- Launch show saw 12 celebrities paired with their professional dance partners
- Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith partnered with Strictly stalwart Anton Du Beke
- Olympic boxer Nicola Adams forms Strictly’s first ever same-sex couple with pro Katya Jones
- Covid-safe studio and social distancing measures in operation for first time
This year’s 12 pro-celebrity couples were unveiled as we returned to the fully sanitised, support-bubbled ballroom.
Here are all the major talking points and social media reaction from the Strictly 2020 launch show…
Anton was elected as Jacqui Smith’s partner
We saw it coming and the exit polls proved correct. Strictly stalwart Anton du Beke was asked to shepherd his second female politician around the dancefloor as he was paired with former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.
Ten years ago, Anton lugged, lifted and dragged the lumpen Ann Widdecombe all the way to the quarter-final. Now he’s swinging to the other side of the political spectrum with the 57-year-old former Labour MP for Redditch. We approve of Anton’s new silver fox look, too. Anyone would think he’d been dyeing his locks until lockdown. Embracing his natural salt-and-pepper hair suits him.
Smith fears being first out like Edwina Currie in series nine, admitting: “I’d be gutted. But I’ve lost votes before. As a politician, you know what it’s like to be on the wrong end of democracy.”
Will the ballroom floor become her new constituency? Will she govern the glitter? We somehow doubt it but it will be fascinating to watch. As Smith gamely said: “If anyone can make me a dancer, Anton can.” Good luck, Tony Beak. Judging by Smith’s mum-at-a-wedding moves in the group number, you might need it.
Nicola Adams and Katya Jones make Strictly history
Realising it would be a landmark moment, many of the female professionals were eager to form Strictly’s first ever same-sex couple with former Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams. Reportedly to the annoyance of longest-serving female pro Karen Hauer, the honour ended up going to Russian powerhouse Katya Jones.
As one of the most creative choreographers in the Strictly troupe, Katya should rise to the challenge. Plus perhaps with Katya’s “curse of Strictly” history – the snog-gate scandal with Seann Walsh was only two series ago, after all – producers also welcomed the chance to keep her away from the male celebrities.
Either way, she and Adams are both ferocious competitors with buckets of charisma. Let’s hope their chemistry fizzes and they can launch this diverse new era in style. Signs looked promising in the group dance, when they looked like they were having an absolute ball.
Caroline Quentin could be a surprise package
It always adds something special to a Strictly series when a mature female contestant goes all the way – think Pamela Stephenson, Katie Derham and, most of all, Debbie McGee.
Could actress Caroline Quentin do something similar this year? She did ballet as a child, then tap and modern dance in her teens. Admittedly this was decades ago but the 60-year-old still looked she knew her way around a dancefloor, looking elegant and confident during the group dance. Drily hilarious during her interviews, too.
She was sweetly thrilled to be paired with popular pro Johannes Radebe, grinning: “I love him. I can’t even pretend that I wanted anybody else.” “Darling,” replied Johannes. “I’m going to flip you up and down, side to side, you don’t know what’s coming.” Most definitely a duo to watch.
Gorka and Janette landed hot glitterball favourites
The youngsters, as is often the case, are the hot bookies’ tips for the glitterball trophy. EastEnders actress Maisie Smith, still only 19 and the baby of the ballroom, won the Strictly Children In Need Special last year and has some dance training. Gorka “The Corker” Marquez was understandably thrilled to land her as his partner, saying: “It feels like Christmas arrived early for me this year.”
Second favourite is HRVY, the 21-year-old pop star and YouTuber who has bounced back from testing positive for coronavirus and is ready to mobilise his huge social media following. He became pocket rocket Janette Manrara’s most promising partner yet. Perhaps she can lend him some of her surname’s vowels, too.
New-look show pulled off changes with aplomb
Well, it wasn’t what producers would have planned but this covid-compliant incarnation of Strictly somehow really worked.
