Sunday, 27 September 2015

The long and the short and the tall

Week 1: Nine Couples Perform - 26 September 2015

Last night: six couples made their Strictly Come Dancing debuts - EastEnders star Kellie Bright got things rolling nicely, boxer Anthony Ogogo jived through a shoulder injury, Call The Midwife's Helen George got the Darcey Bussell seal of approval that she's been working towards for her entire life, weather presenter Carol Kirkwood faced a frosty reception, Daniel O'Donnell disappointed fans at every level of the spectrum by being blandly competent, and GLEB SAVCHENKO! performed with something called an Anita Rani in the background. Tonight, that noble band of comrades informally known as "The Other Nine" will also be dancing for the first time. Shall we get on with it, then?

We begin with a pro-dance to 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon. I am reliably informed by my boyfriend that this song is everywhere at the moment, but I must confess to being completely unfamiliar with it so if you'll excuse me I'm just going to go outside and yell at some clouds. The dress code is black and white, and for some reason that means they've dressed Giovanni as an escaped convict from a 1950s cartoon. Careful, Giovanni, there's only room for one 1950s cartoon on this show, and his name is Kevin Clifton. And speaking of the Clifton dynasty, those of you on JoanneWatch will no doubt be interested to mark her appearance in this routine, and I'm kind of digging her new hair colour. Not as much as I'm enjoying Pasha as a leather-jacketed greaser though, so I'm just going to file that one away for later.

Tess and Claudia arrive, and they also got the "black and white" memo - Tess is in white, and Claudia is in black, naturally. Although it would've been fun if they'd swapped. (Yes, I know my definition of "fun" is clearly so loose that it loses all meaning.) Tess reminds us of the salient details from last night's show - chiefly that Anthony Ogogo ripped his trousers - and Claudia summons the judges. I know I shouldn't keep harping on about what everybody's wearing but I will say that I love what Darcey's got on tonight - a floor-length purple gown with a fishtail and an asymmetric neckline that makes her look like the backdrop in an Art Deco cinema. She looks fabulous, is what I'm trying to say.

After that, the couples arrive, and I typed out their official introductions in full yesterday so forgive me for abbreviating them on this occasion: Kellie and Kevin, Anthony and Oti, Anita and GLEB!, Daniel and Kristina, Katie and Anton, Ainsley and Natalie, Helen and Aljaž, Iwan and Ola, Georgia and Giovanni, Jeremy and Karen, Jamelia and Tristan, Peter and Janette, Carol and Pasha (yes, Pasha's shirt is still open, let's make the most of this while we can because I don't think we're getting that much Pasha this year you guys), Jay and Aliona, and Kirsty and Brendan.

Claudia and Tess remind those of us who are unfamiliar with how the opening weekend works that there's no public vote or elimination, but the scores are still important(ish), and then move things right along by introducing our first couple of the night: Jay and Aliona, who'll be doing a cha cha cha. Just so you're all aware, Jay is this year's designated guardian of the Abbey Clancy Memorial "ME NEHHHHHVES" Narrative, and we will be hearing about it a lot. Like, a lot. Jay's VT reminds us that he used to be in a boyband, and he also used to have a much more flattering haircut, but I guess all things in this life are fleeting. Jay's very happy to be on the show, but he's NERVOUS. Aliona's all "I'm really happy with my partner but it's such a shame we're only going to be on the show for two we--oh, hang on, that's the script I've been using for the last two years, they actually gave me a new one this time, lemme go find it." Jay says that he's used to being on stage with four other guys - you know, The Little One, That One That Was In Glee, and The Other Two - but he's just going to get used to only having Aliona there. Maybe don't even bank on having that, Jay - if you fuck up you're on your own, just ask Gregg Wallace.

In rehearsals, Jay is NERVOUS about performing in front of millions of people, so Aliona takes him to The O2. She asks him what it's like to perform there, and he replies that "it's like nothing you would believe". That's true, I do have a hard time believing The Wanted were ever popular enough to play The O2. Aliona encourages him to channel that feeling when they do their cha cha cha.

They're dancing to 'Reach Out, I'll Be There' by The Four Tops (I don't care what the website says, it is fucking not by "Human Nature", whatever that is), and Jay is playing a singer (huge stretch there) while Aliona plays a broken-hearted girl who learns to overcome her problems with MUSIC and DANCE. Aliona's cry-acting is just delightful, especially for those of us who just assumed she'd lost the ability to feel anything at all after the last couple of series. It gets off to a slightly wobbly start, although I think that's because Jay isn't yet skilled enough to cha cha around the tiny little podium that he's standing on at the top of the routine, but when they get out onto the dancefloor proper, he's actually quite good - his timing's fine, his moves are sharp and there's some decent chemistry between him and Aliona. I'd say that it's a little bit mechanical (you can almost see him checking off the list of positions in his head as the routine goes on), his free arm is frequently a bit limp and he needs to smile more, but it's a very solid start. And speaking as one of that small but determined group of people who have always quite liked Aliona, it's nice to be reminded of what she's capable of doing when she doesn't just get automatically lumbered with the duffer du jour. It ends, and Jay appears to be apologising to Aliona for something and she assures him that he was really good. Yeah, we're going to have a lot of this, aren't we? Self-assurance wise, he's going to make Abbey Clancy look like Austin Healey.

Jay tells Tess it was "really fun" to do the routine and Tess squeals "HE'S SHAKING LIKE CRAZY, BLESS!" Seems like the classy thing to do would be not to call attention to it? Jay and Aliona back-and-forth with the "no, you're amazing" bit for a while until the wheels come off dramatically when Jay says "you pulled it out of the bag". I think he might be reading from a script he found lying on the floor of the Porn Train (neva 4get). Jay waves to his mum in the audience, who was apparently Very Moved. Tess reminds Len that Jay has been SUFFERING WITH NERVES, and Len compares Jay McGuiness to "a glass of Guinness", because he was full-bodied with a lot of froth on the top. I think maybe Len needs to start going to better pubs. Len adds that he thought there was nearly a lift in there but it wasn't an actual lift, but warns Aliona (and, by extension, everyone) that he's going to be watching "all season" (you've left Dancing With The Stars now Len, you can go back to saying "series") to make sure that there are no illegal lifts and if anyone sneaks one in Len is going to DOCK THEM A POINT. I'm sure that's going to make all the difference when he's got Darcey next to him trying to find her "14" paddle. Len tells Jay that he is "wanted", and Bruno tells Jay that he's "glad you came", and this is unbearable but at least we're getting them all out of the way early. Bruno says Jay has great potential, and he was really impressed by the way Jay pushed through the leg and extended his feet. Craig agrees with Bruno, and then Bruno FALLS OFF HIS CHAIR ENTIRELY SPONTANEOUSLY, just like he does every year. I bet he'll be disappointed to discover that the camera was on Tess the whole time so we didn't actually see it. Craig continues that he was impressed with Jay's isolation, but the whole thing needed a bit more showmanship. Darcey says it's so hard for the men, and *fast-forwards*.

Tess instructs Jay to go and "reach out to Claudia", and up in the Clauditorium we hear a little bit more about Jay's nerves. Jay's nerves, everybody. Claudia reminds us all of what the leaderboard looked like last night, and the judges give their scores: Craig 5, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. I don't want to look like I'm piling on Darcey here, but fuck off was that an eight. I mean, I suppose it counterbalances Craig's 5 which was also pretty ridiculous in the opposite direction, but maybe we could just all start scoring sensibly instead? Claudia tells Jay that the whole audience went "what?" when Craig announced his score, but sensibly does not reveal the general reaction to Darcey's score because, unlike last night, we are on the polite side of the watershed.

Our second couple this evening is "sports news anchor" Kirsty Gallacher and her partner "Brenda Cole". Looks like Tess has been reading Monkseal, which is brave of her really. Kirsty's VT opens pretty disastrously with her talking about how there are lots of misconceptions about her being really sporty and tough, "but I'm actually a very girly girl", like these things are not mutually exclusive and being sporty does not mean you aren't feminine. Good grief. Kirsty says that Brendan's reaction to being partnered with her was great, but she wonders if he knows she can't dance. Brendan scoffs at this, and declares that she just hasn't found the right boy yet. (Brendan Cole is 39.) [Is that his stage age? - Rad] Kirsty says she thinks she's going to be a good student, but she's not sure what sort of teacher Brendan is. Yes, the man who has been doing this show for 11 years is such an enigma! She hopes she doesn't let Brendan down (lol foreshadowing).

Brendan asks Kirsty how she's feeling ahead of her first performance, and she says she just hopes she doesn't let her nerves take over. Kirsty tells us all that her mum has been very supportive and just keeps popping in unannounced, because apparently Kirsty lives in a sitcom from the nineties. Kirsty's mum says that it's great to see Kirsty dancing with Brendan, and she hopes that she can offer some encouragement to stop Kirsty from feeling nervous. Kirsty hopes she can do her mum proud (lol foreshadowing).

There's some bizarre framing at the top of the routine, and I mean that entirely literally because a picture frame surrounded by hotel wallpaper has been superimposed around Kirsty and Brendan, which has the unfortunate side-effect of causing me to check I haven't accidentally sat on the remote control and switched over to Dave just as they're going to an ad break. They're waltzing to 'Vincent' by Don McLean, and I think it's supposed to be all dreamy and romantic but honestly? Kirsty looks a bit drunk. Like, the whole thing looks like she had too much wine at the office party and Brendan's the guy who was sober enough that everyone else made him escort her home, but she keeps running off down side roads to yell at taxi drivers or throw up in someone's front garden and it's just taking them forever to get there and he's wishing he'd had a bit more to drink so someone else would have had to do it. I mean, it doesn't help that she's dancing to a song that really isn't in waltz time but even so, this is disastrous. And it's personally devastating for me because I wanted Kirsty to run the Gabby Logan arc by being sporty and competitive and flawless and making everyone fear her until she suddenly gets shock-booted, but looking at this mess, I don't think it's going to happen. Still, people have come back from worse starts than this, right? [We were wrong about her being Gabby redux - she's Pendledrama redux.  Hopefully with the drama - Rad]

Bruno says that it would have been gorgeous "as a series of pictures", but the problem was all the stumbling in between as she was clinging on to Brendan for dear life. Kirsty says that it's nerves, and Bruno says that he's sure she can improve. Craig reports that it lacked the flow that is crucial to the waltz and there were some serious balance issues. You can tell that Brendan's already far more invested in Kirsty than he was in Sunetra last year because he pipes up in her defence, saying that he's never seen her as nervous as she is at this point, and they will absolutely work on sorting all of this out. Darcey says that it's so hard to control the rise and fall when you have all those nerves on top, and assures Kirsty that she'll feel like a different person next week. Len finishes by saying that some people don't appreciate that the celebrities are beginners and haven't yet learned to control their nerves (swear to god if I hear the word "nerves" one more time tonight I am going to fill the bathtub and drown myself in it), and he wants Kirsty to be more relaxed next week for her salsa and come out there and wiggle her bum and just enjoy it.

