When I was growing up there was only one Superhero. Batman was just a vigilante supporting an underfunded local government. Robin was an annoying but enthusiastic kid replicated as Buddy Pine in The Incredibles years later. Cat Woman was just an escort in a sexy outfit to keep dad interested. Ditto Wonder Woman’s cleavage. God bless the seventies. Spiderman scared off all arachnaphobes; how does that work? Bill Bixby’s David Banner and his alter-ego The Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, amazingly found new clothes around every corner once the transformation had expired. The Fantastic Four were in their infancy. Iron Man, well, he may well have been back in the eighth century BC. Nearly three millennia to discover an overnight success. Hollywood hadn’t quite cottoned on to the marketability of the brand yet.
Superman was it. Tall, sexy, good looking. And he could fly. He had strength. He had X-ray vision. He was unbeatable. The saviour. Until someone discovered Krypton, the nemesis. For all order there is chaos. Like a vampire scared of garlic. (Whoever thought of that must have been on the mushrooms.) Like a gremlin exposed to bright light. And then someone put him on a horse . . .
You may remember Russ Abbott’s hapless Cooperman too. I’m sure this was the character that the producers used as an exemplar for Dr Ranjit Singh as he sported a black and red rubber outfit made from that liquorice that we all had as kids. Fireball was his moniker, Janette ‘Tricks’ Manrara his professional temptress, Salsa the dance. I had to tell you that because you wouldn’t have known otherwise. This followed the Cha in Week One, a lively exposé full of energy, effort and intent if not result.
Dr Ranj has been on telly for years, on CBBC and This Morning. Wouldn’t know him if he walked into my lounge, probably hidden by the skirting board. Super bright, an ‘O’ level at the age of eight, a bouncy, effervescent character who knows where the camera is.
Of this year’s intake there are four stand out contenders, all experienced, and eleven no hopers, total beginners, you can sense can’t you, where the favour lies. Like an athlete taking EPO the experienced dancers have such a favourable starting point that it almost makes the contest not worth watching. So you sit willing the Great British Public (GBP) towards the development and improvement more than the initial performance. Who knows, by Christmas, one of the ten may have ascended this particular mountain. Having watched all thirty dances there is hope.
The four elite are Ashley Roberts (Pasta Kovalev), a Pussycat Doll, that’s a popstar to the uninitiated not a sex toy, Faye Tozer (Giovanni Pernice), a singing star once on the undercard of Russell ‘The Voice’ Watson, Lee Ryan (Nadiya Bychkova), from the boy band Blue and Eastenders, also a product of the Sylvia Young and Italia Conti stage schools, and Danny John-Jules (Amy Dowden), West End and TV actor, dandy, caricature of himself and a former dancer in Second Generation, the same troop that spawned the lovely Debbie McGee. Remember her? There is no truth in the rumour that they, the elite, sit at their own table in the Strictly refectory, cliquey, sneering at the wannabees who walk past towards the egg and chips ignoring the caviar and smoked salmon canapés. Or in the fact that the lucky pros have set up a gleeful WhatsApp group chat where the oft said line of ‘I can’t believe it!’ rings through the airwaves. These celebs all have previous and ought to be able to dance. They can.
Now here’s a thing. I used to play rugby and cricket with Graeme Swann’s dad. True that. Ray, the dad, is a smashing fella, bright, sharp, outspoken, passionate, a moderate fly-half/full back, a great batter and he scored masses of hundreds and could have and should have played First Class cricket and beyond. When asked if his son Graeme was the best bowler in the world the reply was ‘he’s not even the best in the family.’ Just apocryphal.
Graeme is without doubt the best offspin bowler our country has ever produced, 255 Test wickets, number 7 in the England all time wicket taking list, Ashes wins galore, when we needed some magic on came Swanny. He has inherited many of his father’s characteristics and added his own. He is a frustrated performer, sings in a band, has toured the country with Henry Blofeld talking and joking about cricket, he is a great mimic. But he can’t dance. Yet. I offered to coach him and after a Samba as rigid as a cricket stump and a Smooth without any (smooth) I have yet to hear. Perhaps Oti Mabuse, his dominatrix of a partner, is all he needs? I doubt it. Sometimes a man needs to hear it from a man. His scores so far have been like a bad over of bowling.
Charles ‘Charlie’ Venn (Karen Clifton), just like Ed Sheeran is ‘Eddie’ to his mates, an actor, The Dream Team, The Dark Knight, Eastenders and Casualty, could be taken for the more buff and muscled younger brother of Idris Elba. He has muscles does Charlie, and tempo, shown in a funky disco Cha where he sported a red Travolta suit. Dashing. His Quick Step was less convincing but at least he stayed upright. Faye ended up on her arse twice during a Viennese Waltz. What on earth was that about? Has the world gone mad already?
Joe Sugg (Diane ‘Reddo’ Buswell) and Seann Walsh (Katya Jones, current title holder but not for long) make up the men in the beginners. Seann will remain so, Joe will be with us at Christmas. So who are they?
Joe is the son of the lead singer of Madness and he is a Vlogger. That’s a German lumberjack.
And a Blogger. That’s an amateur broadcaster on the Internet, using visual and audio means of self-expression. I say amateur, the young fella has over eight million subscribers (all under the age of ten) and his work has been viewed over a billion times. He is prolific. A prodigy. And he used to be a roofer. So he must be all right. So far in a Jive and Charleston he has shown to be sprightly on his feet, high in energy and musical. Seann hasn’t.