The pairing-up VTs – pre-recorded in venues as impressive as the Globe Theatre, Royal Albert Hall, Abbey Road Studios and National Maritime Museum – were really rather sweet and less repetitive than the old studio format.
The whooping, hollering studio audience proved no great loss either, although it might well be more missed when the series starts in earnest. Still, we can accept a subdued atmosphere in exchange for Strictly being back.
Huge effort and sacrifices have been made, as we were regularly reminded. Some of the cast have left their loved ones, possibly for three months, as have many crew members.
There were a few too many hand sanitiser references, admittedly, but it was impressive how the production has pulled off this comeback. Not to mention how it managed to turned the enforced changes into a strength rather than a weakness.
Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse should provide laughs
Oti Mabuse is the reigning professional champion – as we were reminded when the popular South African performed a triumphant (albeit socially distanced) reunion routine with last year’s winning partner Kelvin Fletcher.
She’s unlikely to retain the glitterball trophy, having been paired with 60-year-old comedian and rank outsider Bill Bailey. But with Bailey’s surreal, whimsical wit and Oti’s ready laugh, they’ll certainly have a whale of a time. Possibly this year’s most entertaining pairing, if not the most twinkle-toed.
Don’t write him off entirely, though – Bailey’s not only a classically trained multi-instrumentalist with perfect pitch (musicality ahoy) but he’s even read Craig Revel Horwood‘s Step By Step Guide to Ballroom Dancing. Which might at least make the villainous judge go gently on him.
Series proper can’t start soon enough
Never has the joyful escapism provided by Strictly been more needed than this year. The BBC have bent over backwards to ensure this 18th series could still be staged, with a strict system of social bubbling in place, a smaller studio audience, fewer contenders and a shorter run.
Will it all be worth the effort and expense? Early signs were highly promising. Start sewing sequins onto your face masks and incorporating fancy footwork into your hand-sanitising regime. We’ve got some sparkle back on our screens.
Dozen make full dancefloor debuts next week
The newly formed couples now disappear for a week of intensive training. Next Saturday, the first live show airs at 7.25pm on BBC One and sees the hoofing start in earnest. Join us back here at telegraph.co.uk to rate, slate, masticate and cogitate.
In the meantime, surely you know the drill by now: keeeeeeeep dancing!
Phew. Lots to digest there. As the credits roll, that concludes the action on-screen but don’t go anywhere just yet.
Please stay with us for analysis and social media reaction…
Showstopping group dance
Climax of the show now, with all the celebrities and professionals taking to the floor for a spectacular group number. Health precautions and “support bubble” rules mean each celebrity will only dance with their new pro partner, rather than mixing with the group.
It’s set to ‘Two Hearts’ by Phil Collins. Mum-dancing from Jacqui Smith. Good luck, Anton. HRVY and Clara Amfo much better. Caroline Quentin is very elegant and throws in a respectalbe lift.
Max George looks decent, as does Ranvir Singh. Bill Bailey doing some nice kicks. Cute Charleston steps from Nicola Adams. Holy moly, Maisie Smith can dance. Jamie Laing and Karen Hauer look like Bros with their matching haircuts.
Max George is paired with… Dianne Buswell
As an alumnus of boy band The Wanted, Max has an intimidating amount to live up to, since his ex-bandmate Jay McGuiness jived his way to victory in 2015 and was recently voted the best ever Strictly champion.
Aussie pro Dianne, aka “Reddo”, reached the final with Joe Sugg two years ago and will be optimistic about their chances of a similar run.
Bill Bailey is paired with… Oti Mabuse
The contest’s senior celebrity male is lucky enough to land reigning pro champion Oti Mabuse, who shimmied to victory last series with Kelvin Fletcher.
She can can probably wave goodbye to the glitterball trophy (Bailey is 66-1 outsider to win) but she’ll have enormous fun for the next weeks at the very least.