Kirsty flees to the sanctity of the Clauditorium, and says that she's just glad the whole process has started. Claudia assures her that the salsa will be her dance. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 20. Oof. Even Brendan doesn't try to protest that score, he just attempts to draw a line under it and move on. Come on, Kirsty, come back next week and terrify everyone with sporty brilliance, I'VE ALREADY BEEN LET DOWN BY DANIEL O'DONNELL NOT BEING COMPLETELY HOPELESS, DON'T YOU BETRAY ME AS WELL.

Benefitting from lowered expectations next, we have Jeremy and Karen with their cha cha cha. Jeremy says in his VT that he's been "a serious journalist since 1987" (lol no, you're the guy who hosts Eggheads and a Radio 2 show where people just phone in and say any old awful shit about The State Of Britain Today). Karen says she was quite surprised when she saw Jeremy's hip thrusts in the launch show, but she quite liked it at the same time. I've started to quite enjoy watching Karen never having anything in common with any of her partners. There's a bit of business in his training footage about him being unable to shake off his journalistic instincts, to the extent that he brings a notepad to training and writes everything down. Karen's all "ehh, whatever works for you" in much the same way that Karen usually is.

There's a swingometer projected onto the studio floor so he's obviously going to do A Bit before they get started, but the way he starts it by calling out "laaaaaaaadies and gentlemeeeen" makes it sounds like his day job is as a carny rather than a journalist. Anyway, the whole thing is so gloriously incoherent that I must transcribe it verbatim and preserve it for the ages: "Today we are discussing the cha cha cha, but what does our election swingometer say about the cha cha cha? Oh dear, only 18 per cent. I wonder if that might be different in...September!" And then the band starts playing 'September' by Earth, Wind and Fire. I really, really hope he improvised that bit because if that was actually scripted, God help us all. Anyway, Karen emerges from a Sexy Polling Booth and Jeremy takes off his jacket and they dance together, and that awful opening might turn out to be a shrewd move because I can't imagine anything he could do afterwards that would look more cringeworthy in comparison. His cha cha cha is absolute dad-dancing and he seems a little unsure of his moves, but Karen has at least choreographed an actual routine for him to do and Jeremy's giving it his best shot, which is my most palatable brand of comedy contestant: I don't mind you being crap, but at least be crap in the process of trying to be good rather than just admitting from the outset that you're not going to be any good and trying to force lolz out of it. Also, he's not completely hopeless anyway - his hips move, and he seems to know where he's going most of the time. He's never going to be great, but he might just claw his way up to being decent if he's here long enough.

As Jeremy crosses over to Tess, we cut to the judges so we can see Darcey doing the full head-back-hands-flapping-in-front-of-face-trying-to-dry-tears thing and calm down Darcey, it wasn't that funny. Karen giggles that Jeremy's heart is about to pop right out of his chest. Craig tells Jeremy that he would have qualified for the world dad-dancing championships (which are apparently a real thing, held in Devon) and it was all very flat-footed and his free arm had a mind of its own. Darcey calls it "strangely fabulous" (oh god, she's giving it a crazy nine, isn't she?) [Just give her the Overs on X Factor in Cowell's next 'pinch a Beeb reality judge' swipe and let's be done with her - Rad] and commends Jeremy for throwing "everything" into it. She advises him to watch his legs though, because they give away his lack of technique. Len says it was like a vine - a little bit out of control, and you never know where it's going next. And only six seconds' worth of content? Len tells Jeremy that he came ahhht and went for it, and that he thinks "this underdog's got a bit of bite". Bruno tells Jeremy he "dances to his own tune", but he looked like a "rubbery, gangly" Hallowe'en spider. There was no control, but he thought it was funny.

Jeremy receives a hero's welcome at the Clauditorium, where Claudia reports that Iwan just said "he makes me happy". Jeremy says that it was a bit wrong at the start (you're telling me), but it all came to him about 15 seconds in, and he thanks the audience for spurring him on with their support. You can tell he works with politicians. Jeremy thanks "partner, here" (psst, Jeremy, her name's Karen) for everything, and announces that he won't be bringing the notepad next week because it clearly didn't help. Heh. Scores, then: Craig 2, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 19. Claudia reminds us to register for our BBC ID if we want to vote online next week, which is good advice. Do it now! (In a new tab, don't you dare close us down.)

Next, we have the sexxxy sexxxxy sexxxx pairing of Georgia and Giovanni. In her VT, Georgia is introduced as "actress and star of Coronation Street", possibly because she doesn't really have much of a profile outside of Coronation Street, not hating, just saying. She gets off to a bad start by refering to herself as "little Georgia from Bury", which had better be the first and last time she or anyone else refers to her that way. Georgia is hoping to do The North proud. Giovanni and Georgia have already started referring to themselves as "Team GG", so start compiling all of your horse jokes.

Giovanni starts their training by giving Georgia a t-shirt with "BORN TO WIN" on one side and "TEAM GG" on the other. Say what you like about him, but he knows the importance of #brand #engagement. Georgia is horrified to learn that she's got the jive first (even though I remember her saying in interviews that the jive was the dance she was most looking forward to, so I guess this is a "be careful what you wish for" scenario), and as they practice, Georgia tries to get the hang of pronouncing "Pernice" correctly. This leads to all sorts of "she's from Oop North, he's from Sicily" hijinks that are played more or less note-for-note as they were during When Chelsee Met Pasha (except he was Russian, obviously, not Italian). Georgia tries to teach Giovanni some reet northern slang like "it's nippy", he's all "what ees theese 'neepy'?", we all laugh at the funny foreigner and the little northern girl, job's a good'un.

They're dancing to 'Dear Future Husband' by Meghan Trainor from the album Yes They Actually Let Me Record One Of These, Lol I Can't Believe It Either. [It has the same tune as some Olly Murs thing as well SMH - Rad] It's set in a salon where Giovanni is the slick groomer (STEADY) and Georgia is...Katy Perry, I think. That seems to be the look they're going for, anyway. She's pretty good, as I think we all knew she would be, but there's definitely an ongoing balance issue throughout the routine - a couple of times she comes out of a spin and almost goes right over, so I'd suggest Giovanni does a bit more work with her on spotting. The kicks and flicks are a little bit sluggish as well, but it is a very fast routine for a week one jive, so in general I'd say she keeps up with it all impressively well.

Tess and Georgia have a brief northern-off after the dance, and Darcey says that it was an incredibly impressive first dance in terms of the content and the speed. She thinks the two of them work very well together, but points out that Georgia needs to control how she exits her turns. Len embarks on an extended hairdressing metaphor that basically amounts to "I liked it", and Bruno cracks a joke about feeling "the g-force". Well, at least he didn't mention the g-spot, although...give it time, I guess. He says that they ran out of steam towards the end, but it was a wonderful first outing. As for Craig, he thought it started well, but he thinks Georgia didn't quite have the stamina to carry that through to the end. He did think it was "lively" and "bubbly" though, and enjoyed it very much.

They bounce up to the Clauditorium where Georgia cops to being equal parts excited and terrified to be here, and Tess tells us that Giovanni's parents are here. Giovanni says that this is his dream come true, and he thinks it's his parents' dream come true as well to see him here. Aww. I like Earnest Giovanni a lot more than Italian Stereotype Sleazebag Giovanni, if any of the scriptwriters are reading this. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. A lot of 27s so far this weekend.

Ainsley and Natalie are up next as we approach the mid-point of the evening. Ainsley says in his VT that he was so excited to be partnered with Ainsley, because you would be. He says that he and Natalie are a prefect combination like tomatoes and basil, and he's always loved dancing in the kitchen so he's hoping to incorporate that into his routines. Natalie says she's already seen the salt-and-pepper-shaker, and the stirring-of-the-pot, and then she started having Celebrity MasterChef flashbacks and had to go and lie down in a darkened room for a bit.

Natalie has planned a tango to 'Voulez Vous' by Abba and is setting it in a Parisian bar, and honestly if I were a judge I'd be gripping my 10 paddle already. Ainsley decides to thank Natalie by cooking her some French food, so of course they both wear berets and Natalie accessorises it with a necklace of garlic bulbs, she literally cannot get any better. I love this pair already. NOW MAKE NATALIE COOK SOMETHING!

The routine is magnificent, because a dance choreographed by Natalie Lowe that starts with Ainsley Harriott in a beret sipping a martini can't possibly be anything else. The whole thing is so camp that it's already set up a Grindr profile with "MASC4MASC" at the top, and I love it. I mean, on an objective level Ainsley's posture is pretty terrible and actually gets worse the longer the dance goes on - by the time it ends he's practically Uncle Fester - but at least it delivered everything I wanted from this couple. Please, voting public, at least keep them around for a little while. I'm already set to lose Pasha very early, I can't cope with Natalie being an early boot as well.

Ainsley tells Tess that he's been doing a tango face for two weeks, and Natalie giggles "it's not him!" Seriously, they're a match made in heaven. If we must give up on the #RINGER4NATALIE mission, I'm glad they're at least giving her people she can have fun with. Len says it's the longest he's ever seen Ainsley go without smiling, and follows that up by saying that he captured the flavour of the routine but not necessarily the technique. He adds that it "had a touch of the gallops", and really there's no excuse for that in the age of Imodium. He's looking forward to Ainsley's salsa next week, as am I, because I've got all sorts of jokes about chopped tomatoes and lime juice lined up. (That's a lie, I have no jokes about chopped tomatoes and lime juice.) Bruno was impressed by the variety of different "flavours" in the routine, particularly the point where Ainsley became "a rooster chasing a hen". He encourages Ainsley to stick to one character per dance in future. Craig says that he needs to sort his posture out because you need to create a v-shape in this dance. I should think Craig needs to be careful of encouraging people to make a v-shape at him. He loved the acting, though. Darcey couldn't take her eyes of Ainsley's lips, and tells him that he took the emotion into his shoulders, so he just needs to learn to relax them.

