Nothing is normal, but at least Strictly’s launch show is still far too long and not particularly enjoyable. I could not have loved it more.
In a year when everything from Glastonbury to weddings to Euro 2020 to, like, the concept of going round your mate’s house has been cancelled, the BBC’s autumn flagship show has sailed into our living rooms once again. Strictly Come Dancing is back: we have never been more in need of some glittery fun and Strictly has come to save us.
We open on last year’s winner Oti Mabuse on a desolate beach. She’s joined by her fellow professionals and they all poignantly dance to a megamix of songs about freedom in eerily empty locations across the country. So far so 2020. Soon enough though, via the magic of editing, they burst into the studio and we are back on familiar ground.
Strictly Come Dancing launch shows are always a bit odd: we have the glitz and glamour and a bit of dancing but the core appeal of the celebrities and professionals performing for our armchair expert judgement is missing. Filling in that void is the excitement of finding out the pairings and, this year at least, very, very extensive explanations of how they’re putting on a show like this in a global pandemic. The answer is testing, bubbling, prerecording group numbers… tbh I’ve kind of zoned out. Okay, show me the couples!
First up is actress Caroline Quentin (Jonathan Creek 4 lyf) being appropriately thrilled to be paired with the delightful Johannes Radebe. His first ever Strictly partnership with Catherine Tyldesley last year was filled with incredible moments and I’m actually really looking forward to see what they come up with.
Next up is Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, and the self-proclaimed Strictly geek seems to truly understand the level of hype you should have at being partnered with my personal Strictly icon Aljaž Škorjanec. You can already tell they’re going to be one of the couples to watch, with her peerless musical knowledge and, well, the fact that he is Aljaž.
Good Morning Britain‘s Political Correspondent Ranvir Singh goes on a wholesome dog walk to meet Giovanni Pernice in the middle of a field. They reveal they’re dancing a paso doble to Beyoncé next week and I think I have actual goosebumps at the very idea.
We get another coronavirus info interlude to introduce the group dance, a perky twenties-themed number to a medley including a jazzed up version of ‘Dance Monkey’ by Tones and I and I am here for it all.
Singer HRVY is next and I have to admit that I am meeting him for the first time right now. Wembley Arena was “one of the first arenas [he] ever played” so it seems like he’s doing well, good for him! He nearly didn’t make it to the show because he’s recently had coronavirus but thank goodness he did as he’s partnered with fellow pocket-sized performer Janette Manrana and they’re already cute af.
At the other end of the height spectrum we have Jason Bell, former American Football player-turned TV presenter. As a fan of the BBC’s coverage of the Super Bowl, I have spent one wonderful night with Jason every year for about a decade and even though you definitely don’t know who he is, I can personally assure you he’s a lot of fun. He’s been matched with Luba Mushtuk, who first got a shot last year with James Cracknell. As she’s the tallest female dancer she pretty much had to get Jason, but I suspect she’s going to go a lot further than week one this year.
We’re in Chelsea next to see Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing’s second attempt at the show after getting injured in the very first dance last year. He’s partnered with Karen Hauer and my first observation is that they have matching hair and my second observation is that her new hair is, to be technical about it, 🔥🔥🔥. There were some tabloid rumours that she was “gutted” not to be partnered with Nicola Adams in Strictly’s first same-sex pairing, and while I’m pretty sure those rumours were a result of her great haircut and lazy journalism, I can’t pretend I wouldn’t have enjoyed that prospect.
Hot on the heels of finding out about HRVY’s existence, we have a musical performance and I discover that someone called Joel Corry, along with MNEK (who I do know!), had a number one single over the summer with ‘Head & Heart’ which they perform here.
Even more couples!
It’s Nicola Adams! We all know what we’re here for: Strictly’s first ever same-sex couple, featuring the first ever women’s Olympic champion boxer. She’s at the Royal Albert Hall (I miss central London!) to meet up with none other than Katya Jones, who is appropriately thrilled to be paired with Nicola. It’s all completely adorable and I am already overflowing with excitement for this pairing and the dances they’re going to give us.
Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is apparently now in TV which somewhat explains her inclusion here in what is actually a pretty stellar line up. There is no way in hell her partner isn’t going to be Anton DuBeke, and the show hardly even pretends it’s a reveal, to be fair to them. I wish her all the best but the attention span is dwindling at minute 59…
Bringing back the pep is sparky EastEnders star and winner of the 2019 Children In Need Strictly special, Maisie Smith. The youngest of the group at 19, she’s got youth, she’s got dancing skills and she’s got Gorka Marquez! I’m so glad he’s back with a partner after a year out last year: his partnership with Alexandra Burke produced some of the most impressive dances in Strictly history and seeing him once again matched with someone which such potential is thrilling. And they’re doing a Samba next week!
To fill some more time we have a socially-distanced performance by last year’s winner Kelvin Fletcher and Oti, which is… fine? God it’s going to be exciting next week when couples are actually dancing.
The! Last! Few! Couples!
Royal Marine Commando and TV presenter JJ Chalmers is very affable and has been deployed to the National Maritime Museum for his rendezvous with the equally charming Amy Dowden. Amy is always a compelling performer with dazzling choreo and their partnership is going to be really interesting.
One of the more left-field celebs in this year’s lineup is comedian Bill Bailey. He’s got a ponytail, he’s read Craig Revel-Horwood’s actual book ‘Teach Yourself Ballroom Dancing’ and he’s been paired with reigning champ Oti, so literally anything could happen. But, more specifically, next week a Cha Cha will happen.
Rounding off the celebrities this year is former member of boyband The Wanted, Max George, whose bandmate Jay McGuinness won the glitterball trophy in 2015. He’s at Abbey Road Studios to meet up with Strictly’s resident Aussie Dianne Buswell. He’s got a lot of nervous energy which can go either way in dancing, so their first dance next week will be intriguing.
After a final wrap-up from the judges offering advice to the contestants (“have a ball!”), we have made it through the launch show! We finish off with a group dance with all the couples where Bill Bailey is surprisingly good, Nicola and Katya are immediately iconic and Maisie is a clear front-runner.
Until we get to see them dance for real, there isn’t much more to say other than STRICTLY IS BACK AND I’M EXCITED! Normality! Girls dancing with girls! Aljaž and Karen back on my TV!
See you next time!