Look at that face of concentration! And I seem pretty focused too. Karen and I call the horse Bertie. Apparently this was my most memorable moment on Strictly — riding in on a fibre-glass animal before dancing a tango with Karen, where Craig said he was “adding an extra point, just for seeing your little bottom tweak as it moved past the desk.” I remember telling my journalist friend Jonathan Freedland at the time that, “It was not a comedy dance — it was very serious after I got off the horse,” and he just burst out laughing, as did I, on hearing my own words. Anyway, this is our rehearsal for the group dance in the final. See how serious I am? Although it’s all silly, actually the horse needs to move and the lasso be thrown all within a window of about eight seconds, during which time Aljaz has to pass me a spare rope with which I reel in Craig … and as it’s in the middle of what is effectively a single shot involving 31 performers, I mustn’t be the one who messes it up. Nothing can go wrong with the lasso, right? Wrong. The rope has been hardened into a permanent circle, and five minutes ago I threw it a bit too accurately, dropped the circle around Karen (result!) but unfortunately it hit and cut the bridge of her nose. Dancing, like warfare, occasionally involves the spillage of blood.
Bring On The Clouds
I remember saying to Karen during one of our dances, before I had really learnt to dance at all, that we should sashay on to the song, “Send in the Clowns.” She hadn’t heard it — Judy Collins, Barbara Streisand, have I got that right? — so we spent five minutes listening to it. The dance never happened but for the final they had the second best thing: they sent in Carol’s Cloud. This has been hanging backstage since week one! Apparently everyone has a signature prop. Wow I love this show. And I’m feeling a lot of joy, being with my old friends as we rehearse for the finals – always remembering the four contestants who are still in the contest and probably right now finding a spare corner somewhere to practice their moves.
My Partner In Crime (not the horse)
Enter Karen. It is just so great to see my dance buddy. She is already planning a tour with Kevin for next year, and I have eyes on this show in Kevin’s native Grimsby where I am planning to bring Rachel and my two daughters (who adore their new dance friends, K&K). The horse was her brilliant idea, as was the clock move in our jive, as was the crazy drop we did in our dance to Thriller — I could go on. It was all her idea! Thank-you, Karen! We could so easily have been out in week one, which is what the bookies predicted, but she kept us in for eight dances, right to the doorstep of Blackpool.
Boys Will Be Boys
I note that I am dressed like a member of Kraftwerk. When I go through to the “quick-change” area to sort something out, I see some of the male professionals. I’m guessing Anton is not here because he is away with Katie finalising their routine (he just came down the corridor, hilariously, shouting: “Make way for a finalist.”) But here you can see his old sparring partner Brendan, plus Tristan and Aljaz. Who is that guy with his shirt off? Has he ever done that before? Does Gleb ever wear a shirt? I feel sure the pros are deathly tired by now — for them this started in August, learning the pro routines which are peppered throughout the series — and by now they are ready for Christmas. By the way Brendan, thank-you for recommending me this power-packed bluetooth speaker which I used in our dance rehearsals and now use in the rest of life.
Sing To Us Daniel
One of many beautiful moments was when the people left in the contest were all under strain with their dances, and Daniel popped up on our WhatsApp group (which we use to stay in touch). I wrote, “Sing to us, Daniel,” which was a little silly I admit. Daniel responded by singing, “I think to myself, what a wonderful world” in the beautiful Irish croon which has made him one of the most popular singers in the history of the long player. So here we all are in the bar — Daniel, Peter, Brendan, Iwan, Karen and me. Peter has already been mobbed several times by this stage of the night; he gets recognised everywhere. This time it was a tableful of celebrating teachers. It is great to have Iwan back as well — what a character, always performing! The day was probably the least exhausting eleven of us have had on the Strictly set, because we are not competing now. But we are going to give it some welly for our friends who battle it out tomorrow.
News From The Outside World
This peculiar thing grips you in the Strictly bubble — there is no world outside. A piece in the Guardian recently mentioned how Strictly stands for escape, and it doesn’t allow the various ghastlinesses that go on in the world beyond to intrude. When the Paris attacks happened in November, it felt extremely odd to be dancing the next day without referring to them; but cancelling the show would have been wrong, and making any on-air reference from a studio covered in glitter would have felt inappropriate. Now that Ainsley and I are out of the contest we are back and fully engaged with the world beyond, but I took this photo of him reading the paper next to the lady with the sequins because to me it sums up the solace you get on a programme where everything is sparkle. I hope you, as a viewer, feel the same: Strictly offers escape.