Atop the Clauditorium, Ainsley admits that Natalie's been telling him for weeks to keep his shoulders down, but he got carried away. Claudia compliments him on "the best tango face I have ever seen", describing it as "livid, yet charming". She also asks them to to reveal what song they're dancing to next week - 'Don't Touch My Tomatoes' by Josephine Baker, apparently. I CAN'T WAIT. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 20. Ainsley Harriott getting the same week one score as presumed ringer Kirsty Gallacher is giving me life, I can't lie.

Ahead of a preview of the four dances yet to come (including Peter Andre rehearsing in a bloody leather t-shirt, good grief), we arrive at our next couple: Katie and Anton. Katie tells us in her VT that her dance experience only amounts to a bit of ballet when she was a kid, but she's not sure that knowing "good toes from bad toes" is going to help much. Honestly, Katie, compared to some of Anton's previous partners, just knowing where your toes are is going to put you ahead of the pack. Katie was pleased to get Anton, describing him as "the legend", and I don't really need to tell you that Anton's pleased, because of course he's thrilled with anyone who's going to talk about him like that.

Katie turns up for her first day of training, which is in a bleak brick room that I'm not entirely convinced isn't actually situated within a prison, and Anton tells her that they're starting with the jive. Katie tells us that the jive is terrifying (perhaps because Anton hasn't done one in six years, and the last time he did one it looked like this) and apparently theirs is to have a Last Night Of The Proms theme, so she invites Anton to join her for the real thing. They do a bit of their jive in the Royal Albert Hall (sans audience, sadly) and Katie says she just wants to be able to recapture a bit of that atmosphere on the show.

It starts with Katie miming to a harp while Anton conducts some classical music that I do not recognise because I am a pleb, sorry, but then the band rebels and starts playing 'Roll Over Beethoven' and Katie is overcome by the URGE TO JIVE so she strips off her formal suit to reveal a sparkly gold fringed Latin dance dress. The good first, then: Katie has legs for days and a good sense of rhythm, and does a good job of her kicks and flicks. The bad: it's a bit wobbly generally, and not really the trainwreck I hope for when Anton does Latin. It's not great, it's not terrible, it's just somewhere in the middle, which is a bit disappointing. [Katie was better than Anton though, as per the case every other year when he gets someone OK - Rad]

Bruno tells Katie that he couldn't take his eyes off her because she has "radiant stage presence" (translation: always looks a bit drunk), and warns Anton that he's actually got first-class material this year so he'd better not fuck it up. I'm paraphrasing, obviously. Tess tells Katie that she's obsessed with "those legs" in the tone of voice that she normally reserves for men with gunz, so Katie should probably be quite careful. Craig tells Anton he's loving finally seeing him actually dancing, but says that the side-by-side section was a little out of sync in some parts, and there was a ropey under-arm turn at the end, but declares it perhaps "the most sophisticated and stylish jive we've ever had on the programme". (Craig is going to give it a 6 in a minute, just FYI.) Darcey says that it's very impressive to keep a jive neat and clean with long limbs like Katie's, and while it could've been sharper, it was very classy. Len hopes this could be "the glory year", and says it could be the year that Anton's gainfully employed in the show right up to Christmas.

Katie giggles "I love you!" at Anton as they make their way up to the Clauditorium, adding further fuel to my theory that she's that exact level of posh that makes you always sound a bit drunk. Everyone's cheering for them when they get up there, and Claudia jokes that Anton's never really understood how the show works - when everyone else gets on a bus to Blackpool, he's just assumed that was the end of the series and gone home. (I hate to be that one serious guy that ruins the joke, but the last time Anton made it to Blackpool was...last year, with Judy Murray.) Claudia asks Katie if it's as much fun as she imagined, being a big fan of the show, and Katie says it's better and more terrifying and also brilliant. I love her. Scores for the bestest posh jive the show's ever seen: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Suddenly Anton seems even drunker than Katie, and starts screaming about how he's not used to getting 26 points in one go: "it takes weeks of accumulated numbers!"

Our antepenultimate couple for the evening are Iwan and Ola, who will be doing a tango, apparently. Over a montage of photos that remind us of his bygone days as a proud ginger *sniff*, Iwan says that as an athlete he knows what it's like to push your body to the limit. As a recapper, I too know what it's like to push one's body to the limit because I've been sat here for nearly four hours now and my back really hurts. Ola says that she is a strict teacher, and will be strict with Iwan.

In training, she tells him that he has the tango first, and Iwan says that he's not a quick learner but he is a perfectionist. Iwan's perfectionism manifests itself in a strange way where he doesn't actually bother to clear enough time in his schedule to train properly, so he's jetting off to Italy to cover Moto GP - Ola goes out there with him, but he ditches her because he's got work to do. I guess he's like Pixie Lott, he's just BUSYBUSYSOBUSY. I mean it's not as if it's not well-documented that you need to clear a fair bit of your diary out to give yourself enough time to train for this show, so don't sign up and then go "oops, I'm busy". Also, lack of training is no excuse for turning out shoddy product, remember Louisa Lytton's jive that came on the heels of about five minutes' worth of actual training.

They're doing a tango to 'Keep On Running'. There's an athletics track superimposed on the dancefloor and, I shit you not, Iwan and Ola are on their marks and there's the sound of a starting pistol and then Iwan does a circuit of the "track". And then they do a tango. I can just about tolerate some pre-performance faffing if you try to actually tie it in with the routine, but I've seen actual pornography with more coherent plotting than this. And if you're wondering if the actual tango is worth the wait - no, it isn't. It's painfully obvious that Iwan is under-rehearsed, and Ola's kind of on autopilot so she's not even doing anything interesting to distract us from his limitations like, say, Janette or Natalie or Iveta (sniff) might. It's all just a bit of a non-event, really. A false start, if you like.

Tess asks Craig if it was a winning performance and Craig says no - there was gapping, it was lumpy, his posture was terrible, and there was no real storytelling. But, he does think that Iwan's bottom is lovely, so there is that. Darcey says that he started really well (he did?) but he's inclined to get wild, so he needs to fix that hold and that topline. Len thinks it didn't have enough attack, but he thinks Iwan will come back and improve next week because SPORTSMAN. Bruno says he wishes Iwan had kept running because that was much better than the tango, and tells Iwan he needs to learn to assume a character for his performance if he really wants to master dancing - and he tells him he needs to properly commit to being here too, so that's Iwan told.

Claudia says that Iwan is adorable to be around, and Iwan replies that he knows he has to improve because that's the whole point of the show, adding "I can't get worse, can I?" Don't count on it. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 17. Ola says that they will come back stronger. Iwan has a cha cha cha next week, so we'll see.

Last-but-one are Jamelia and Tristan. Tess tells us that Jamelia "stars in Loose Women", which is a mind-boggling concept in itself. In her VT, Jamelia said that the group dance in the launch show made her realise how much she misses performing, and she was ecstatic to be paired with Tristan. In turn, Tristan thinks that the fact that Jamelia really wants to learn is definitely a good thing.

Tristan tells Jamelia that they'll be starting out with the waltz, and Jamelia puts her head in her hands, which sort of belies that whole "wanting to learn" thing from 10 seconds ago. Jamelia says that the waltz is graceful and elegant and she is not, and adds that she has a serious giggling problem, which she urges us not to confuse with her not taking this seriously. Tristan attempts to get Jamelia to stop giggling, but deploys peculiar tactics like "stare at my face", "wear a silly hat", "ooh chase me chase me", all of which unsurprisingly only make things worse. Jamelia says she'll try to contain her giggles on the night.

Unfortunately, giggling is the least of her problems because despite a promising start to her waltz (to 'Do Right Woman, Do Right Man') and despite Tristan being in one of wardrobe's ever-reliable pairs of Snug White Men's Trousers, the whole thing gets away from her quite early on and the whole thing feels a bit stuttery and tentative. Also, the end-pose is just really ugly, and I don't know if that's Jamelia's dancing or Tristan's choreography, so I'm going to split the difference and assume it's a bit of both. [Not yet sure why Tristan got to be the sole survivor of last year's new pro crop - Rad]

Darcey says it was a very charming waltz, and she enjoyed the beginning when Jamelia was making fine use of her long arms, but the further she got into the dance, the more she lost concentration. Len agrees - it was a great start, but then there were some mistakes and those threw her so she lost her place. But he thinks she's beautiful and elegant and the waltz suits her. Bruno says it started like a dream - it just didn't continue like one. He advises her to try to catch up if she goes wrong, rather than get into a muddle, though I daresay that's the sort of thing you only really learn to do with a bit more practice. I've never tried to improvise a waltz on the spot but I imagine it's much harder than it looks. Craig points out that the basic waltz step is "step-side-close" and that Jamelia wasn't actually closing a lot of the time. Always Be Closing, Jamelia! But he thinks it was great and it got a good reaction from the audience.

A rather subdued Jamelia makes her way up to the Clauditorium - still giggling, though - and Claudia tells her she was fantastic. Jamelia says she enjoyed it, but she's just disappointed that she let Tristan down. Claudia tells Jamelia that she loves her because everyone else has been going on and on about their nerves all day (PREACH, SISTER) but when Claudia asked Jamelia, she just said that she was nervous but she was mostly just excited to be here. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 21. Jamelia's clearly a bit disappointed by that result, but puts a brave face on nonetheless.

Predictably enough, Peter and Janette are closing the show. Peter's VT includes a lovingly-shot scene of Peter and his own reflection, which probably says quite a lot. Janette says that she's the smallest female pro on the show (I like the implication that there are male pros shorter than she is, like perhaps Brendan has secretly been three children standing on each other's shoulders all this time).

In training -- well, actually, we don't get to see much training, to be honest. Peter says that he's not really feeling the cha cha cha yet because he's used to the sort of dancing you do in pop videos and Iceland advertisements. Janette decides that she wants to get all of that "hip hop" (lol okay) out of his system by doing a 90s-style dance battle. So they wear some silly clothes, trash talk each other, and flail around aimlessly for ages. I feel like we just got a macro-version of Steve and Ola's narrative from last year.

