There’s nothing quite like an out of season holiday town in the rain.
The waves looked like the menace of an All Blacks pack of forwards, inevitable, relentless, battering the defences. The North Pier survived somehow. The squall of the wind accounted for many umbrellas, wrecked, discarded. Inches eroded from the coastline. The locals wore t-shirts and shorts. The Golden Mile of the Vegas of the North was mere tat, tattoos, rusted Big Dippers, the same carriages that claimed me as a victim all those years ago, but never since. And the mile of hotels all signed ‘vacancies’. No surprise really. As Loyd used to say, ‘who would stay in a hotel like that?’ Dingy. Chintzy. Empty. Bit like Weston but more of it.
By contrast The Winter Gardens glistened with diamonds and pearls, gemstones and rubies, emeralds and silver, as the venue lit up to host the National Latin and Ballroom professional championships, the seniors’ category won by Bristol’s Patrick Moreno and Sonia Repetto. I know Patty. I say ‘know’. I’ve seen him dance four or five times at SUDA (Southern Universities Dance Association) and we bumped into each other at Tesco Golden Hill once. That counts, doesn’t it?
The Winter Gardens was opened in 1878 and it contains theatres, dance amphitheatres, exhibition halls and a ropey cafe. It was in the bar that I interviewed Neil Jones, husband of, and door stepped Ed Balls and Katya Jones, wife of. Their lucky night I guess. I’m sure they would have been delighted to be accosted by a Leeds fan wanting to talk about their victory over Norwich.
As you can tell, Ed was more scared of this moment than of dancing.
The weekend began early on Friday as the wagon train left Bristol for the North West, the rain pounding, the skies darkening the further north of Wigan we went, the lights on the motorway flicking on like candles in the power cuts of the seventies, 11:39am the official time that the motorway was illuminated. Before we knew it one of the pylons morphed into The Tower, and a sign read, ‘Blackpool, a great place to visit, a better place to live’, a reference not given by the unfortunate Gorka Marquez, the victim of a despicable, violent assault on Saturday after the shows. Poor fella. Wish I’d been there to help him with that one. I saw Gorka in the foyer earlier. Little bloke, skinny jeans and a parker with a faux-fur hem, like a roadie from Oasis. Words like punch and paper bag come to mind. Poor fella.
As the wind bit, grim and normal, that’s Lancashire for you, the anticipation overwhelmed everything because The Tower Ballroom beckoned, seats reserved courtesy of the Goodman Dance Academy, Lady Sue and Lord Len. God bless them both. You would never imagine where the seats were. Never dreamed.
After a leisurely stroll to the Pleasure Beach, no seizures, we took the tram that did for Alan Bradley and then watched as the juddgies were whisked away by horse and cart. We all know who Steptoe was. And then to prepare.
It was like going through security at an airport. No beer allowed, unless you were an A-List star from Emmerdale, water only, wrist bands, and then the wait. There was a hottie behind in the queue, fair of face, graceful. Who was she? We chatted. Later I was told it was the actress Gaynor Faye, along with her mum, the writer, Kay Mellor. Oh, well. They stalked us so much they were there at the hotel checkout the morning after.
Entering the Ballroom was just that until someone said, ‘You’re over there.’
The walk around the periphery was slow, genteel, engulfed by the cavernous arena, the sprung floor out of bounds, and then we sat, a yard and a half away from the juddgies, behind us another stunning Soap actress, friends of Clordia on the front row. From here there was a wink from a hopelessly hopeful Bruno, a wolf-whistle to Darcey, delivered from a foot away, a fight for Ali-Ash‘s discarded jacket, and the real reason why Louise was terrified, a tiny spark in the land of the giants. As her nerves fluttered her beauty and warmth melted all close by. White Knights queued to ensure her safety.
Sitting in the best seats in the house, at the heart of the dancing world, meant many things, apart from the accolade. Peter Kay (Ts and Cs) wasn’t visible apart from on the monitor and on catch up; he was right about the autocue, superfast, and the links delivered with aplomb by the two hostesses were muffled by silencers to the audience but perfect for the TV. The perspective for the group dances was just one, first position, not seen from the side, the back or above. The smell of Tess‘s perfume intoxicated, truly more beautiful an inch away, her desperate battle with the hem of her red dress minimised by the producers, and we sang along to Simple Minds and Rick Astley. Only Rick and I knew the words to his song ‘God Says’ so it was useful that I was close by and on mic. Great Cha btw.
There are two unsung heroes on the show, apart from the unmentioned band members, great percussionist, met him in the lift, the floor shifters, the dress makers, also met in the lift, another one, Tommy Blaize chatted on the stairs, accepting the plaudits, Lisa Armstrong, make-up, relaxed in the lounge. Allow me to introduce you to Stu and Alan, without whom, your Saturday nights would be empty.