Final rehearsals: the Corridor Dance
We have to dance down a corridor and into the studio. What I love about Natalie Lowe is that she gives everything 120 per cent. This is a rehearsal moment — my camera shot is a close-up in low light, so please forgive the quality — but the power and purpose when the female pros hit that corridor carpet, carumba! Even in rehearsal Natalie never gives less than everything.
Man Swaps Three-Paddle for an Iron
A big joke of Strictly was how often Karen and I got a three from Craig — and how, on the night he moved us to a four, we went totally crazy on the balcony and Karen grabbed Claudia in some sort of headlock. I never minded; quite the opposite. Craig’s one-liners about me — “stork hit by lightning,” “a paranormal experience,” etc — actually made me feel I had a role on the show which meant something to me, him and the audience. I was the not-a-natural-dancer bloke who is desperately trying to pull off one dance, or even a single moment in a dance, when the judges say: “This time, you got it.” If there was a moment like that, it was after my Charleston when Len pointed at us both and just said: “Genius.” I will always treasure that moment. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the outfit here it is for the corridor dance. Craig is ironing a costume and I have to jump out of the toilets in the pink shower cap from our jive.
Nat, Come & Get Your Picture Back
Like I say, it’s always lively when Iwan’s in town. I am trying to imagine the dances he would have done if he had stayed in the contest. His breakdance was probably one of the 2015 Top Five for sheer drama and madness.
Why Am I In Yellow? I Want Pink!
Every edition of Strictly has a grid. Karen and I are in yellow (ahem). It’s lightly-packed today, because we are just doing the two group dances. But there are still costume changes, visits to make-up, rehearsals etc. Imagine what Georgia or Katie’s grid must have looked like on Saturday.
The Place To Go? Star Bar, Every Time
Some of the Strictly dressing rooms (mine and Daniel’s, for example) are a good five-minute walk away and if you want to socialise the best place to go is the Star Bar where you will always find pros and celebs just hanging out. The SB is off the main studio, a heated white marquee. Today we have all the starting fifteen back — lovely to see Kirsty Gallacher, for example. Carol is one of the big stars of 2015 because she communicated such radiant joy. There’s Jamelia and Anita, who came so close to the final. And if you are a Strictly fan, you will be able to identify the heavenly dancer with her back to us. How did she miss out on a top four place?
Now It’s Real
So now we head through to the corridor to film that opening group dance. But as we move, we just happen to catch up with the pro finalists, Aliona and Giovanni. I just keep saying “Good luck” to everyone I see. I would have a reason to support every single one of the four: Katie Derham because she’s a news person like me; Kellie Bright because her workrate, commitment and performance ethic are an example to anyone anywhere, and because Kevin’s choreography and training have been inspirational; Georgia for the sheer perfect beauty of her movement; and Jay for his jive in week three, which was the best dance I have ever seen in my life, and also because he sent the cutest personal message to my eight-year-old daughter to encourage her as a dancer. But I won’t choose! The eliminated eleven are there for all four.
On The Other Hand…
…I think I might know who my dance partner is supporting! (Clue: #TeamClifton).
On With My Tails, For The Last Time
I hope I dress like this again. The full Fred Astaire. It reminds me of week minus-one, when we all had to be photographed coming off a train and this is what I wore. For now, and for the foreseeable future, this is the last time.
Three, two, one … Cue Corridor!
Here we go with our recording of the corridor dance. In the distance you see Bruno — choreographer Matt, in the red T-shirt, is giving him some instructions. Bruno and Darcey will shimmy into the costume department, and then Nat, Karen and Joanne power up the corridor towards Brendan and Tristan (closest to us); Kristina dances in; I jump out of the loos; on the camera moves.
The Final Starts
And my friends are being lowered from the ceiling in four bright boxes. I knew it was big; I didn’t know it was this big. Can you believe this production?!
Best Moment of the Night
Jay’s victory was an immense moment for him and hugely deserved — his jive in week three was probably the greatest dance I will see in my life. He is also an exceptionally nice man. However, for me this was the standout personal moment of the final. During her second dance (Kellie, remember, got 119 out of 120 points for her three final dances — astonishing) Ms Bright found time to point at all of us on the balcony as if to say, “This is for you.” Let me tell you, having the chutzpah to do that during your penultimate dance in the final of Strictly requires astonishing verve. But she has it. And when she pointed, like kids, all of the celebs on the balcony went nuts. I was standing next to Daniel O’Donnell and he started stamping and chanting “Ten!” To me this freeze-frame is what Strictly is all about. The mesmeric artistry of the finalists; the fun the rest of us had; the bonds between us. Thank-you for reading my blogs on SCD 2015. One more shot from the balcony is below, and then we’re done. Keep dancing, and let’s get our kids dancing too!
My Letter To The Other 14 Contestants This Morning