They’re dazzling us on the dance floor now, showing off their best moves. But just before the latest season of Strictly Come Dancing launched, we chatted to the celebrity contestants behind the scenes and they scattered some fascinating little sequins of information.
Keep reading to find out about which dances everyone wants to learn, how families have reacted, what it’s like being “Strictlified” in fake tan and tight pants, and more...
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Strictly Come Dancing Executive producer Sarah James chatted briefly about what’s happening behind the scenes to film the show: "This year, the pro dancers are all in a hotel together, in a household. We're recording most of the group numbers for the series ahead of the series, like we did last year. And then when we get into the live shows, they will be tested weekly and they will bubble up with their celebrities and we'll keep them distanced from each other,” Sarah says.
“Last year the isolation period when you received a positive test was 14 days, but this year it's 10 days so if a celebrity does receive a positive test, it doesn't necessarily mean they are out of the competition (which is why Tom Fletcher and Amy Dowden only had to sit out episode 2 when they got positive COVID test results)," she reveals.
It’s a welcome relief from last year’s COVID protocols, which saw the show’s first same sex partnership have to leave the floor. On the topic of Johannes and John dancing together this season, Sarah says, "It's definitely been something that we've always wanted to do and John has already proven that he's an amazing spokesperson for it. Nicola (Adams) and Katya (Jones) were amazing last year (until they had to exit when Katya tested COVID positive), it’s just a shame that it was cut short, but they paved the way and our research showed that everybody really appreciated that partnership."
Still on the floor
26-year-old Olympic swimmer Adam picked up two gold medals at this year’s Games.
Strictly secrets: Adam is most looking forward to the ballroom dances. "I like ballroom, I like watching it on TV. But I am nervous about Latin dancing because it's so fluid and I am high energy, I'm just going to go for it."
Pro partner: Katya Jones
33-year-old TV presenter AJ has worked on The Voice, The Voice Kids and more.
Strictly secrets: AJ's mother is a Strictly superfan. "We have always watched it together. We have Strictly parties, we go on Strictly tours, we watch Strictly together over the telephone when we're not in the same household. She is beside herself, she is also really nervous."
PS: AJ has loved her wardrobe fitting. "Imagine getting a custom made sparkly outfit that fits you like a glove. Honestly, I've even had my wrists measured and my neck and my elbows and my knees. The precision!” she reveals.
Pro partner: Kai Widdrington
44-year-old Dan is a BBC Breakfast and Football Focus presenter.
Strictly secrets: Dan’s nickname in the group is Strictly-leaks (like wikileaks), because he gave away the start date of Strictly Come Dancing on BBC Breakfast, which was a total error. “I didn’t realise that it hadn't been announced yet," he admits.
Pro partner: Nadiya Bychkova
33-year-old Chef John won The Great British Bake Off S3 and he’ll be dancing in Strictly’s first-ever male same sex partnership
Strictly secrets: John's favourite Strictly Special? He's looking forward to is Halloween Week. "I am obsessed with Halloween, I've wanted to be a witch since I was about 12. And some of my closest friends are going to be in the audience on Halloween night." His big wish for the season came true when he got Johannes as a partner. “For the first male-male team, it would be important for it to be Johannes. And I need someone who is compassionate and empathetic, but who won’t tolerate laziness."
Pro partner: Johannes Radebe
41-year-old stand-up comedian Judi has been a panelist on shows like Sorry, I Didn’t Know and came third in Celebrity MasterChef in 2020.
Strictly secrets: Judi is famous for just wearing sliders as footwear on her series Loose Women. Strictly demanded her best foot forward, though. "I am very excited for the costumes, but the heels? I'm not going to lie. The heels I asked, 'does that still class as a heel?'” Judi asks while indicating a 3cm heel with her hand. "I'm one of those women, I can't walk in heels. Yes I can dance in them...on a Friday night with my girls and a couple of glasses of prosecco. But in a professional capacity? Let's see how that works. I am ready to be ‘Strictltified’. I want to see how glam they can go. The wigs, baby! The eyelashes, the outfits, the shoes…I just want to see if I feel different in those glamorous clothes.”
Pro partner: Graziano Di Prima
27-year-old Rhys is a presenter on the long-running BBC children’s show Blue Peter.
Strictly secrets: One of the past Strictly performances that most inspires and amazes Rhys is the Pulp Fiction jive that Jay Mcguiness and Aliona Vilani performed in Strictly S13. Rhys's family didn't even watch Strictly at that stage, but "My jaw hit the ground, and in that moment I went, 'I need to watch more Strictly. I need to watch this series.' He was my inspiration for getting into the show,” says Rhys. Rhys is still intensely jealous that S18 winner Bill Bailey got to perform a Pokemon dance. “Of all people, that should have been me!” he insists.
Pro partner: Nancy Xu
31-year-old Rose is Strictly’s first-ever deaf contestant. She plays Frankie in UK soapie Eastenders. Sarah reveals, "All of the team are doing deaf awareness training and we’re learning some sign language. Rose will need an interpreter with her at all times in training and you may see the interpreter on camera during the show for her chats with the judges and with Claudia (host Claudia Winkleman)."
Strictly secrets: Of all the dances, Rose is most keen to perform the tango, “because it’s very different to who I am,” she explains. “It’s a sexy, sassy sort of dance and I’m normally polite and I don’t do sexy. So I need to be able to create a character to do the tango!”