JJ Chalmers is paired with… Amy Dowden
To deploy a reality TV-friendly phrase, JJ ‘no relation to Judith’ Chalmers has “been on a journey” from wounded Afghanistan veteran to Invictus Games winner and now TV sports presenter. Quite a guy.
He should prove as pluckily inspiring as Strictly’s recent Paralympians, with Will Bayley, Lauren Steadman and Jonnie Peacock all winning hearts in recent years.
He’s paired with lovable Welsh pro Amy, who reached the final last year with Karim Zeroual.
Kelvin and Oti’s triumphant return
Reigning glitterball champions Kelvin Fletcher and Oti Mabuse now take a bow, renewing their partnership for a reunion routine.
They’re doing a shortened, socially distanced version of their showdance from last year’s final – their jam-packed, jukebox-themed retro routine to “Shout” by The Isley Brothers. It’s fast, full-on and incorporates six different dance styles: lindyhop, jive, Charleston, quickstep, tango and Argentine tango – plus those infamous flying press-ups.
A little out-of-time to start but Kelvin soon gets back in the groove. That’ll show this year’s crop the standard they’re aiming for. No pressure, Class of 2020.
Maisie will start with a samba
A tricky, hippy first dance for the bookies’ favourite next Saturday. From Kathy’s Caff to samba rolls.
Maisie Smith is paired with… Gorka Marquez
The 19-year-old EastEnders actress is bookies’ favourite to lit the glitterball trophy. She won the Strictly Children In Need Special last year and has also dabbled in ballet, hip-hop and streetdance. Expect cries of “Ringer!” and “Fix!” – as traditional on Strictly as a Tess Daly horror-frock.
Gorka The Corker is understandably thrilled to be paired with her. The Spanish pro reached the 2017 final with Alexandra Burke. Can he go one better this year?
Jacqui Smith is paired with… Anton Du Beke
Anton, predictably is saddled with this year’s prancing politician. But will the UK’s first female Home Secretary prove to be an Ann Widdecombe (can’t dance but goes far due to comedy value), an Ed Balls (can dance a bit, does well with novelty routines) or an Edwina Currie (voted off in the first week)?
The 57-year-old has certainly had a glamorous makeover with a new look that’s a far cry from her Westminster years.
As for long-suffering Anton? Well, he got to the final last year with Emma Barton but probably shouldn’t hold his breath this year.
Nicola Adams is paired with… Katya Jones
This is a big one. Many of the female pros were keen to be part of Strictly’s first ever same-sex couple and the honour goes to 2017 champion Katya. The historic moment happens at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s excitable and really rather sweet.
Katya is one of the most creative choreographers amongst the Strictly pro troupe, which should come to the fore with this trailblazing pairing. A pairing to watch for all sorts of reasons. Knockout.
Musical interlude now
Pressing pause from the pairing up, we’re treated to an exclusive performance from Joel Corry and MNEK. They’re performing their recent collaboration “Head & Heart”, which topped the charts for six weeks this summer.
As well as his musical career, Geordie Shore alumnus Corry is a qualified personal trainer and bodybuilder – just in case you were wondering why he was so buff.
Its’ an upbeat house number, all bouncy percussion and synthesised vocals. Choreographic accompaniment comes from Strictly pros Graziano Di Prima, Neil Jones, Nadia Bychkova and Nancy Xu.
Jamie Laing is paired with… Karen Hauer
Made In Chelsea socialite “Jamie Biscuits” (he’s heir to the McVitie’s fortune) was supposed to be taking part last year but pulled out after sustaining a foot injury in the launch show – fortuitously for the series, as it turned out, since his late replacement was a certain Kelvin Fletcher
Now he’s back, a little sheepishly, for a second bite at the choreographic cherry. He was due to partner Oti Mabuse last year. Now he’s got Venezuelan firecracker Karen, the longest-serving female pro. A high-energy pair.
Jason Bell is paired with… Luba Mushtuk
The American footballer-turned pundit is something of a Strictly superfan and could be a surprise package. His other half is Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud, who’s doubtless been giving Big Jase some performance advice.