They're dancing to 'Ain't No Other Man' and can we please have a moratorium on people dancing to Christina Aguilera songs? No disrespect to the singers, but they can't really keep up with Xtina and they never have been able to in any iteration. It's a bit disappointing considering how über-pimped Peter has been leading up to the start of the competition, because his performance is rather flat to me: he's not required to do an awful lot other than wiggle his hips while Janette cavorts around and his movements are a little too aggressive.

Len says that the action was a little clipped, but that aside it was the best dance of the weekend. Bruno loved the performance level, but he thinks Peter's got more smooth hip action - "the cha cha is not angular all the time". Tess asks Craig if it was a showstopper, and Craig says it was and he really enjoyed it", but he advises Peter to work on his hip action because he's going to need that for all of his Latin dances. Especially with Janette as his partner. Darcey finishes by saying that Peter was overflowing with attitude, and she's very excited about next week.

Claudia asks Peter if he's over the moon, and he says he's speechless. Claudia says that they're training really hard (just not to the extent that any of it gets shown in their VT) and Peter reminds us that they're Having Fun And Bants as well. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 30.

So, after a quick recap of all of this weekend's performances (I've been here for hours, please don't ask me to recap the recap), here's the leaderboard:

1. Peter & Janette - 30
2. Helen & Aljaž - 29
3=. Kellie & Kevin - 27
3=. Anita & Gleb - 27
3=. Jay & Aliona - 27
3=. Georgia & Giovanni - 27
7. Katie & Anton - 26
8. Daniel & Kristina - 24
9=. Anthony & Oti - 21
9=. Jamelia & Tristan - 21
11=. Kirsty & Brendan - 20
11=. Ainsley & Natalie - 20
13. Jeremy & Karen - 19
14. Iwan & Ola - 17
15. Carol & Pasha - 16

I realise that it's very hard to manage these things when you're a) spreading a competition over two nights and b) allowing four individual people to score as they see fit, but even so: that four-way tie for third place is ridiculous. And having watched Anita again in the recap after seeing everyone perform, I'm still convinced she was undermarked. So, I guess I'm stanning for Anita this year, basically. (Don't even get me started on how she's being sidelined so they can build up the profile of her pro.)

Anyway, next week everyone gets to perform again, and we'll be kicking out our first couple of 2015. Rad will be here with all of the detail, so make sure you're here too.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The GLEB!, the bad, and the ugly

Week 1: Six Couples Perform - 25 September 2015

Three weeks ago: the government's privatisation of the rail network reached a new low as the BBC was forced to buy its own train just to get everybody to Elstree for the launch show (and, since she's not getting a celebrity partner this year, poor Joanne had to clean all the suspicious white stains off the seats). Our 2015 celebrities were united with their professional partners and began training, while the rest of us followed the official Twitter account and watched all the early training footage in the hope that we could scream "DIRTY RINGAH!" at some of them. Tonight, the first six couples hit the dancefloor the first time, so let's just hope the dancefloor doesn't hit them back. This! Is Strictly Come Dancing 2015! Live!

Let's begin with our first proper look at the 2015 opening titles, then: compared to the last couple of years, they're a little bit subdued. Where we once had an variety of styles in which the celebs and their partners interacted, the template this year seems to be "the woman does a twirl then they hit an end pose and grin at the camera". There are a few variations on this, though: Aljaž grabs Helen's leg and she giggles, Oti stands on one leg and sort of...drops onto Anthony and lets him catch her, Carol flaps her skirt a bit, Kellie flaps her skirt around while Kevin does Latin hips beside her, Gleb literally runs on behind Anita from off-camera like his taxi was late, Ola doesn't bother with the twirl (not that I'm suggesting Ola's approach these days is "just turn up and anything beyond that is a bonus" or anything) [After seeing her dance tonight... - Rad], Peter flexes his guns while Janette grabs his chest, and - bizarrely - it ends with an overhead shot of Joanne twirling around. I mean, I'm pleased for her that she gets to be a part of it, but now I'm starting to wonder if there was in fact anything to the rumours that she was actually meant to have a celebrity partner who fell through at the last minute and was given the It Takes Two job as a sort of apology/fulfilment of her contractual obligation. Anyway, if you have a favourite conspiracy theory, share it with us in the comments! (Nothing libellous please, we can't afford lawyers.) [Given the rumours about Gemma Collins today my headcanon is that they would have been the series' first same-sex pairing, possibly so that the 'traditionalists' could use it as a reason to never do it again - Rad]

We cut to the studio, and Brendan and Anton are on hand to escort Tess and Claudia respectively down the stairs. The Tess Dress Mess, Assessed: a blush-red dress with a sort of star-shaped cutout around the neckline, which gives her the appearance of a freshly-beheaded strawberry. What Winkleman's Wearing: a black slip dress with a champagne-coloured overlay across the top and cascading down her left arm. (Yes, you'll notice I haven't got any better at writing about fashion in the last nine months, sorry 'bout it.) Claudia welcomes the judges to the stage, and much as you'd expect by this point, Bruno is hip-popping everywhere before he and Craig spin their way to the desk while Len and Darcey can't really be arsed and just promenade for a bit until it's time to hit their mark. Never change, you guys.

Claudia asks Tess if Gleb is here, and there's a whoop from the audience, so I guess they're definitely trying to make Gleb a thing this year. That's fine by me because he's by far the most psychologically interesting of the new pros, although from a sheer conventional-attractiveness perspective I would have thought it would make more sense to go with Giovanni. Anyway, shall we meet our Strictly stars? EastEnders actress Kellie Bright and her partner Kevin Clifton, Olympic medal-winning boxer Anthony Ogogo and his partner Oti Mabuse, TV presenter Anita Rani and OH MY GOD IT'S THE ONE AND ONLY GLEB SAVCHENKO!, singer and entertainer Daniel O'Donnell and his partner Kristina Rihanoff, BBC Proms and Radio 3 presenter Katie Derham and her partner Anton Du Beke, celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott and his partner Natalie Lowe, star of Call The Midwife Helen George and her partner Aljaž Skorjanec, sports commentator and Olympic medallist Iwan Thomas and his partner Ola Jordan, actress Georgia May Foote and her partner Giovanni Pernice, BBC broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Vine and his partner Karen Clifton, singer and Loose Women Starch Amelia and her partner Tristan MacManus, pop star and TV personality Peter Andre and his partner Janette Manrara (getting the loudest cheers of anyone, for those of you keeping score), BBC weather reporter Carol Kirkwood and her partner Pasha Kovalev, from The Wanted, pop star Jay McGuiness and his partner Aliona Vilani, and finally Sky Sports presenter Kirsty Gallacher and her partner Brendan Cole. Not to be unsporting, but the sooner we start eliminating people the better because my typing fingers are showing the warning signs of thoracic outlet syndrome already.

Claudia and Tess remind the couples that there will be no public vote and no elimination this weekend, but they will still be scored by the judges, and those scores will be carried over to next weekend to form part of their overall total. The couple with the honour of opening the series this year are Kellie and Kevin, who'll be doing a tango. Kellie opens her VT by acknowledging the long and proud history of EastEnders cast members on the show, though whether she specifically means their tendency to start out well but flame out by the semi-final is unclear. She adds that her mum sent her a list of the dancers that she thought Kellie should dance with, and Kevin was at the top. However, I can only assume given the way this evening is going that everyone's mum's list next year will be "GLEB GLEB GLEB GLEB GLEB GLEB GLEB". Yes, even the men's mums. Kevin interviews that he's already getting on so well with Kellie (which, in my experience, usually means that by week five they'll have developed so many in-jokes as to be borderline incoherent to anyone else). Kellie, however, tells us that she can be be quite strong-willed and stubborn and bossy (just ask T-Shirt) and Kevin does his best "oh noes" face in response.

Kellie informs us that they'll be tangoing to 'You Really Got Me' by The Kinks, and that she's doing fine - until the music comes on. Kevin's notes are essentially that Kellie has the steps and the hold, but that she hasn't quite got the character down, so because Kellie is An Actress they invent the role of "Mimi" - an it-girl fresh from Carnaby Street who was probably spotted last week with Mick Jagger. Because, of course, an association with a Rolling Stone is an absolute guarantee of success on this show. Just ask Jo Wood. Or Jerry Hall, who scored 18 points for every one of the three dances she lasted long enough to perform. Kellie decides that "Mimi" (who Kevin suggests is probably really called "Brenda") is a natural at the tango, and proceeds to Act her way through rehearsals (staying in character through lunch), expressing her hope that the character will help her through the routine on the night.

As far as the performance itself is concerned, Kevin has choreographed some opening faff that seems more paso than tango and which Kellie doesn't look 100 per cent comfortable doing, but once they get into hold and start doing some proper tango steps (oh god, I sound like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells) things improve. I'm not sure if it's Kellie or Mimi that I should be addressing this to, but her facial expression is a bit wrong for the tango, I think; it's kind of a forced grin whereas I think a flatter expression would have worked better. Not necessarily a grimace or a scowl, but something a bit more unreadable. Also, they're both playing up to the camera more than I would like, but I'm hoping that's mostly first-night excitement and they'll calm down a bit once the series properly gets underway. There's some sharp and tidy footwork from Kellie that looks promising, but she could do with maybe tightening the top half of her body a little bit more. At the end, Kevin throws her about a bit (and again, she's too floppy for a tango here) and then Mimi/Kellie strides off because she's just too cool for this scene, daddio. Or something. It's a good start, basically: not perfect, but signs of decent technique and plenty of promise for the future.

Tess congratulates Mimi on a strong start and on the first standing ovation of the series, which suggests it's going to be a looooooong series. After welcoming the singers and the band, Tess turns to Len for feedback and Len declares it "just right, Kellie Bright", likening it to a glass of Alka Seltzer: "bubbly, fizzy and really does you good." Hang on, Alka Seltzer only does you good in certain scenarios, right? It's not something you drink every day as part of your overall health regime, is it? Mind you, at Len's age...anyway, where were we? Oh, right: Len tells her that she didn't always have the action-and-reaction when in hold, but overall it was fantastic. Bruno shouts about "swinging swingers" (standard) and says that his spine popped just watching it (standard). He liked that they went for the staccato movement, but thinks they need to be more careful about linking everything together. Tess takes this opportunity to point out that Danny Dyer, Kellie's TV husband, is sitting in the audience and has said he will "iron Craig out" if he's rude about Kellie. Craig's response is that "Danny Dyer could iron me out any time" but he won't have to because he thought it was marvellous. There were a few issues: some peculiar wrist action, the need to pull up her chest more, and the "ragdoll" moment at the end, but Craig admits these are small points. Tess shouts across the floor to ask Danny if he's happy with that, but Danny's not miced up so we can't hear his response. Nice one, Tess. [I hope Dyer isn't this series' Billy Connolly/Brian May/Peter Crouch - Rad] Tess is all set to send them up to the Clauditorium until Kevin and Kellie point out that Darcey (who Tess has her back to) has her hand in the air because she hasn't given her comments. I mean, come on Tess, how else are we supposed to know if the boys are right? Darcey says it was a very daring tango, and an amazing first dance for the series.

