In the world of the PLC, autumn is a heady time. It is a time of budgeting, the big push for the end of the year, talks of restructuring and it is a very twitchy time for middle and senior management. Whilst September sees the highest birth rate following the Christmas rush the autumn is when many executives discover whether they are in the plans for next year, whether they have to relocate, or whether they have to get back to writing their CV and pop down to the Job Centre Plus. October is the worst. It is not pleasant.
In the world of Strictly the same can be said of the spring.
Whilst the celebs are shortlisted, interviewed and tested for suitability, the judggies and the professionals wait to see if their contracts are to be renewed and no one is safe. Previous winners have been binned at will. God rest Darren Bennett and Lilia Copalotofher. Whatever happened to Karen Hardy? The Cutlers? Ali Bastion’s Bryan Fortuna? The scary Camilla Dallerup? (Anyone who scares James Martin can be truly labelled scary.) Or the sultry Katya Vershilas? And we all remember Arlene. And Juddge Alice. I wonder where she is now?
And this year it is no different. There has been a veritable cull. So who has gone I hear you ask…
The first to hit the bumpers was 2011 winner Aliona Vilani only to get a reprieve when Natalie Lowe, Australia’s finest beauty therapist, hurt her foot and is out for the season. The Ruskie redhead lives to fight another day but her card has been well and truly marked for 2014.
Erin Boag, Antony Smith of Bristol’s professional dance partner, declined a new contract, her website says. Her decision was written softly, without any anger, graceful to the end. This means she was binned. My guess is that she may be planning a family. Antony remains, one of the few who have been with us since the start of this rollercoaster in 2005. No prizes if you can name the others.
Many girls have a crush on Flavia Cacarchase and looking at her you can understand why. Mesmerically beautiful, diminutive, a core as hard as steel, the finest female technician of the Argentine Tango in the world. This year the only way you can see young Cacucaracha is by watching her on stage, either in ‘Midnight Tango’, the sell-out sensation from the West End, or her new skit, ‘Dance ‘Til Dawn,’ opening in a theatre near you in January 2014. She will be sadly missed but there is more money on the road than on the show. Her profile is super high now, thanks to Strictly, and there is talk that Broadway beckons.
Her partner, Vincent Simon and Son, has gone with her. He will be less missed.
The departures open doors for fresh blood; I shall introduce each in turn with their celebrity partner. I should add too that one named replacement, Emma Slater, one of the few Brits in the mix, (‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’) got a better offer from the States’ version of Strictly. She too opted for the loot and is now resident in downtown LA.
Each spring, when the dust has settled, the team and I spend the next months looking for likely celebs to compete; there are those who flagrantly punt themselves on live telly, on the radio, in the papers. And with all that a list is created. Success is gauged playfully. In the running, so we thought, were chef Paul Rankin, baker Paul Hollywood, one of the JLS lads, cricketer Andrew Strauss, anyone from The One Show with a normal accent, Olympic rowing champ Catherine Grainger, the broke one from Westlife, and Bucks Fizz’s Cheryl Baker, soon to be playing Mrs Cunningham in ‘Happy Days’ in the West End.
The end result was one.
Feeble, I know.
She’s a good one though, someone who presented some prizes at a do I was at earlier this year. And no I didn’t get a signed photo for my brother for Christmas. He has plenty of me already.
I talk of Susanna Reid, the pretty one from BBC’s breakfast telly.
With no claims of this being the biggest, best, brightest and brashest, as has happened in previous years, the show kicked off early in September when the dancers were paired up. Three weeks later – please remember that some of the dancers have had three weeks to be as bad as they were before the process started – it’s off to Elstree and a cavernous studio, the Beeb having sold their London home to the highest bidder to help balance the books a tad.
And what of the new set? Big, too big, the sound echoing from wall to wall, bright, too bright, the lights akin to the first disco I ever went to. You could see the band and the baying audience, and our hosts are the same, Sir Bruce and Tess ‘Twice’ Daly, the latter speaking so quickly for time was short on this ‘bummper’ weekend, fifteen couples to dance.