Russian pro Luba was first out last year with stiff-as-an-oar rower James Cracknell but will surely fare much better this time.
HRVY is paired with… Janette Manrara
Anyone over 30 can be forgiven for never having heard of HRVY, since he’s a pop star, YouTuber and apparenlty allergic to vowels.
His frighteningly large social media following, along with his fresh-faced looks and nifty moves, look likely to take him a long way into the contest – rather like fellow social media star Joe Sugg two series ago.
Pocket rocket Janette has finished 10th for the past three series, oddly, but should fare much better this year.
Anton’s got that swing
Mr Du Beke takes the mic. Is there nothing he can’t do? Apart from win Strictly, of course.
All pro numbers recorded already
We get an insight into the pre-recording of the group dances – Christmas in September included. Suotable strange for 2020. Now we get to see the first fruits of that labour, with a swinging 1920s jazz routine.
Ranvir Singh to start with a paso doble
To Beyoncé, no less. Quite a dance to tackle first up. That’ll happen next Saturday. Olé!
Ranvir Singh is paired with… Giovanni Pernice
The ITV anchor is going from newsroom to ballroom and is thrilled to land Italian stallion Gio.
He’s reached three finals in his five series, with Georgia May Foote, Debbie McGee and Faye Tozer. Clearly a great teacher. Can he take Ranvir deep into the contest too?
Clara Amfo is paired with… Aljaž Škorjanec
Another fun pairing. Radio 1 DJ Amfo is a smart, timely piece of casting, having recently become something of a UK poster girl for the Black Lives Matter movement. She was widely praised this summer for her emotional on-air speech about George Floyd’s death and the effect of racism on her mental health.
Smiley Slovenian pro Aljaž has had middling partners for the last two years in Kate Silverton and Emma Weymouth. Can Clara take him further?
Caroline Quentin is paired with… Johannes Radebe
The 60-year-old actress, best known for Jonathan Creek and Men Behaving Badly, lands the South African pro and Latin champion. A fun, likeable pairing with a sweet VT filmed at the Globe Theatre.
Quentin might surprise us with her twinkle toes. She did ballet as a child and tap as a teenager, although she stresses that this was many decades ago. Her main worries are how her “knees and undergarments” will hold up.
Pairing up process begins…
Time for the matchmaking to commence. This will be via VT, rather than in the studio like a normal year, with some “incredible locations” promised by producers.
Let’s hope they’re been wiped down and sanitised. I’ll be inspecting them closely, with my nose pressed against the screen, looking for dirt and fluff.
Our Strictly stars
Time to meet the class of 2020 at last. Glitter! Tassels! Bare chests! Jazzhands!
Noticed the set changes?
The presenters and judges are all keeping the regulation two metres apart. There are plenty of perspex safety screens. Even the glitterball has been thoroughly sanitised.
Ah, how we’ve missed this – it’s our first weekly comparison of the co-presenters’ glamorous gowns.
Tess Daly is sporting a strapless midi-dress with monochrome dalmatian-style spots. Claudia Winkleman is working a bronze sequinned trouser suit. Bold but it’s a rare win for Tess.
Here comes the judges
They look a little understaffed without Bruno but we welcome the remaining three judges: Motsi Mabuse, Craig Revel Horwood and head judge Shirley Ballas.
And we’re off!
We kick off with a dazzling opening routine from the professional dancers, filmed on a slightly windswept beach – and then hopping to other stunning UK locations, before magically beaming us into the ballroom. Opening the series in style here.
Are HRVY and Max George OK?
Who? I’m glad you asked. They’re two of this year’s “celebrity” males and both are concerns in different ways. Vowel-averse YouTuber and pop singer HRVY (real name Harvey Cantwell) tested positive for Covid-19 a fortnight ago but is now virus-free, fully recovered and able to take part.