Pro partner: Giovanni Pernice
37-year-old entrepreneur Sara is one of the terrifying investors on Dragon’s Den.
Strictly secrets: Sara’s been working on her feet intensively to prepare for Strictly. "I decided to take myself off for physio because my right foot's been niggling a little bit in the last few months when I've been running. So I've been going twice a week and having a little physio on it. And now I've got this movement in my right foot that I didn’t even know I was missing. I've made myself some home-made foot scrub, so I've been sitting there in my nightie, trying to talk my husband into doing it, but he's having none of it so I've had to try and sit and scrub my own feet and then sit with them in a bucket of ice cold water for half an hour!"
Pro partner: Aljaž Škorjanec
19-year-old chef and TV presenter Tilly is the creator of Matilda and The Ramsay Bunch.
Strictly secrets: Tilly is not a fan of high heels. “I’ve worn them about once in my life to my 18th birthday party and they were off within about five minutes,” she admits. Tilly’s mom tried to enroll her in ballet classes when she was little, but it didn’t stick. “The next day I had enrolled in football camp with my brothers,” she reveals. Strictly has been a family treat in the Ramsay household since Tilly was really young. “So it doesn’t really feel real, being on it,” Tilly adds.
Pro partner: Nikita Kuzmin
36-year-old McFly singer and rhythm guitarist Tom.
Strictly secrets: While Strictly contestants are supposed to keep their participation a big secret, Tom and AJ Odudu exchanged notes because they have a mutual friend, TV presenter Emma Willis, who told Tom that AJ had signed on. "I am the king of the 'dad dance,'" says Tom. "I went to theatre school and I'm a musician, but this was 20 plus years ago and this was tap, it wasn't ballroom and Latin, so I don't think it's going to come in useful at all. I am the last person to get up on the dance floor at a wedding. I'm the one who awkwardly hangs around the edge."
Pro partner: Amy Dowden
52-year-old actress and comedian Nina competed in The Crystal Maze in 2020 and was a regular in Sketch comedy series Goodness Gracious Me. Nina was the first celebrity eliminated from this season.
Strictly secrets: “I don’t like sitting in the makeup chair, and shiny things scratch me and irritate me, so this is the best show for me to do, isn’t it?” jokes Nina. “I can’t take the glitz and glamour seriously. What I can take seriously is the actual technical stuff. I genuinely want to learn to do these dances.” Nina really wanted to learn the sexy Argentine tango, but dreaded learning the waltz because “it just looks really boring...and slooooow. It looks painful.”
Pro partner: Neil Jones
28-year-old Katie is best known as Sinead Tinker in UK soapie Coronation Street. Katie was the second celebrity eliminated this season.
Strictly secrets: Katie is normally a silly dancer. "I like to do a lot of miming when I'm dancing. I like to attempt the Running Man. I like to do shimmies and just messing around, really. I'm not a polished dancer on a night out, I'm just there to make people laugh, usually," she admits. What Katie now knows about the Strictly world that she didn't know from watching it on TV is "how smoothly it's run, because it's such a huge show and there's such a lot that goes into it. And how quick the turnaround is. I can’t believe how many dances the pro dancers are learning over such a short period of time. They are amazing!"
Pro partner: Gorka Marquez
48-year-old comedian Robert is famous for Peep Show and as David Mitchell’s comedy partner in Mitchell and Webb. Robert had to withdraw from Strictly on Wednesday, 13 October due to difficulties with his recovery from his 2019 open heart surgery.
Strictly secrets: Robert was looking forward to bringing a different sort of intensity to the dances, too. He said, “I look forward to making the romantic things very romantic and make the passionate pasodoble-type things solemn. It always tickles me watching male celebs do the pasodoble or the tango because their idea of looking ultra-serious and passionate and masculine translates into looking like they’re about to strangle their partner! So it’s going to be fun trying to do that without looking like a violent maniac”
Pro partner: Dianne Buswell
56-year-old actor Greg played John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, and is married to his co-star, Emma Thompson. Greg was eliminated third.
Strictly secrets: “I’m the oldest one here, I’m the granddad!” says Greg. “I’ve got to slightly emulate Mr Bailey (comedian Bill Bailey, winner of Strictly S18) from last year, because I think we’re the same age. Bill’s a chum. When I was first asked to do it, I contacted him and he said, ‘Well, it’s a lot of work and you’ve got to look after your feet.’ One of the things that he told me, which I have done, is to get my patent leather ballroom shoes all ready and wear them around the house because he had a problem with blisters on his heels.”
Pro partner: Karen Hauer
38-year-old former Harlequins rugby player. Ugo was eliminated fourth.
Strictly secrets: Ugo was most nervous about performing ballroom dances. “Considering everything I’ve done in my rugby career, you’re actually built to be stiff and robust, so for pointing your toes, you need to have flexible ankles, whereas I spent 14 years of my career trying to have stiff ankles. So my immediate challenge is to undo everything I’ve learnt in the next few weeks,” he says. “My daughter does ballet every week. She’s teaching me slightly different poses – pliés and getting up onto her tiptoes...all stuff which I currently can’t do. And she’s four-and-a-half. She thinks daddy’s going to be in a tutu.”
Pro partner: Oti Mabuse (alas)
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