the balance right, the status quo as it should be. Cue satisfied smile.
One word of warning though to the male celebs who wax their chests. When a juddge says ‘nice cleavage’ just be wary that such a throwaway comment might not be in jest.
Just a thought.
October 3rd 2011