Kellie and Kevin screech their way up to the Clauditorium, where Kellie says that this was the most she'd enjoyed that dance, but she suspects most of her technique ended up going out of the window. Kevin says it's a huge responsibility to open the whole series, and he's very proud of her. Claudia suggests that Craig's use of the word "marvellous" suggests he had a very good summer. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. The same score Caroline got for opening the series last year, for those of you keeping track. Personally, I'm just going to bask in the joy of this being the part of the series where Craig scoring something a 6 still gets a cheer from the audience. Claudia congratulates them on getting "officially the highest score of the series", and then promotes the hashflags/"tweet Strictly paddle" things that are going on on Twitter this year.

Tonight's second couple are Anthony and Oti, prompting Tess to remark "Ogogo and Mabuse, they're very exotic", and I'm just not going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole if it's all the same to you guys. They'll be dancing our first jive of 2015, so Tess asks Len to tell us what we should be looking out for. Len says it needs to be sharp and crisp, with high energy, bright and light, gurtcha cahmonmyson pickuw me wawnuts. Thanks Len!

Anthony reminds us in his VT he dislocated his shoulder in his last boxing match and, rather than sit at home reading the complete works of David Foster Wallace while he was recuperating, he decided to Strictly instead. He's pleased to have Oti as his teacher because he claims not to be able to dance at all, and Oti promises that she's going to push him very hard, but also that she's actually very nice and will take care of him. It's probably not the best of openings to their training footage to see Anthony watching Oti doing her warm-up stretches while talking about how stiff he is, but never mind. Oti says that Anthony is very funny and a hard worker, and she thinks they're lucky to be starting with the jive because it's mostly kicks and flicks, so they can avoid Anthony having to do too much with his injured arm. Anthony's physio confirms that his shoulder is "nice and stable", and shouldn't be a problem. Let's see!

They're dancing to 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' (DO YOU SEE?) by Wham!, and I'm pleased to report that the Big Prop Door makes its first appearance in this routine, because it revolves around Anthony picking Oti up for a date, carrying a bouquet of his flowers with the hand of his injured arm. For a week one jive from a tall person, it's not too bad - it's a little bit mechanical and springy in places, and the placing of his injured free arm over the crotch of his trousers for large parts of the routine is...unfortunate, but he's committed and enthusiastic and his rhythm is decent. He needs to point his toes when he kicks though, because he's not really doing that at all and it's making his kicks look very messy. That said, it's a cute routine danced with energy and generally not bad for someone whose injury was always going to be reasonably difficult to work around.

Anthony and Oti walk over to Tess, where Anthony reports a massive split in his trousers (phrasing), and Tess advises him to walk out sideways. Like a crab? Tess asks him how the shoulder is going, and Anthony says it's "getting there" and he hopes it'll get better "week by week". Well, yes, that's generally how these things work. Oti giggles that she's so proud that Anthony carried on despite the wardrobe malfunction. Bruno says that Anthony "nearly KOed the jive", which gets booed even though he apparently intended it as a compliment. It's quite impressive that we're already reaching Peak Bruno and we're only two dances in. He liked the enthusiasm and the energy, and says that Anthony tried to get the pumping action going, though he noticed a few timing issues and says that Anthony must remember to point his feet to stop it looking like a can-can. Craig remarks on Anthony's "pigeon-toes" and "sickle feet", and says it was a lesson in "20 ways to use your left arm", but calls Anthony "the best boxer we've ever had on Strictly", in much the same way that Andrew Castle was the GMTV presenter with the most rhythm. Darcey says the jive is a difficult first dance, but Anthony kept up the bounce and the energy throughout, and she particularly liked all of his facial movements. Len says it had plenty of attack and attitude, and it's the sort of dance that will suit him - however, he cautions Anthony that next week he has the waltz so he'll need to harness and control that energy and show us his gentler side. And also try not to completely obliterate his shoulder by maintaining a ballroom hold, I'm guessing.

Anthony and Oti head up to the Clauditorium where the first thing he does is hide his face, and he tells Claudia that this was only the third time he'd done the dance without a sling on, so he thinks that comparatively it was a decent effort. Oti says she's having the time of her life on the show. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 21. Claudia tells Anthony that this is fine for a week one score because it gives him lots of room for improvement, and to see how happy Oti was with those scores as proof of this.

Helen and Aljaž are next with their waltz, and Tess says she's got hot water and towels on standby, presumably so she can spill the water on Aljaž, mop it up and then encourage him to get out of those wet clothes. Or something baby-related, idk. In her VT, Helen tells us that she's over the moon to have been partnered with Aljaž, and Aljaž in turn vows to give her the best experience on the show that she can imagine, so I assume he'll be ensuring he's always got a mirror behind him so she can get an eyeful of dat ass. That's how I interpreted it, anyway. Helen arrives for her first day of training, very keen to hear what her first dance will be, and is ecstatic that she's got the waltz. Well, it takes all sorts, I suppose. They're discussing the fairytale aspect of the dance and Helen suggests it's all a bit "Prince Charming and Cinderella" to which Aljaž, clearly staking his claim for most awkward segue of 2015, responds by saying "yes, but the princess closes her feet". What I initially took for a bizarre form of slut-shaming turns out to be a reference to Helen's previous ballet training, where she always had to stand with her toes pointing out, as opposed to ballroom where your feet must be fully closed. Aljaž tells her it's a muscle-memory thing that she just needs to be conscious of, which Helen interprets as "retraining my whole body to make my brain make me feet do that". I mean, that's an extreme way of looking at it, but it's essentially the same point, I suppose. Helen's goals for her first dance are getting her steps right and not falling over, which seems reasonable.

They're dancing to 'With You, I'm Born Again' which is a little bit overused on this show (this is its fourth appearance), but it's such an absolute corker of a song that I can't really object. Helen's face throughout is fixed in a slightly manic expression of bliss (and again, I'm going to chalk this sort of thing up to the excess adrenaline of the first night) and there are a few gapping issues, but it's a soft, lyrical and well-executed routine with some nice flourishes that suggest Helen has the ability to go far in this competition. Also, the Aljass always looks best during a waltz, that's just a fact.

Helen tells Tess that it felt like a "lovely nightmare", and Craig says that the routine had elegance, romance, fluidity and movement around the floor "in buckets" and, apart from Helen gripping Aljaž's shoulder too tightly during the standing spin, it showed tremendous potential. Obviously, we're all here to find out what Helen's lifelong idol Darcey has to say about it, so let's delay no further: Darcey says Helen gave the dance real grace and feeling, and she had great control and balance and she saw glimmers of Ginger Rogers in there. Judging from the look on her face, I think Helen's actually having an out-of-body experience right now. Darcey has one piece of constructive advice: she advises Helen to keep her shoulders down. Len: "Hold me upside down and smack my bottom!" That's quite enough of that. Bruno calls it "from midwife to high life", and likens it to Giselle, which the Royal Opera House informs me is "the greatest of all romantic ballets", and they've clearly got no reason to lie about that.

They scamper up to the Clauditorium, although I'm not sure that an increased altitude is what Helen needs at this exact moment because she tells Claudia that she's going to faint in a minute because "it's all a bit much". Aljaž takes over and smoothly declares that "it was like a dream, I was born again". Oh, you. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 27.

Carol and Pasha are next, with the first cha cha cha of the series. Tess asks Darcey how difficult this dance is for a novice, and the answer is "not especially, because it's always been a week one dance". Although Darcey claims that we shouldn't think that at all. Nah, you're all right thanks Darce. She says it's an awkward and fast dance, and you have to be cheeky with it. Carol embraces all of the schtick in her VT by saying that if she had to forecast her time on the show, she'd want a nice smooth journey, with no dance-offs and raining glitter everywhere. She never believed in her wildest dreams she'd get partnered with the raining - sorry, reigning - champion and remarks upon his lovely smile. Pasha says that Carol is a "national treasure" that he'll be looking after "for the next few months". Even if he'd said "weeks", I'd still have thought he was being a bit optimistic, but that's Pasha and his sunny disposition for you. Carol admits she's feeling the pressure because Pasha's been in the final three times and has been awarded more 10s than anyone else.

In her rehearsal footage, Carol admits to finding the cha cha cha difficult and frustrating, but it does allow her to ask Pasha things like "if I go here, where would I be banging from?", which is a question I've pondered in relation to Pasha many times myself. We get some vintage Pasha VT acting as he prepares Carol a surprise to help her with training - a big weather map on the floor so she can use it to map her progress and remember that she's supposed to be standing over, say, Portsmouth at any given moment. Carol hopes it doesn't all go south on the night.

They're dancing to 'Thunder In My Heart' by Leo Sayer, though the routine opens with Carol giving an impromptu "weather forecast" warning us of a cold front approaching from the East, which turns out to be Pasha being lowered from the ceiling with his shirt open which clinging on to a giant glittery bolt of lightning. It probably won't surprise you to learn that I've had dreams that went a bit like this. Carol's acting is almost as terrible as Pasha's, by the way, so I hope she at least lasts long enough for them to do a couple of suitably excruciating comedy VTs together. Carol's hair has also been blow-dried and backcombed so violently that she looks like she should be about to sing an 80s power-ballad. As you probably expected from Pasha's shirt being at DEFCON 3 this early in the competition, Carol's dancing is not great: for large chunks of the routine she isn't even required to move much, and in the faster sections she gets lost pretty quickly. It's still kind of charming, though - what she lacks in technique she makes up for in the enthusiasm and unflappability of someone who cut her teeth on live television, and while there's not a lot of hip movement, there is at least some in there, so she's not a complete lost cause.