Fifteen! That’s the most ever.
And so the show rolled on, no introduction of the juddgies, no professional performance to tantalise the taste buds, just straight into Sir Bruce reading the autocue and the first lamb to the slaughter. Week one is like that, comfort zones disappear, specialists in their own fields suddenly find out what the limelight is really like. Some flourish, some flounder. Some hope the cheque is worth the effort.
First upp, from that academy of song and dance that is Hollyoaks, was Ashley Taylor Dawson and his partner Ola Jordan dancing the Cha Cha Cha. Ashley, a posh kid from Wilmslow, more Rolls Royces per head than any town in the country, has been acting for fourteen years, this only interrupted by his foray into the world of pop with a band called allSTARS. He is noted as a singer and dancer and 25 points set him up nicely for a run to December.
The Cha is the easiest dance of all to teach. The steps are easy, the timing, once hit, is a stroll in the pa-pa-park. Add in ball leads, the straightening of the knees, head high and a wiggle from the hips and you’re there. Five others were given the Cha and all but one made this look really difficult.
Natalie Gumede is not a name I have come across before but my contacts tell me she was in Corrie and used to beat Tyrone up, Jack Duck Egg’s adopted son. They also tell me she went to the Italia Conti, a high profile, expensive, song and dance school in London. Dancing to ‘Rasputin’ with her partner R-Tem Chigvintsev – see what they did there? – she walloped out a 31. With her obvious advantage of professional training Natalie should be handicapped until December. She is everyone’s favourite and if you cared you could say that her inclusion was unfair.
Put her up against England rugby hero Ben Cohen, MBE, (19), fashion guru Julien Macdonald, OBE, (20), broadcaster, in more sense than one, Vanessa Feltz (19), Hairy Biker Dave Myers (16), and you’ll see what I mean.
Ben is the third highest try scorer for England in history but this experience, playing in front of 80,000 people at Twickenham, did little to prepare him for the Strictly dance floor. Never have I seen such fear in a man’s eyes. Muscle bound he is; flexible he ain’t. Kristina Rihanoff, his partner, now single, has her work cut out here.
Julien maybe a god in the fashion world having worked for Lagerfeld, McQueen, Givenchy and Chanel but he has far to go if he wants to be queen of the dance floor. Brash, airy and loud, he presents a challenge to new girl Janette Manrara. The ear plugs are in the post.
Vanessa, is a bright academic, a first from Trinity College, Cambridge, and this has helped propel her to fortune and fame. That and her shy and retiring persona. When I look at girls I study their feet and how they walk. Coming down the stairs showed all that was necessary. A knee slide (already in week one, Lord help us!) and a chest reveal from her partner James Jordan, no relation to Big Joe, weren’t enough to hide her many feltz, sorry, faults and total lack of steps. The song, ‘That don’t impress me much’ couldn’t have been better placed.
Dave Myers produced the funnest dance of the night with the beautiful Karen ‘Hottie’ Hauer, recently escaped from the shackles of the kitchen here at Travolta Towers. This was dad dancing at its best, not a care in the world, his chest waxed, giving it some Barrow-in-Furness wapatumba. ‘Insanely hilarious,’ wagged one juddge. ‘You dance like I cook,’ said Lord Len. If you’re feeling down just re-watch this. Luvved it but he’ll be home in time to prepare the Halloween snap with his cooking partner Si King.
Now here’s a bizarre thing. Two cupples did the Jive and they both scored 28. Three cupples Tangoed. They all scored 24. Weird, eh?
So, back to Susanna Reid, BBC Breakfast, another bright academic having graduated at both Bristol and Cardiff, though her biggest claim to fame, apart from her pescetarian eating habits is that she was once FHM magazine’s Middle-aged Minx of the Week. In real terms this means MILF. Sorry if you don’t know what that means. Politeness denies me the opportunity to explain.
