Meeting Karen in the “It Takes Two” studio. Hope she doesn’t mind me saying that, when my Strictly journey ends, it is my dance teacher & friend that I will miss the most. Her former partner Dave Myers said you feel so jealous when the next season starts and you see her paired with another, and I can imagine that. But that’s looking too far ahead. With your votes we have stayed in so far.
First job at Elstree? To meet the CBeebies dog-star Hacker. We are interviewed by him in the most spectacular and hilarious way. Credit to our brilliant press person Debra Clavey who decided we can go off-piste at times! (Debra is just above the selfie-phone, left of Karen’s shoulder). It makes it all so much more fun. Karen wants to take Hacker home…
PS That stick you see protruding from Hacker’s left paw is just a fault on the photo and the top of the man’s head just below it, well that is NOT a puppeteer, just a friend of Hacker who likes sitting on the floor.
Absolutely love these two. The heart and soul of Strictly is the wardrobe dept run by Vicky Gill. If I was the entrepreneurial sort I would set up a therapy centre where stressed-out people could be dressed in period clothes by happy people. Specifically, by Megs (right) and Esra (big shout out to her mum Nancy who apparently reads these blogs). Lovely daughter you gave us Nancy!
Full costume. They call it “tails,” which to me means Fred Astaire with a white tie on – shows how little I know. The tails in question will be the long (fork-backed) grey jacket which I put on last. By the way, best wishes to Esra on the forthcoming birth of her first child, making Nancy a granny. She is working on Strictly up to the last minute, which I think will mean the little one is born to perform.
Carol and Katie look like they’re having some fun.
Count the lights! They are being readied for Jay’s quickstep. When every light is switched on and controlled, they do look (like Jay) quite awesome. I am wondering if Strictly is 50% lighting. In normal light the studio looks incredibly ordinary. But like this, BOOM.
Dinner. Once again the Village Hotel do a great spread for us. I take this photo of my friends and wonder – am I looking at the Strictly final? I have had a sneak look at Anita’s Tango (that’s not as rude as it sounds) and she will totally storm it tomorrow with Gleb. It makes me think of the best dances I have seen on the series so far: obviously Jay’s Pulp Fiction, then Ainsley and Nat’s “Don’t Touch My Tomatoes,” probably Iwan’s breakdance, and Kellie’s Charleston with the light sabres. There are more, but off the top of my head those are the ones I’d choose.
Bedtime reading is the Elvis Costello autobiography as I am interviewing him next week. For those unfamiliar with this great artist, I suggest buying his second album “This Year’s Model” (the year being 1978) and playing it at least 15 times. Every track is like a network of tunnels you never reach the end of, and the complexities they express are unpacked at long last in the book. I underlined “secondary modern” here because that is the title of one of his songs. It begins with the profoundly moving line: “This must be the place; second place in the human race.” Elvis is a complicated creature. He does not do happy-clappy. So the song “She,” to which Karen and I dance tomorrow, is not like 99% of his other work. People who know Elvis through “She” have been badly led astray! To bed.
Breakfast with Kellie Bright (just wait for her jive!) and now, in front of the hotel waiting for my cab, more Elvis. On p64 he describes how he wrote “New Lace Sleeves” in 1980. It’s the first time I have heard his explanation of this very complicated song: “I am drawing a contrast between being captured and being civilised,” he writes. The classic line, “Bad lovers face-to-face in the morning/With shy apologies and polite regrets” might have been written when he was only twenty. The beautiful opener to verse 3, “The salty lips of the socialite sisters/With their continental fingers that have/Never seen working blisters” came from looking at a photo in Country Life in a dentist’s waiting room. I know I sound like such a fanboy, but I love hearing this backstory. Tomorrow they have a short film before our dance where Elvis wishes me well. A total surprise when they showed it to me on Tuesday.
My first sight in the famed wardrobe dept is this beautiful dress…next to a dustbin. Maybe it’s the journalist in me that had to frame the photo with the dustbin, because Strictly combines the glamour and the gladness with, um, a little of the waste disposal unit. You can wear the best dress in the world, but if you can’t dance, you and the dress will be collected by the council dustcart on Sunday morning.
Ah, my name on something! But wait – they call it the “Vine booth” because you record 6-second bursts of video in it (the app, coincidentally, is called Vine). So are they saying my Strictly journey is only six seconds long? Does that sellotape look a bit, well, temporary? (Can you see how paranoid a wannabe dancer can gets?!)
Lunch. And we are always midway between relaxed and dance-minded. Here the graceful Anita Rani (in tango outfit) gets a helping hand from Megs while Gleb and Kristina, the Russians, look on. The food is chicken and sweetcorn by the way…
…and I have just noticed that Ainsley is the relief server behind the counter! So you can get your food served by one of the great chefs. He and I are always talking about what a surreal experience this show is – and Ainsley is one of the most grounded people I have ever met. Being served is Matt, who chooses the music track for each dance.
You might recognise the fastidious hand of Francis, the dresser. He doesn’t want the shirt to ruckle between the braces so he is sewing it in place with thread through the shirt as well as the brace (look carefully in the white of the brace and you see he has actually chosen the right shade of red thread too). Having clothes sewn onto my body is (a) thrilling, and (b) inconvenient if you want to go to the loo. Later, I am told this grey/red combo doesn’t look good on me because the set is partly grey, so they switch with classic white tie and black tails and change Karen’s dress as well. All the sewing is snipped by scissors, in a second.
Want to know where the “brain” of Strictly is? If the costume dept is the heart, this is the room that controls all the limbs and vital functions. The director Liz sits here calling in camera shots and angles. You can see from the monitors how many cameras there are. And it’s live — so she only gets one chance! Okay, are we ready for the show? Put those butterflies away!
I found the waltz difficult, in truth, because you feel a little locked-in which makes it hard to express yourself. You get over-focussed on the steps and that is constraining. But if the Strictly journey ends for me, this is the photo I want to keep. Because I hope it shows the genuine and sincere admiration I feel for my dance buddy. And they were right about the tails, weren’t they?