Aliona looks down from the Clauditorium, apparently a little adrift from not being the obvious first boot this year, as Carol and Pasha make their way over to Tess. Carol tells Tess that she was petrified, but Tess assures her that the audience loved it. The audience, after pausing for slightly longer than would be ideal, affirm this with a cheer. Darcey tells Carol that even with the mistakes she made, she had a great connection with Pasha and delivered the cheek of the dance and it was fun to see her giggling her head off. Len said there were "bright spells and a little bit of cloud here and there", but Carol needs to be sharper and eliminate a few of those mistakes. Bruno says there was a "flood of errors" and a "total technical drought", but Carol soldiered on and "the sun will come out next week". Craig pulls his best panto face and tells Carol that she did not survive the cold front. Carol giggles, and tells Tess that she had fun even if the judges didn't like it.

Carol and Pasha ascend to the Clauditorium where Carol says that Pasha is a dream to dance with, and then says that her mouth is so dry after that performance. Odd, if I were pressed up against Pasha the absolute last thing I would be is dry. Scores: Craig 2, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16. I think the 2 was a bit harsh, but at least Carol's looking forward to holding on to Pasha when she gets to do ballroom next week, and Claudia suggests that they can all do that at the wrap party. Is it too late to get a job on this series? I'll do anything, up to and including pickling Len's walnuts.

Daniel and Kristina are our penultimate couple tonight, and honestly looking at Daniel I haven't seen anyone so mentally checked-out this early in the competition since...well, it's normally Aliona, let's put it that way. Tess tells us that they will be waltzing to 'When Irish Eyes Are Smiling', because of course they will. Daniel's VT describes him as a "pop patriarch", which is baffling on all kinds of levels, but the end is in sight so let's just get our heads down and keep going. Daniel says he needs a partner with patience who's encouraging but also willing to push him, and he thinks Kristina is the perfect woman for the job. Daniel's hoping to learn enough to sweep his wife off her feet "again", which is an idea I think he's basically just borrowed wholesale from Tim Wonnacott last year. Since Daniel's so familiar with the song, he sings it while they're practising, and then takes Kristina off to a hotel bar with a pianist, I think (Saturday's presumed MailOnline headline: STRICTLY SIREN KRISTINA IN BOOZY HOTEL RENDEZVOUS WITH DEVOTED DANIEL), so he can sing it to her properly. I hope he does this every week, especially when he has to do a samba to 'Problem' by Ariana Grande.

The performance is entirely uneventful in the way that a week one waltz to 'When Irish Eyes Are Smiling' will inevitably be, but Daniel's actually pretty competent - it's a bit bumpy in places, but the steps are all there and he looks like he knows what he's doing. And, on an entirely personal level, I thoroughly enjoy how much he has resting smirkface for the whole routine.

Tess calls him an "absolute gentleman" and Kristina says on Daniel's behalf that he gets "so nervous". Len thinks there was "no messing about" and we all know how much Len appreciates that. He thinks Daniel's hold could be stronger, but his footwork was the best Len's seen. Len doesn't place any particular qualifiers on this sentence, so it's the best footwork he's seen...ever? Sure, let's go with "ever". Bruno calls it "prim", "proper", "placed" and "pleasing". Craig agrees with me that it was uneventful - at least until the point where Daniel used the wrong grip on the floorspin and ended up almost yanking Kristina's arm out of its socket. Darcey tells Daniel that he danced like the perfect gentleman, and counsels him to relax his neck and look at Kristina as much as he can when he's out of hold. But not too much, otherwise Ben Cohen will have to HAVE WORDS or something.

Daniel and his unmoving face and Kristina proceed to the Clauditorium, where Daniel says he's happy that it's done. Claudia asks him how he celebrates, and Daniel deadpans that "I'm excited now, but you can't tell." Heh. We cut to Daniel's wife Majella in the audience who looks suitably moved, and Kristina says that Daniel is a great student. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 24.

In the inaugural pimp slot of the series (is it still a pimp slot when there's no public vote?), we have Anita and GLEB!. In her VT (underscored with 'Timber', yassss), Anita tells us that she had a dream the night before the launch show that GLEB! would be her partner, and she's quite chuffed to have landed such a sexy partner. GLEB! in turn says that Anita has "a great personality, she's lots of fun", which is pretty much the worst thing you can say to someone who's just been rhapsodising about your sexiness, but I don't think GLEB! realised that. Anita's first dance is the cha cha cha, and she tells us that she isn't a trained dancer like GLEB! and doesn't have GLEB!'s inherent sex appeal, so she's finding it all a bit cringeworthy to start with. GLEB!'s birthday happens, and Anita buys him some wellies as a present so he can come with her on location for Countryfile and they can train in fields. Sure enough, they travel to...somewhere green, and Anita makes GLEB! put waders on, which he says makes him feel like he's wearing a "massive diaper" (as we all know, GLEB! prefers his underwear a little on the skimpier side). However, Anita's hopes that this will all help her dancing for unspecified reasons are dashed when her feet get stuck in a swamp, which to be fair probably still puts her well ahead of Carol Kirkwood.

Anita and GLEB! are dancing to 'Rather Be' by Clean Bandit featuring Rad's favourite singer of the moment Jess Glynne (seriously, has she got a pay-or-play contract with this show or something?) [the one time I preferred the Strictly singers - Rad] and it gives me great joy to report that, given that Rad and I both listed Anita as a pre-contest favourite of ours in the launch show, she's actually really good. The routine opens on the non-Clauditorium balcony with Anita dancing in a bright yellow mac before GLEB! removes it. Starting up there means she has to dance down the stairs to get to the floor, which she manages with aplomb, and there's a great natural fluidity to Anita's movements, especially for the very beginning of the competition. It's great to see someone in perfect synchronicity with her partner so early on, and Anita manages to keep time with GLEB! even when she has her back to him. Her footwork looks very accurate too, so all in all I'm very impressed. It's just a shame that they bring her mic up so early that we hear her say "I messed up!" to GLEB! as she's getting up at the end.

Tess, presented without comment: "Nobody expected you to pull that out from under your raincoat." Bruno calls her "saucy" and says that she was alive and vibrant. He says that there were a couple of mistakes, but she brought the energy that this dance needs. Craig says he was shocked that it was so good, and it was a really confident performance. Darcey says it's wonderful to see her having a great time with GLEB!, and she was clean and tidy, but she just needs to work on her free arm. Len says it was another terrific dance, and tells Anita she gave it "plenty of welly". Groan.

Up in the Clauditorium, it all goes a bit weird as Claudia asks us all to say hello to GLEB!'s beautiful wife Elena. Basically the show's just spent an hour actively encouraging us to perv all over him and is now going "HANDS OFF THOUGH HE'S MARRIED AND HAS A KID!" Very strange. Anita cringes that she messed up her routine, and Claudia assures her that nobody noticed. Apart from the judges who, y'know, mentioned it in their critiques. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. GLEB! is very happy with that, although I personally think it was undermarked.

So let's have a look at our first night leaderboard:
1. Helen & Aljaž - 29
2=. Kellie & Kevin - 27
2=. Anita & GLEB! - 27
4. Daniel & Kristina - 24
5. Anthony & Oti - 21
6. Carol & Pasha - 16

Looking at that leaderboard, I'm doubling-down on my opinion that Anita was undermarked, because I'd have definitely ranked her above Kellie. Claudia talks to those who will be performing tomorrow night and Jeremy says that they're all "quietly getting ready". We get a glimpse of their training footage in their VTs, wherein we discover that Jeremy is learning to dance with his face, Georgia is finding "the spinny bits" hard, Iwan is finding it all tough, Kirsty's feet are already covered in scabs, Peter isn't used to walking in heels, Katie is learning to be floppy in her arms, Jay's struggling with trying to play a character, Jamelia is surprised by how much she's sweating, and Ainsley is knackered.

And there we have it. Nine more couples will be performing tomorrow, and I'll be back to recap it all.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Jess the two of us

Launch Show 

Saturday 5 September 2015

Welcome back! Apologies that this recap is so late: Steve has been holidaying away in Berlin and I have been dying of the worst cold ever. Still, look at it this way: there’s that bit less time to wait in between our update and the new series starting. I will just note that, due to having managed to skillfully injury both my arms over the summer most of my entries this year are likely to be written using dictation software. Therefore, if our entries make even less sense than usual, we're blaming it on that (yes, even in Steve’s weeks). [Purple monkey dishwasher. - Steve]

So, onto the launch show. This year’s cast is perhaps mid-range in terms of excitement. Mostly recognisable, mostly BBC-grown, mostly a bit bland, thankfully not containing Me Mark Wright. At this early stage, I’m going to call it a scrap between Peter Andre and Daniel O’Donnell - at least for the first few weeks, until we see whether or not the others can dance. [I'm now imagining an actual scrap between Peter Andre and Daniel O'Donnell, and wondering how many rounds it would be before either one of them actually managed to land a punch. - Steve]

We open in a rural idyll, the location of ‘Strictly Street’, where all our pros live. I choose to believe this is a real place, because if not, the amount of tabloid outrage that would be caused by OMG! BBC LIEZ! would bring down the case for the licence fee in one fell swoop. I wonder if they have a little retirement village just off Strictly Street, where Erin sits knocking back Pina coladas, Camilla rocks back and forth yelling at the telly with all the scores she would have given them and Artem and his teeth are used as a standard lamp. [And if you happen to ask where Hayley Holt lives, you're always greeted with the reply "Go away! There ain't no Hayley Holt, and there never was!" - Steve]

Anyway, Tess and Claudia awake in their bunkbeds, where Tess is asleep with a ‘Bruno Bear’, Brendan helps Anton pack, and then Tristan does the washing up for all the women, whilst Kristina Aliona and Ola perfect their bitch faces; Joanne idly files her nails and Natalie looks so over this shit it’s unreal, and she manages to land a piece of toast directly into Clifton’s mouth. Kevin, Aljaž and Pasha are, adorably, living together and I think the whole of the Strictly audience is hoping that there is a vacancy for a fourth member of that particular holy Trinity. [I'm already writing three separate fanfics about why Kevin left his phone in Aljaž's bedroom. - Steve]

Then, to ‘Dancing in the Street’ and ‘The Locomotion’, it’s all aboard the least scandalous scandal that has beset this show so far (Shock! Horror! A thing was shot using a train that at least one other thing also used to film!). For some reason, the new pros are present, but weren’t invited to take part in any comedy skit based antics. To further demonstrate how traditional this show is, all the male judges take the parts of driver, conductor and engine boy, whilst Darcey is a trolley dolly.

