It’s been a long time coming hasn’t it, the dust gathering on the sequins, moths nibbling at tails and top hats? So much has changed since the Grand Final last December. We’ve had a General Election that posed many questions about the Status Quo, the Scots are still with us, England won The Ashes, as unbelievable as incredible, a doppelganger won Britain’s Got Talent – at least we were fortunate that the dogs were British – and The Queen has become our longest reigning monarch. Can you imagine her disappointment had she died on September 8th? Nearly 64 years, only to fall at the final hurdle. That would have hurt. On TV the juddging world has been thrown into meltdown. Rita Ora has flipped from the BBC to ITV meaning she is the only one on that panel better than the auditionees, Louis Walsh has disappeared to be replaced by the likeable Nick Grimshaw, and Sir Tom has been sacked from The Voice. The Voice has been sacked by The Voice. Couldn’t really make it up.
The only place where there have been no juddging changes has been in Strictly Land where the Fab Four remain the same, Lord Len Goodman still at the helm, fresher now having given up the reins of leading Dancing With the Stars in the United States, ably assisted by Darcey Bussell and Bruno Tonioli. Craig Revel Horwood has sneaked back in after a desperate effort to exile him to the world of panto. As this is Bond season with ‘Spectre’ soon amongst us we have Len 007, Moneypenny, Q and Odd Job. The show is to be hosted again by Tess ‘Twice’ Daly and Claudia Anne Winkleman.
Of course there were calls for changes but that only happened in the world of the dancing pros. Out went Yveta Lukosuite (back to New York), Trent Whiddon (on a slow boat to Oz for being too smug), Hottie Hauer (last seen fishing in Grimsby) and Joanne Clifton, the latter downgraded to B list and supporting cast even though she is still a World Champion. In come Karen Clifton, strangely also from Grimsby, Gleb Savchenko, a shy and retiring Russian, male, just in case you couldn’t guess, Otlile (Oti) Mabuse, South African (girl, ditto), and Giovanni Pernice, Vincent Simone’s oldest love child from Sicily.
Our ‘most exciting ever’ celebrity line up is made up of 5 presenters, 4 singers, 3 actresses, 2 sportsmen and 1 chef and on the opening weekend of dancing we were treated to a dubble bill of dancing, Friday, ridiculously at 9:00pm, with the kids in bed, (eh?), and Saturday at a more leisurely 6:15pm. One day the Beeb will apply some common sense and forego every other show and simply create ‘Strictly Time’, say 7:00pm, never to be changed. One thing that never changes though is the drift towards the Americanisation of the show, all display and props and little dancing, long tedious foreplay before a thirty second performance, and a crowd so hysterical you’d have thought they’d found a formula for world peace. The first week was a warm up session, no voating from the GBP, a chance to test the waters.
Let’s start with the chef, the boisterous Ainsley Harriott, the eldest of the crop at 58, the amiable former head chef at Lord’s, fresh from TV success in the USA following twenty years on British TV most notably on Celebrity Come Dine with Me. Not sure who did the cooking. He has two children, Suzy and Percy, and is paired with the luxurious Natalie Lowe. Nice gig big fella. Not such a nice gig was his Tango to ‘Voulez-Vous’ that sneaked 20 points. Ainsley has confidence and timing but he has early frame issues and he didn’t capture the mood, at times flirty, at times not. His mix will need consistency for ninety seconds to make the best of this opportunity.
In 1997, eighteen long years ago, a youthful Welshman from Farnham, England, broke the British 400 metre record with a time of 44.36 seconds. The record still stands today and Iwan (pronounced you-an) Thomas went on to win Gold medals at the European and World Championships and an Olympic Silver. Since retiring he has sculptured a career in the TV presenting world and he partners Ola Jordan, no relation to big Joe, herself now recovered from her skiing follies. Iwan was also asked to Tango, to ‘Keep on Running’, but only after lapping around an imaginary running track, unbelievably really running, and before being knocked off the medals podium by his partner. As themes go it was the most naff since Superman. Wrong song, wrong theme, wrong dance, wrong everything. I feel for the fella. 17 points puts him in danger of not qualifying for the next heat.
There is a rule in life. Never trust an Anthony, especially when he pronounces the ‘TH’. In the red corner, welcome then to the ripped Anthony Ogogo, bronze medallist boxer from the London Olympics, now a pro, injured, shoulder, bringing the thrill factor to the show. His chest will be out every week and he dances with new girl Oti whose won’t be, though without considerable support, it might be. They did a Jive to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Ogogo’. I say Jive. They were in hold about eight bars, the kicks were agricultural, his toes pigeon and his pants split. 21 was awarded for enthusiasm.