Poor Seann. All that hair! All that product! And all that camouflage applied by his guru. You may have seen Seann (2 NNs) at the Edinburgh Fringe or on the telly in Play to the Whistle, Celebrity Juice and 8 out of 10 Cats. As a dancer he looks more than a fish out of water, his only chance of redemption, if he takes it seriously. Embrace the art or it will regurgitate you.
Two of the ladies in the beginners camp showed as much fear and pain as has ever been exhibited on the show. Genuine fear, real emotional turmoil, both wondering what the heck they’d let themselves in for. To be fair, it’s not for everyone, learning a life changing skill and performing it in front of 8.4m TV viewers (Saturday). Katie Piper and Susannah Constantine are the two in question, Susannah’s dreams over, or was it a nightmare, the first to exit, stage left.
Katie Piper has had to face much worse than all that a Saturday night entails so she need not really worry about a few pesky dance steps. Once a glamour model, in 2008 she was stabbed by a former boyfriend and was then the victim of an acid attack that, according to reports, blinded her in the left eye. She had to have her face rebuilt. The two guilty parties – her ex and an accomplice – went to jail. Since then her time, apart from recovery, has been spent in working with charities supporting fellow victims, writing books and doing TV. It puts her Waltz and Paso in perspective.
There is talk that Anthony Smith of Bristol, the former partner of Susannah, no, not Trinny Woodall, fresh from dressing in bright orange in the Samba, looking like an extra from the disco era without the afro, is thinking of calling it a day. Nearly always he is lumbered with a non-hoofer. Apart from the delectable Katie Derham Anthony really has paid his penance though who knows what his crime was or is? A person needs hope. He has none now until 2019 or until one of the other male pros is shot by a sniper. If he stays. Surely ‘Dancing with the Stars’ beckons?
In the weeks since the pairings were announced it is clear that Susannah has spent much of it not dancing. Her Fox Trot was like watching a mannequin. I could have frocked up and done the girl’s steps had she asked. It is hard to be that bad. If she’s practiced for 100 hours then there is something wrong. Which is a surprise. She is a high class person, masses of integrity, bundles of experience in the fashion world where she is a journalist and a presenter. This was clearly not her thing; it has given Anthony some time to play golf and look after the twins. Bruno summed it up when he called her a lamppost. Harsh but true. Hey, have you noticed that the older Bruno gets the more he is morphing into David Gest . . .
Apart from the Amazing Katie there are other genuinely courageous people on the show, all women I should add in a misplaced BBC tilt at equality. This is more than naughty and the BBC know it. Consider yourself told off Auntie!
Stacey Dooley MBE is a front line reporter, journalist, presenter, documentary maker and fighter against evil. She has exposed sex-trafficking, drug barons, the plight of the homeless, sweat shops in India and she has covered abortion too, all high end subjects not for the faint hearted. Stacey, paired with KFG, could audition for the modern day advert of Campari that Lorraine Chase made famous all those years ago, ‘Nah! Luton Airport!’ and this is her secret weapon against the gangs and the bad guys. She just talks. Out comes the Cockney twang. Enough to halt a war. A Quick Step and a Cha offer promise. If only she can pop off to the KK School of Voices in between training . . .
Our final journalist is Kate Silverton, an immediate hit at Travolta Towers. Tall, clever, sassy, mighty fine looking, sultry, a news anchor, a degree in Psychology from Durham University, she is also doing training in trauma counselling for kids. She has a thirst does our Kate and that thirst is for improvement, knowledge, and to make the world a better place. There are people like this everywhere if you know where to look, from Dublin to Lublin, from Budapest to Barnsley, it’s terrific, those guided by the big picture. That used to be The Titanic. Took me ages to get in when I queued to see it all those years ago. Women and children first . . . Aljaz (Ali-Ash) Skorjanec has the lucky straw; their Cha and Tango bode well.
If I was appearing on The Last Leg I would get away with the next bit. At my local boozer in Loughborough the young barman, Pat, lovely fella, only has one hand, his right hand. Lauren Steadman, the para-triathlete, only has one hand too. Her left. If they got together they could clap . . .
Oh, come on! We did gags last year about Johnny Peacock and the hokey-cokey . . . and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Lauren is a first class athlete, a current World Champion, a five time European Champion, she has a Master’s degree in Business and Management (Portsmouth University) and she will be a force to be reckoned with. She has much spirit and will be a handful. Of course, her partner, Antoine Jerome Pritchard has to come to terms with the logistics, she nearly fell in the pairings show as he reached for her hand and missed . . . but their Waltz had beauty, their Charleston gusto.
This leaves just Vick Hope, or Victoria Nwayawu Nwosu-Hope, as her mates call her. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Kenya? Tanzania? Botswana? Not quite. Newcastle upon Tyne. You can’t beat a good Geordie! Born and bred. Her mum is Nigerian.
Here we have a serious talent away from the dance floor and another member of the WPA (World Peace Army). A graduate in Modern Languages at Cambridge (she speaks French, Spanish and Portuguese), she is a TV presenter and DJ and also a Human Rights activist; she’s an Ambassador for Amnesty International, a real pocket of positivity and justice. The lucky pro dancer is the new boy from Sicily, Graziano, the musketeer from Sicily who bizarrely represented Belgium in some dance comps. It happens in rugby, athletics and cricket, this country swap mentality, mental being the word. But dancing? Anyhow, their Jive was sprightly though her legs were too bent, the Waltz touching, her arms floaty and ethereal.
As I said, amidst the ringers and pros there is always hope.
October 5th 2018
P.S. Last week I called Claudia Winkleman BPE.
Of course, this was an error.
It should have been BPFE – Best Paid Female Employee.