We arrive at the launch, where an excited bunch of middle-aged women discuss how much they are looking forward to Strictly being back. And that’s before they unleash the O’Donnell and the Andre. The celebrities are welcomed and have a little boogie on the stage: some looking more comfortable about it than others. Implausibly but excitingly, Jeremy Vine and Jamelia have a little twirl together. The celebrities all talk about how excited they are to be on the show and how much they are loving being transformed. I have to say, whilst there isn’t much in the cast to make me truly excited, I am quite pleased with most of them. There’s only boring Iwan and possibly-boring Anthony that I couldn’t care less about, although Kirsty Gallacher feels like she’s already done this thing, and I fully expect her storyline to be Gabby Logan redux, so this probably not a lot of entertainment there, save Brendan (or whoever she might be partnered with, I can't imagine) pulling some inevitable judge drama out of the bag somewhere around week four. [Same - they're not necessarily all interesting as individuals but I think they gel nicely as a cast, so I'm hoping we'll get some good stuff from the Clauditorium. - Steve]

Then there are lots of smiles, sequins, selfies and sashays and we dance to ‘Let’s Get Loud’ as a transition from waiting area to studio. New pro Oti has tried to steal the patented Natalie Lowe wink to camera. I kind of love her, but I also kind of resent her a tiny bit for nicking our Nat’s signature move. I do love that, according to her official bio, she is a trained civil engineer. I hope she will work that into the routines somehow.

Tess emerges, along with the judges, as the music transitions into 'Uptown Funk' and Claudia is revealed to be the DJ. I can’t really believe that this would be Claudia’s tune of choice, but I am quite willing to endure for a night of DJ Winkleman to find out exactly what would be on her playlist. Claudia and Tess welcome us back. Daly dress watch: a royal blue thing that looks really nice up top, and, coupled with her wavy hair and her make up, gives her a whole Aphrodite-era Kylie thing going on. However, the bottom of the dress is a disaster, with weird net fabric kind of flailing around at the bottom, doing nothing much. Oh well, Tess, start as you mean to go on. What Winkleman's wearing: a black skirt, with a kind of silver and black boob tube thing. Nice colours; bit boxy shape. Tess warns us that ahead, we have two performances from Jess Glynne and, having had to watch that first time round, ain’t no way I’m sitting through them again, sorry. Tess and Claudia remind us that tonight is the night where the celebrities and dancers are paired up and, the moment we all came here for, car crash group dance! They welcomed Dave Arch, the band and the live singers, who are not described as fabulous or wonderful, I note.

We get a group shot backstage of the celebrities. Anita Rani is giving it the full gurn. God, I love her, even if I know full well I’m going to be the only stan she has from now until her inevitable early boot. [I love her too so will be stanning right alongside you. It's good to know we're on the same page. - Steve]

Now the moment we've all been waiting for: we get to hear how the stars have been monikered for the series: EastEnders actress Kellie Bright (and can I just say that my voice software spelt her name correctly first time. Maybe by the end of the series, it will have learned the names of the pro dancers as well and not be calling them a Leona and alley hash); Olympic medal winning boxer Anthony a go-go (oh, go on, I’ll let the voice software have that one as it is); TV presenter Anita Rani; singer AND entertainer Daniel O’Donnell; sports news anchor Kirsty Gallacher; celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott; star of Call The Midwife Helen George; singer and TV personality Peter Andre; actress Georgia May Foote: BBC broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Vine: singer and Loose Women Starch Amelia (= star Jamelia) [I absolutely insist that we call her Starch Amelia for the rest of the series - Steve]; sports commentator and Olympic medallist Iwan Thomas; BBC weather reporter Carol Kirkwood; ‘From The Wanted’ pop star Jay McGuiness and BBC Proms and Radio Three presenter Katie Derham. And apparently it’s pronounced Derrum not Dare-ham which means I’ve been saying it wrong all these years. In all those many conversations I’ve had about her.

Starch Amelia’s hair is insane, by the way. It makes Natalie Gumede’s look positively lank in comparison. Over with the men, Jay is giving her a run for his money with his slightly ridiculous lion mane. Len says he has great expectations for this cast and wishes them good luck. Note how he can’t even be bothered to trot out his usual line about best cast ever this time. Bruno tells them to immerse themselves into the wonderful world of Strictly, Craig tells them to put in the hours and work hard and to have talent above all! Darcey says it’s about time we had a male winner and start standing for one already. Calm your boots Darcey, we’ve only had two women in a row. It isn’t exactly a major crisis in masculinity. [Exactly. We've had 12 series so far and a perfect 50:50 split of winners gender-wise. Calm down, Beyoncé. - Steve]

First up are some of our male stars. Ainsley Harriott is one of those people who just seems so Strictly, it’s crazy that he hasn’t actually done the show before. You kind of would assume he would have been one of those series one or two people everyone had forgotten about. He says that he’s been cooking on television for 20 years. I hate to point it out, Ainsley, but what have you actually been doing for the last 10 of those, beyond shilling the couscous equivalent of super noodles? I mean, I don’t see you making ‘witty’ savoury jam roly-poly on Great British Menu, or shouting at contestants on MasterChef about how cookery has ruined your life. [He actually did a series about street food on More4 quite recently that I really enjoyed. - Epicurean Steve] He pre-empts all the natural rhythm jokes by saying he used to dance a bit on his cookery shows (DIRTY RINGAH) and once recorded a dreadful single. Iwan Thomas’s VT talks about him being the British record-holder for the 400 m. It doesn’t talk about how he’s done pretty much every other reality show going. Filling the ‘slightly anonymous member of a famous ex boy band’ gap previously filled by Harry McFly, Nicky Westlife and Simon from Blue is Jay McGuiness who gives the usual nervous spiel. Jeremy Vine is next, pointing out that he now does the swingometer, not Peter Snow, and is only 50. Sorry, Jeremy, you just look like one of those men whose been 50 for the last 10 years. That’s not a bad thing, honestly, you may well look the same age for the next 10 years, too. (/Dig)

Tess asks Ainsley what kind of partner he would like and what starts as a cookery metaphor basically turns into him saying that he would be up for a bit of the old showmance rumpy pumpy yes please, so let’s move swiftly along. Tess lines up the female dancers (Joanne is not present, as her metamorphosis into the new Karen Hardy has fully completed and she will now be on It Takes Two) and says a quick hi to Oti. But for Ainsley, it’s… Natalie! She looks pleased that she hasn’t been paired with Vine as she probably expected. I kind of love that Ainsley and Natalie are a couple. I think they will have a lot of fun, but can you imagine how off the charts the facial expressions are going to be? Ainsley thanks whoever chose Natalie to be his partner and they bounce up to the Clauditorium (as my dictionary has that word saved from previous years, the voice software picked it up straight away. <3

Iwan tells Tess how he wants to be the first person to demand the clothes get more tight. Somewhere, Nicky Westlife is shaking his head and warning him to be careful what he wishes for. Even Tess is slightly shocked by how eager he is to show off the flesh, and that’s saying something, as we all know. He is paired with Ola, whose fake delight face is not entirely convincing, as we all know.

Tess introduces Jay as from The Wanted again, I think his full name may always be prefixed with that.  Tess reminds him the boy band members have always done okay on this show because of their rabid fan bases.  He calls Tess ‘cruel’ and she promises she isn’t. Come off it, Daly, we’ve seen the show before. Somehow, Aliona has been freed from her hell of doddery old no hopers and has been given a chance to relive her boy band glories by being his partner. She looks like she can't believe it.

Jeremy tells Tess that this studio is also the one where they hosted the election coverage and he hopes his kids aren’t embarrassed, but thinks they’ll be hiding behind the sofas. He is paired with Karen, which is not a pairing I necessarily saw coming, which could be interesting. [I mean, it's Karen, so I'd be careful about using the word "interesting". - Steve] He says she is not only the best in the UK, she’s the best in the world and I’m sure somewhere, Karen’s sister-in-law is probably spitting at the screen. [Iveta is the best in the world! At ten dances! Must we forget her so quickly? - Steve]

In the Clauditorium, Jeremy says they’re all brilliant dancers but he’s especially pleased with his partner. Jay says he hopes Aliona will look after him, Claudia says Ola will probably get Iwan’s top off like he wants, and somewhere James Jordan explodes.

We now have the first performance of two from Jess Glynne and I’m sorry, but I just can’t. There is something about her voice that just really goes through me. I think it’s that most of her songs seem to be written in the wrong register for her voice. Or maybe she’s just an ‘acquired taste’.  There’s some dancing from Aliona and Tristan and Aljaž and… Ola?  OK then.

Back in the Clauditorium and Kellie is scared, whilst Jamelia knows exactly who she wants and exactly who she doesn’t want. [My favourite part of this was Jamelia making it clear that there were pros - that's plural, so not just Anton - that she didn't want. Starch Amelia <3 - Steve] Claudia declares her ‘scary’.  She says nobody brings their family, except Peter, who has brought his mother-in-law. The poor woman then has to wave to the camera.

Sexy new pro time! We get to meet Gleb, 31, Russian, who has been a pro on three different national iterations; Oti, 25, South African, who likes to fly/do lifts and Giovanni, 25, Italian who reckons he is the reincarnation of Kenny Craig from Little Britain.

They do a sexy dance with the existing pros to Seven Nation Army, and it's all very sexy and what have you until it one of the male dancers falls on his back. The camera is above the stage and I can’t tell who but I think it might be Anton, as he looks a bit flustered when the dance ends. Still, the new pros look promising, or as promising as they can from a short routine.

Tess and Claudia remind us of everything that is coming up: more pairings; Caroline and Pasha dancing again and group dance mayhem.