Stuart Holdham, ‘Know When to Fold ’em’, has been doing stand up and warming audiences for nearly twenty years. He’s done Ready, Steady, Cook, BGT, It Takes Two, The SH Factor and Robot Wars, to name but a few. Tall, gangly even, lights in his daps like the escape route on a plane, he entertained, cajoled, instructed and warmed with charm and humour. He was the Ying to Alan Conley’s Yang, Alan, a perfectionist, a Floor Manager without equal. Alan knew the script, delivered it, changed it, bossed it, in truth the real star of the evening. Hats off to them both.
Cloudier, or Clowdier if you prefer the autocue version, and AJ (Amir Jared) launched the dancing with a Jive to ‘Hey Mickey’, that eighties’ iconic tune from Toni Basil. The mantra for this pair was let’s make it frantic but keep the mistakes to zero. One out of two ain’t bad.
AJ (Adrian Jon) began accompanied by two heavies, presumably back row forwards, as the diminutive youngster spun a golden rugby ball high and then into the crowd like a scrum half, a ball that he dropped in the dance off, knock-on, defending side ball. The trio flicked their way to the stage where there was a student toga party going on, Cloudier at the centre in the black of gold of the Wasps.
The mistake came early on when she overturned and took five stutter steps to correct it, later her hair blocked her vision too, tangled, and what was flawless in the dance off scored her another 36, perfection tantalisingly close. Why they were asked to go again is anyone’s guess. Her talent bristles, her youth coping with the pace, the gymnast throwing in a hitch kick, a somersault and a one handed cart wheel to add to the mass of flicks and kicks. The energy levels were stunning.
Juddge Hilzi loves the Viennese Waltz. She loves the glide, the sway, the beauty, the artistry, the picture of barons and ladies, the genteel ballroom hosting an occasion of distinction, all class and substance. It wasn’t a surprise then that she didn’t take to Ore‘s version danced to ‘That’s Life’, a rat pack classic from the back streets and dustbins of Venice. I was tasked to kidnap the person who chose the music but sadly, as you can tell, I failed that mission.
Joanne from Grimsby was dressed as pink as rock, her elbow length gloves her treat for her first dance with a celeb ever at this Mecca of Motion. Sadly before the action started she was asked to play a game of ‘Snap!’ with her fellow party goers. Ore won the hand. There could have been no other reason for his little jig and jazz hands before they actually connected thirty seconds into the music.
After another gentle half a minute when eventually Ore was pushed to the floor, JFG was revealed as a cheat, a spare card nipped from her cleavage. And just when you were begging for all the malarkey to stop and for them to dance in came a Fleckerl, and another, and another, twelve in total, a great move if your knees can take it. And your head. Lord Len commented that it was an old trick; do it often enuff and people would love it. They did and the crowd went delirious, this before the sugar hit fed out by the BBC at about eight thirty. Ore scored 38 nearly matching the heights of his Jive. The Eight was about right.
Message to Louise. Please act a little. Stop smiling. Read the dance. Ta. XO.
Picture an epic featuring Queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Marcus Antonius, Roman General and politician, not J.Lo’s ex. Cleo was Mark’s fifth and final wife (just the five! Bet the CSA had a ball).
Then imagine Louise sitting on a throne d’or, eleven steps high on a mini pyramid, her black and gold outfit fit for a bal masque, her hem ten yards wide on each side like the wings of a giant albatross. See her as any warrior queen, a smiley one at least, no chance that this bull would be slain, the matador not gored either.
Now visualise Kevin from Grimsby waiting below as she descended, him willing to fight for the right to join her at the raised dais. He wore the best dance outfit of the night (check out Tess‘s on the results show for the overall winner), his black pants adorned with gold braid flash, offset slightly by his guy liner, a left over from Gene Hunt’s eighties’ TV shows, Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars.
KFG is renowned for his Paso’s, this to ‘Explosion’ from Bond, similar to Andreas Johnson’s ‘Glorious’, and 38 was due reward. A sterner partner would have added the extra two for this was power meets resistance, the artistry and drama matching the Flamenco touches, the speed and the passion. He tried everything to cajole but didn’t succeed. After smart knee walks, perfectly placed, he rushed the guards but was repelled, like a gate crasher at an after party. One more try saw him thrown to the floor. No sugar was needed for this ovation. Fantastic.
If you thought that that was good Danny Mac Super Pro entered the fray, we are told, dressed like a Head Waiter, more like a Ring Master at Billy Smart’s, wearing a sumptuous blood red tail coat, Oti in a stunning crimson and gold frock, glittering for all it was worth. Their Charleston scored a maximum to ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ and when Clordia implored the audience to go ‘bat shit’ during ‘Len’s Lens’ as the dance was reviewed, they subsequently obliged. It didn’t need any coaxing.
There is little doubt that Danny is the singularly best male celeb there has ever been on this show. Of course he has pedigree but apart from a somnolent Fox Trot a few weeks ago he has been right on the money since day one. If this were a dance contest he would win by a mile. We know it’s not. Just check out some of the previous winners. Sorry Chris. (Hollins).