The actresses to top the stairs are Helen George from ‘Call the Midwife’, Georgia May Foote from Corrie and Kellie Bright from Eastenders. Helen is the immediate dark horse having studied musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music. When she was growing up she said she wanted to be a long jumper. In another phase of her life she decided she wanted to be a triple jumper. Aljaz Skorjanec gets the honour. Georgia partners Giovanni, the G Force, and Kellie wins Kevin Clifton in the raffle. Watch out for her too, a graduate of the Sylvia Young Theatre School, the same institution that produced Denise Van Outen.
It was Kellie who started the show, a very nervy first upp, dancing a Tango to The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’. 27 points was a high marker as she excelled with sharpness and accuracy her biggest let down her facial expressions. She looked like she was chewing her food hell.
Higher than that by two points was Helen, a Waltz, eventually, to ‘With You I’m Born Again’, the greatest duet since vodka and tonic. As expected her balletic history helped much, her grace and balance exemplary. She nearly fell over once, straight into his eyes. Keep yer mind on the dance Helen!
When Georgia finished her Jive to ‘Dear Future Husband’ I wrote three words. Future husband, winner. Georgia and Giovanni clicked, more chemistry than a scientist’s lab and it showed in the synchronicity, the feel, the style and the connection. If they haven’t got together yet they will. 27 points could easily have been 34 or 5, the best dance of the night.
Surprisingly singers don’t always go well on Strictly, even though you’d have thought they would have rhythm and tempo. Alicia Dixon is the exception and Harry Judd was fabulous, but then again he is a drummer not a singer. So there is a little pressure on Daniel O’Donnell, the Irish heart throb, paired with Kristina Getemov, sorry Rihanoff, from Siberia. Daniel is a true pro, a man with millions of record sales, proudly boasting the record of having a different album each year in the British charts for the last twenty-five years. Some going.
To the sickliest music of the night, ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’, Daniel mastered the Waltz though 24 points doesn’t reflect that. He was gentle because he is, he was a gent, because he is, and his timing was impeccable. Not sure his Samba will worry the scorers though.
Jay McGuiness from a band called ‘The Wanted’, no, me neither, a man guilty of not having enough Ns in his name, lucked out getting the plain wall flower that is Aliona Vilani. Jay has a dance and drama pedigree too but it wasn’t very evident in the launch show. Maybe just big night nerves. He is second favourite with the bookies but will have slipped down the rankings even after a super-nervy opening 27 points dancing a Cha to ‘Reach out I’ll Be There’. The dance was wooden, fearful, all about her yet it still won a standing ovation. They must have been watching something else.
Jamelia Niela Davis, Jamelia, as she likes to be known, has been a singer nearly twenty years and has had eight top ten singles including ‘Superstar’ and ‘Thank You’. She has also won a MOBO, this shy and retiring Brummie winning the battle to partner Tristan McManus, the son of former professional wrestler Mick.
Dancing is many things. Timing, technique, teamwork, feel, delivery, performance. But it is also about state management, controlling your mind for ninety seconds or so, something that Jamelia failed to do. Her short concentration span will undo her unless she changes. 21 points for a Waltz to ‘Do Right Woman’ was hardly a marker.
Peter Andre used to have a body like Anthony Ogogo, something that was shown over and over and over again on the video of his hit song ‘Mysterious Girl’ back in the 90s. Since then he has done remarkably well for a bloke born in London who grew up in Australia with little other talent even though I’m sure he is a nice fella, milking the TV circuit for all that he can, his only real claim to fame being married to the wrong woman, an all too familiar badge. Janette Manrara has the tough task of whipping him into shape and to stop him singing ever again.
We do know though that that is what Janette is good at. She can hide weaknesses, highlight qualities and bamboozle the audience with her trickery. This she accomplished in a Cha to ‘Ain’t No Other Man’ where she did really well to hide the Cha. In fact I’m going to write to the Beeb and get them to commission a new TV show called, ‘Where is the Cha?’ It was a shame because Pete moved well, did all that was asked and performed his heart out. They scored 30 but with the addition of some Cha steps, who knows?
Which brings us on to the presenters, a mixed bunch, two new faces to me. I guess I should watch more TV . . .