Before that, though: the first set of female stars. Helen George reveals herself to be a bit of a Darcey stalker and says she used to get her friends to pretend to give birth to her dog when she was rehearsing scenes for Call the Midwife. Oh, she is one. Jamelia says some people might know her best for the song 'Superstar', but most people will know her for being a rent-a-gob/Loose Woman/warm-up act for Jane MacDomination next year. She pretends she can’t dance, despite having been a DIRTY RINGAH pop star. Like most people, she is doing it for her kids. And the headlines, probably. The youngest participant this year, is 24-year-old Georgia May Foote. She was someone in Coronation Street who apparently had a baby with little Chesney. If you think that’s shocking, fith-finger botherer Tom Cunningham in Hollyoaks has just become a dad. I KNOW. She is excited, blah blah blah. Kirsty Gallacher has been a sports reporter for over 10 years and says she is going to struggle with being sexy and gracious and feels like she will cringe a lot. She reminds us that her dad is a SPORTSMAN, perhaps hoping that she will become one by proxy and thus get Len’s vote. [Are we absolutely sure she's not just Gabby Logan re-entering with a wig and a pseudonym? - Steve]

Helen is paired with a ‘150lb’ bundle of joy (bit personal, Daly) Aljaž. She is really surprised and said she thought she was getting Anton (I think you’re probably about 30 years too young for him, love). Still, let’s assume they don’t think you’re going to win, Helen. Sorry. Jamelia is sadly not paired with Brendan for the super evil team of villains we were all hoping for, but with Tristan, who looks completely and utterly terrified by the prospect, whilst the other male pros kind of laugh that they’ve dodged a bullet. Georgia is paired with Giovanni for her ‘cute young ones’ narrative that won’t get tired somewhere around week two or anything (and he flings her off her feet and she feels dizzy, which bodes well for the Viennese Waltz), whilst Kirsty and Brendan make up an inevitable coupling. Tess points out that Bruce is a friend of Kirsty’s family and lies that no one knows the show better than Bruce. You presented the show with him for years, woman, you must know how little sense he had of what was going on half the time.

They are dispatched to join the rest of the couples in the Clauditorium and Claudia calls her adorable, but, she senses competitive. Claudia welcomes Giovanni. He says he’s a little bit scared of her and she says ‘Good. Just kidding, I’m in love with you’ then turns to Jamelia and says ‘that was divine’. Helen says she feels like she’s someone who has written in and won a prize to be on the show. D’aww.

Bruno calls the line-up ‘as fit as it gets’ and Tess asks Darcey for her advice to the female dancers. Given how blatantly Darcey said she wanted a male winner, Tess, I presume her answer is either ‘be a man’ or 'don't expect to come higher than third (/joint second these days of not knowing).

Now it’s time to catch up with last year’s winners, Caroline and Pasha. We are reminded of their journey. You guys, I kind of miss last year already. I mean, not all of it, obviously, but these two anyway. Caroline says how she used it to get what she wanted (Simon Cowell to apologise and give her the main presenting job on X Factor. She also calls Strictly the best show on telly, which is just wonderful trolling (that made the front pages of the papers). Love her.) They dance a cha cha cha (I think?) [it was actually her salsa - Steve] to '1 2 3 (Maria)' and you can tell that Caroline has not exactly been keeping up the dancing since last year. It’s sloppy as all hell, and clearly not rehearsed more than once and I kind of love it for how little she gives a shit and yet how much she is enjoying it. One of my favourite winners ever, especially as she then tells them that you don’t get that sick, butterfly feeling you get on Strictly anywhere else just to ram the point home to her current employers. <3

Now it’s our annual celebrities meeting the pros moment. Ainsley asks Ola to teach him to dance and he says he’ll teach her how to cook. #notmeanttobe Ola is looking out for all the showmances, along with Claudia, who favours Giovanni and Georgia. Jay is single BTW.What a year of tabloid stories we have before us guys. Anthony has his arm in a sling. That bodes well then. Perhaps they should have paired him with Ola to get all the injury porn Artem could dream of.

The latest in Claudia’s surreal props: a sparkly boxing hat to prepare for the pro-dance carnage.

The final round of male celebrities now. Anthony is an Olympic bronze medallist. Remember when they had gold medallists on this thing? Oh, Pendledrama. He says people see him as a rough and tough boxer but he is all about shaking the hips (natural rhythm klaxon). Daniel O’Donnell says he thinks people will know him for his music. No they don’t, Daniel, they know you for your legion of gran fans (and God bless you, in my other life, I recently wrote a book chapter about your fans and those of others like you). Pop ‘legend’ Peter Andre reminds us that his only real hit, ‘Mysterious Girl’ was 20 years ago and says his biggest fear is embarrassing his kids on national TV. I thought that was pretty much his full-time job.

Anthony is paired with Oti. He has a shoulder injury. As someone who has one of those and knows how annoying and difficult they are, I really don’t see how him being partnered with someone who is a self-confessed lover of lifts is going to end well. When do we call him breaking beyond repair? Somewhere around week three? [He seemed really confident that it would be strong enough by the time he'll actually be required to do any lifts, but I'm not entirely sure I share his optimism. - Steve] Daniel is paired with Kristina. This may, unlikely as it could seem, be her best chance at hitting the top, given his fans. I’m sure the idea of this pairing is to throw the tabloid heat off her, but what a fun scandal it would be if these two did get together. This means that Janette is paired with Peter. However annoying you think this might become, just remember that she was once paired with Julien MacDonald.

Up in the Clauditorium, Peter makes a joke so bad it would make Bruce wince. Anthony says there aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe Oti and lovers of showmance make ‘oooo’ noises, whilst Claudia notes his use of the word superlative. Another guest performance now, from Gregory Porter, singing ‘Putting on the Ritz’. He is wearing some very bizarre balaclava-cum-deerstalker hybrid that doesn’t really go with his glitzy suit, but whatever, at least he’s not Jess Glynne. There’s some lovely ballroom twirling from Joanne, Natalie, Kristina and Brendan, who gets to partner all of them, the floozy, and then they get tired and draped themselves all over the judges’ desk, which is a bit boring. Eventually, Natalie reclaims her wink and they dance a little bit more and then it’s over.

And now it’s time for the final sets of pairings with the remaining four female celebrities. Anita Rani, presenter of everything, is being described as ‘Countryfile’s Anita Rani’. My pick would have been ‘Four Rooms’ Anita Rani’, even if I am the only person in the country who still watches it, having managed to negotiate most of Channel 4’s ridiculous scheduling decisions, and their sneaky shifting off to die a death on More 4. [I'm sure it's been shunted off to More4 to die at least twice now, but somehow it keeps ending up back on C4 again. The scheduling of Four Rooms is honestly one of the most baffling things in the world to me, and I say this as someone who has worked in the general environs of TV listings for most of my working life. - Steve] Anyway, she’s a classic early to mid-series boot, because she won’t have the fan base to sustain her, but I totally love her. If you think Nadiya on Bake Off gives good face, then you’re in for a treat with the many expressions of Anita. Let’s just hope she gets to perform her Charleston before she is unceremoniously dumped after surviving a couple of dance offs for full face effect. She says she will still be doing Countryfile whilst doing Strictly. That’s the least exciting of her shows that I want to see on location. She reminds herself of being a teenager wearing Doc Martens and black nail varnish. We are kindred. Kellie Bright says people mostly know her for playing Linda Carter in EastEnders. No, we mostly know you for being in T-Bag and T-Shirt and The Upper Hand, which she says we will only remember if were really old. I’m quickly going off you, Bright. [I was screaming "I KNOW YOU AS KATE MADIKANE FROM THE ARCHERS", but then I'm fully aware I'm not normal. - Steve] She does the typical actor ‘not sure about being myself’ line. Katie Derham says Strictly is the only thing that has more pizzazz than the Proms. Can anyone else sense this is a BBC bid for making Strictly educational by forcing us all to learn about classical music via the medium of comedy VT? The final woman is Smiley Smiley Carol Kirkwood, a woman who is so cheery she makes Carol Smillie look like a goth. She reminds us that lots of people from breakfast TV has been on the show and a couple of them have one. But a lot of them haven’t.

Anita, looking good in yellow sequins (if she wasn’t early favourite of mine enough, she wears my favourite colour. Attagirl), is paired with Gleb and she looks utterly stunned at this. Got to say, I’m a little surprised too. [Me too. Given that I'm not sure what Anita's fanbase is like, I thought they might at least give her an established pro to shore herself up for a few weeks rather than playing fast and loose with a newbie. Gleb is my favourite of the newcomers though, so I'm trying to keep the faith. - Steve] She says she can’t look at him because he’s so beautiful, so she’s not sure how he’s going to teach her to dance. Kellie is paired with Kevin, which seems like a good populist pairing that should go quite far, although not necessarily to his third final in a row, depending on how desperate they are for an all-male final at that point and on whether there are any more likely female contenders that will get to the final instead. Katie is next and paired with Anton, which is an interesting development, because Carol and Anton was surely a match made in cheese heaven, but I’m actually really interested by the pairing of Carol and Pasha. [I heard on the grapevine that Carol was quietly campaigning to get Pasha in the run-up to the launch show. <3 - Steve] Let’s hope he doesn’t get all grumpy like Artem did when he was paired with Fern. Anton is quite speechless to be paired with Katie, because he thinks she can actually dance. She might well be able to, but I really don’t want to have another ‘Anton’s partner is actually OK SHOCK HORROR’ storyline. How many of those have we had to endure now?

In the auditorium, Anton says he thinks he will go all the way. Claudia tells Kellie that Kevin has never been in a dance-off, so there’s no pressure, and Anita and Claudia talk about how lovely Gleb is. And now the moments we’ve all been waiting for, car-crash group dance! Unfortunately, the music is also a bit of a car crash, as its Jess Glynne performing ‘Hold My Hand’. I wouldn’t actually mind this song in and of itself, but the high notes are just so painful with the way she sings it. Perhaps she should write songs for other people instead of herself? I mean I’m sure she’s a lovely girl and everything, but it’s just fingers down a blackboard to me. Still, she’s been number one loads of times and sold a billion records or something, so what do I know?

It’s quite difficult with so many dancers to see who is okay, but first impressions suggest that Helen, Anita, Jamelia, Ainsley, Katie and Peter might all be OK. Daniel, Iwan, Kirstie, Carol and Anthony look a little less promising and Jay looks pretty lost. Georgia looks like she’s forgetting to move except when the cameras on her, which bodes well. Jeremy dad dances. For some reason, Jay and Peter get a couple of show-off spots dancing with the pros whilst the other celebs are off-stage. Any bets on who they are hoping will make the final? Claudia and Tess remind us to come back at the end of September to see both them and us.  Until then… a new catchphrase: start dancing.