She was partnered with Grimsby’s finest, the newcomer, Kevin Clifton, a geeky looking fella with a high hairline and although the routine contained simplicity and repetition, I think there were 184 pretzels, she attacked it with great gusto, timing, fun and sexiness. Makes you wish you’d met her twenty years ago. A cart wheel at the end showed gymnastic skills if not precision.
Patrick Robinson, Ash from Casualty, was trained at RADA and LAMDA, another with an unfair advantage. Yes, he’s tipping towards 50 but age is no barrier to dance and he has the pleasure of another newbie, Anya Garnis. His Jive, like Susanna’s, was full of content, energy and style, apart from flicks to the heavens. He is tipped to end in the top four.
None of the three who Tangoed will be with us in December.
Mark Benton, chunky Geordie actor, teamed up with last year’s stand-in Iveta Lukosiute and acted his way through, credible, a touch bouncy not stalking, the left arm an issue, but plenty of purpose and attitude.
Fiona Fullerton, one time Bond girl, copped off with Antony Smith of Bristol and they danced to ‘View to a Kill’. Hang on, wasn’t that the film she was in? They started well, stumbled a little, kept the tension though it was only with ten seconds to go that Antony whispered for her to put he left hand in place. Must be nice for him to have a partner who can walk let alone dance.
As a business woman Deborah Meaden has made millions so the band played ‘Money, Money, Money’. How cute was that? Better, I suppose, than ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’. Robin Windsor, recently married, offered the craft, a man free of the short straw that was Lisa Riley. Together they surprised in a nice way. Can’t wait for their Samba.
And that leaves the Waltz, three pretenders and one who could be packing his bags back home to Florida next week.
Tony Jacklin, CBE, is a golf legend; he won The Open in 1969, the US Open in 1970 and has won the Ryder Cup four times. A pretty impressive record. A great golfer. But he is no dancer and Aliona has been awarded this hot potato. She really must have upset the producers. Tony is 69, his hunched dance scored 16, in golf parlance twelve over par.
The Waltz is the ultimate dance in terms of attraction. Sure the Tango is sassy and Salsa is hot, but the way to a lady’s heart is the Waltz, the dance that fulfils all dreams of romance, knights on white chargers, the maiden carried away, safe, protected and secure.
So, Mr Riley, husband of Countdown’s Rachel Riley, had better be very careful. Dancing with Pasta Kovalev, this Waltz flowed with grace and fragility towards 27 points. The camera shot at the end is what should worry Mr Riley. ‘Ay, ay, ay,’ as my French brothers would say.
A point higher was songstress Sophie Ellis-Bextor and the Kiwi Gob, Brendan Cole. Having sold millions of records Sophie directed her heart towards Richard Jones, the bassist with other pop sensations The Feeling and they now have three kids. She is the veritable ballerina from the top of the music box, sophisticated, graceful and elegant, long legs, a porcelain beauty to her face. There is much in the tank here.
So too it would seem with the surprise of the night glamour model and WAG, Abbey Clancy, the wife of football’s Peter Crouch. On her CV there isn’t much content; she has little talent apart from her physical features. Add in reported diva tantrums at Elstree and things weren’t looking good. But her Waltz with a new kid from Bolton, Aljaž Skorjanec, that’s Bolton, Slovenia, lit up the evening, a fitting finale to end the first show.Looking like a younger version of Katy Price, so said Juddge Lulu, along with Ali Ash (apparently that’s how it’s said) in his cricket whites, they produced the dance of the night to ‘Kissing You’. Yes, he was a bit too smug in a Roger Federer sort of way, and you should never trust a bloke who shaves under his arms, but in spite of her nerves she added understated grace, lovely lines and a model’s posture. 32 in week one puts out a marker, a great start for her, and with that, a terrific start for the series.
October 4th 2013