Meanwhile, Max George from boyband The Wanted was last week rocked by the tragic news that his former bandmate Tom Parker, 32, has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Max posted a lengthy tribute to his “brother, friend and bandmate”, vowing to support Tom all the way. Expect poignant VTs and emotional routines a the series progresses.
Just a few minutes left on the glittery countdown…
Two popular male pros have departed
Male professionals Kevin Clifton and AJ Pritchard have both left Strictly for pastures new. This leaves dear old Anton du Beke as the contest’s only home-grown male pro.
Neil Jones is part of the ensemble but won’t have a celebrity partner this year. Poor Ginger Neil.
Seven minutes now until curtain up…
What no Bruno Ravioli?
There’ll be less wild gesticulation and falling off chairs this year because Strictly fixture Bruno Tonioli will be absent from the live panel. He currently resides in Los Angeles (where he appears on US version Dancing With The Stars) and travel restrictions mean he can’t commute to the UK each week.
However, he’ll be watching each Saturday’s action closely and appearing on the Sunday results show via videolink. Let’s hope the 64-year-old remembers to un-mute himself, unlike many Zoom-users of a certain age. All being well, he’ll back in person for the last fortnight of the contest.
Ten minutes until we hear that familiar ba-ba-da theme tune…
No Blackpool or Halloween specials this year
In terms of themed weeks, the Halloween and Blackpool specials won’t happen this year (boo!) but Movies and Musicals will (hooray!). Look on the bright side – at least we’ll be spared the tsunami of spooky puns and copious mentions of donkey rides.
Just 15 minutes until the glitterball starts spinning…
Covid-compliant changes to the studio
There promises to be plenty of talking points tonight, not least the new-look Elstree Studios ballroom. Expect a reduced studio audience with fans in bubbles of four and wearing mandatory plain black face masks. The judges (just three of them – more on that in a moment) will be socially distanced at separate desks.
Claudia Winkleman will keep two metres away from her co-presenter Tess Daly and conduct her interviews at cabaret-style tables rather than the crowded “Clauditorium” balcony.
Conductor Dave Arch’s live band will also be slimmed down, while augmented reality projections will replace much of the set dressing. It’ll take some getting used to but hey, hasn’t everything this year?
A mere 20 minutes to wait…
Eighteenth (count ‘em!) series starts here
This is the 18th series of Strictly, somewhat scarily. There have been 10 male champions in the show’s history, as opposed to seven female winners. Can celebrity women close the gender gap this series?
There’s only been one female winner in the past five years, so we’re surely overdue one – and EastEnders actress Maisie Smith happens to be the bookies’ early favourite.
Start limbering up. There’s less than half an hour until showtime…
Dust off those dancing shoes
Ah, Strictly – how we’ve missed your sequin-spangled, spray-tanned ways. Happily, a mere month later than usual, the BBC’s ballroom behemoth is now back to bring some much-needed sparkle to our weekend evenings.
Tonight is the now traditional launch show, which sees this year’s celebrities paired up with their professional partners. We’ll then get our first glimpse of their hoofing potential during a group routine. Who will be tasked with leading former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on a merry dance? Who’ll be laughing it up with comedian Bill Bailey? And which female pro will form Strictly’s first ever same-sex couple with Olympic boxer Nicola Adams?
It promises to be be a fascinating match-making session. Other twinkle-toed treats include two group numbers from the pros, the triumphant return of reigning glitterball champions Kelvin Fletcher and Oti Mabuse, plus musical guests Joel Corry and MNEK (nope, me neither).
I’m Michael, your virtual dance partner for tonight’s choreographic curtain-raiser. It’s showtime at 7.50pm on BBC One. I’ll be liveblogging from 7.30pm, providing build-up, rolling coverage, social media reaction and sarky asides.
Please join me – and join in, too. You can email me on [email protected] telegraph.co.uk, tweet me on @michaelhogan or leave comments at the bottom of this blog. I’ll keep an eye on them all and report the highlights here.
It promises to be the strangest but most welcome series ever. Nearly time to staaaaaaart covid-safe dancing!