Danny’s bag of tricks contains many things. To begin the dance he grabbed his partner’s hand and they did a simultaneous one-handed cartwheel, still connected. He launched his partner to roll over his arm one way, later another. She also showed her great core, her legs straddling him like a wheel barrow only to go up and down with little help. His timing, his sense of joie de vivre showed no more than when he took to dancing on a table, trepidation and jeopardy everywhere. There needn’t have been. Perfect balance, perfect delivery. Back on the ground the dance floor bounced up and down in time with this master; it moved like a mini-earthquake. Craig remarked that he would happily cast Danny in a West End show, now! He’s already dunn that, dahling, but maybe Barnum beckons? For that he’d have to be able to walk a tightrope. Silly question, course he can. He can do anything.
Whilst that Charleston brought the house down for the right reasons Ed’s Jive to ‘Great Balls of Fire’ raised a crescendo for incredulity. Now, you might know that Ed plays the piano a little, Grade 5, I think, so why not have him playing a piano as part of the routine? In fact, get him to wear a piano tie. And get him to play on a floor piano like Tom Hanks did in the film ‘Big’? And why not get the piano he’s playing to hang from the ceiling like the Sword of Damocles, over all our heads. The production team agreed and amidst flames from the hottest patio heaters ever experienced, and surrounded by five other hotties, Ed played in the skies and was lowered gently and he eventually began to dance.
Ed is from Norwich so there was bound to be a little agriculture to his style and he duly obliged. His timing was perfect, his body movement less convincing. To fill space he played air guitar and an invisible piano, he snuggled Katya from behind, and every twenty seconds or so it looked like we were going to have to call the medics. In rugby terms, he was blowing, slowing down, getting a second wind and a third, hopping and skipping, praying for the end. When it came he rested against the girls who somehow managed to hold him horizontally off the ground. I think the one near his shoulders was a power lifter. Ed has been the bottom of the leader board forever, 23 this week. Now that he’s made Blackpool rock it is time to close this chapter of his life. Please.
Soon behind him will be the gushing Rob and partner Oxi, their nine lives running out in spite of a zealous 33 this week. Dressed like a fruit cocktail they danced Salsa to ‘Spice Up Your Life’. I know. I looked for who chose the songs again but she hid well. I also searched for the researcher who fed Tess the line about the spirit of the Rio Carnival. Eh? What on earth is going on there, the home of the Samba being denigrated? Bit like the dance in this series, just the three danced from a total of 101 dances. Judge Aggie is not happy. Next week we have the Wellingborough Waltz, the Tamworth Tango and the Fukushima Fox Trot.
Two brave male group dancers plucked Rob from a giant flower garden and rolled him forward in a somersault. I guess that Rob has put some weight on this week because they struggled to get him over, he didn’t spot the landing and things nearly started with disaster. He wobbled to his feet and then spent ninety seconds trying to find the Salsa beat. In truth we all did. The song is bouncy, funn even, obviously written in an era when Salsa meant dancing on your own, shaking your tush and heading for The Flamingo Bar just up the road. Rob was in his element. He jumped, he lifted (her), pressed her above his head, there was even some arm stuff going on, a Pretzel and a cage. But as previously written, we gave up on Salsa on this show years ago. If only Dave Arch had started playing ‘Vehicle’.
I have bad news for Greg. He doesn’t do ‘cool’. He may be charming, warm, friendly, a big fella with a big heart. And he can certainly jump a long way. But cool? Not really. Which is a shame because his Quick Step to ‘Hand Jive’, taken from Grease and the Master of Cool, Johnny T (apart from The Fonz, obviously), needed cool and it was sadly missing. Perhaps it was the fact that he was dressed in a seventies’ velour jacket? Perhaps it was because maybe they should have been dancing The Hand Jive? Either way it was incongruous that he led his gang through an arch of balloons towards the girls at the prom sitting in front of a deckchair the size of a house. Who would have followed?
To be fair Natalie was up for it anyway, no shrinking violet there, and again her clever use of smoke and mirrors hid Greg‘s lack of confidence. They didn’t start until after thirty seconds, the dance was littered with stoppages, messing on a bench, she threw in a Kristina splits to fill and throughout his face was worried and his toes still turned in. What should have been the coup de grace, a running jump, was like a little hop, strange from a World Champion Long Jumper. As the dance came to a close they were bombarded by giant, bouncy, pastel coloured gobstoppers. Bigger than a Space Hopper they were.
In the dance off, having scored 32, Greg’s performance was fantastic, the true sportsman upping the ante, fighting for his place, losing, the greatest of fears. Against Cloudier it was tight but the curtain came down on Greg and the tears flowed, unstoppable.
The Kleenex Kid appeared out of the wing offering a box, ‘have one of mine, son.’
There really is nothing like an out of season holiday town in the rain.
24h November 2016