Anita Rani was born in Bradford so there she has a plus mark for starters. A graduate of Leeds University, another tick, she has worked on Country File, Watchdog, The World’s Busiest Railways and The One Show. Little wonder then that I had no idea who she was. Mr Savchenko has been asked to mould her into shape but on first evidence it doesn’t look like he has much to do. Have we missed something in her past? Has she removed the words ‘dance school’ from her CV? Her arms were professional, her feet semi-pro, the Cha to ‘Rather Be’ racing to 27 points. This girl, a natural flirt, is as natural as a performer. Class beware.
My daily routine starts when I flick Smooth Radio on. At half nine I switch to the Ken Bruce show, avoiding the hysteria and verbosity of the show aired before that on Radio 2; the TV is ignored. Bring on then the weather girl that is Carol Kirkwood, whose original name was McKellaig. Not sure why she changed. She is described as a ‘National Treasure’, bizarre for an unknown, and has won the Best TV Weather presenter six times, which means that the other one has won the rest. (Did you know that there really is a weather girl called Sara Blizzard? Couldn’t make it up.) Pasta Kovalev, the reigning male pro champ, had better plan to look for work in October. He and Carol won’t last long on the dance floor though her Cha to ‘Thunder in My Heart’, an apt choice, was underscored for week one with 16 points. In our world it is impossible not to communicate. I hope Pasta watches the tapes back. Carol the Cougar is on the prowl.
Anton du Beke, née Antony Smith of Bristol, one of the few remaining pros from Series One all those years ago, has drawn some unfortunate partners in the past be it a former MP, a check out girl or a Hairy Biker. His destiny has changed. Step forward the posh totty that is Catherine Beatrice Margaret ‘Katie’ Derham, a graduate from Cambridge University, the hostess of the BBC Proms. She first presented the news at the tender age of twenty-seven. Since then she has sashayed into Radio 3 and classical musical broadcasting even learning how to conduct, so they should have no timing issues.
Which, coincidentally, is where Antony began, dressed like a wine waiter, conducting the band whilst Dave Arch went for a natural break. Close by was the gorgeous Katie dressed in the en vogue tasselled lamp shade of a frock, still popular, as popular even as last year. And then the Jive started to ‘Roll over Beethoven’, an eighteenth century German bedroom command. And command is what Katie had, stylish, clean and neat, a surprising surprise, 26 points pointing her towards November.
Jeremy Vine – Eggheads, Points of View, Newsnight, Panorama, Radio 2 – is a serious journalist with a cupple of claims to fame. He lived in South Africa for some years, he was almost kidnapped by Croatian rebels and a sniper’s bullet missed him by an inch when he was doing an outside broadcast. However, his biggest claim to fame is ousting Jimmy Young from Radio 2. His show is hot and cold, Terry Walton, the allotment man is a star, but the show is flickered with a tinge of ego, his biggest crime, talking over the music like so many of his compatriots on that channel. Don’t understand that disrespect for the music? Jezza is paired with the new girl, Karen Clifton, who looks like the spit of Hottie Hauer. He has the ignominy of not being the most famous brother in the family. His brother is Tim, the Punslinger. His dad, David, used to present A Question of Sport and the snooker on the telly.
It is a long time since the term ‘dad dancing’ has been used by a juddge but here it was as Jezza copped an outrageously misplaced 2 as part of his 19 points dancing a Cha to ‘September’. Never shy, Jezza attacked the dance with gusto and danced with freedom and spirit. It was likeable, fun, entertaining and for a first dance from a total beginner not much short of brilliant. If only all the celebs had this pedigree then it might be a fairer fight.
Which brings us to the last of the fifteen, the stunner that is Kirsty Gallacher, a multidimensional presenter having appeared on Sky Sports News, 5 Live, Ri:se, The Games, Only Fools on Horses and Gladiators. There are others. Kirsty’s dad used to play a bit of golf and was involved in The Ryder Cup a few times and he’s even taught her to play, handicap of eighteen from the red tees. Her dad lives next door to Sir Bruce, the great man last seen hosting an evening with Liza Minnelli at The Palladium and doing book signings at Waterstone’s – ‘Strictly Bruce: Stories of My Life’ – coincidentally released at the same time as this year’s Strictly fiesta. Must be down to his last ten million.
Brendan Cole got this hot ticket and he managed to guide Kirsty through the swamp that is that first dance, nerves jangling aplenty. They made it to 20 points dancing a Waltz to ‘Vincent’ but the moment didn’t quite make the transition from chrysalis to butterfly. It was beautiful but it didn’t flow and glide, a testimony to the fact that Kirsty is another novice, a true novice, a beginner, not a seasoned performer, used to presenting not turning on the style.
And there we have it. An extravaganza. And we are to be feted for another three months. Tough gig but I think we’ll cope. Let the voating begin.
September 28th 2015