United Kingdom

JAN MOIR: Spray tans, sequins and a shimmying silver fox... it can only be Strictly, my loves 

The Strictly Come Dancing launch at the weekend managed to pull in an average of only seven million viewers – a drop of two million in five years.

It was the lowest audience since the launch show was introduced in 2010. That year, 8.7million fans tuned in, and by 2016, the audience had increased to 9.3million.

Saturday’s pre-recorded show kicked off the 19th series with a performance by the professional dancers and the unveiling of the pairings.

Yesterday it was reported that one professional tested positive for Covid last week and two were refusing to get vaccinated. Strictly said: ‘We do not comment on speculation of Covid vaccination status.’

Former Bake Off star John Whaite was paired with Johannes Radebe – making the show’s first male single sex couple

Welcome to the ballroom of broken dreams, to the terpsichorean colosseum throbbing with celebrity gladiators in their gladrags, preparing to do battle with the beat, the long haul ahead and their own shortcomings.

Incredibly, this is the 19th series of Strictly and anyone expecting a slowdown in the collective quickstep or a bit of creak in the show’s teak would have been disappointed. 

Despite its 90-minute length, Saturday night’s slick launch show fizzed along with unstoppable energy and confidence, providing a much needed pandemic pick me up for fans.

Much of this was provided by this year’s star signing, the actor Greg Wise. 

Husband to Emma Thompson and the star of stage and screen, one gets the feeling that the luxuriously handsome 55-year-old is not unaware of his silver fox status.

Indeed, he wasted no time in stripping down to his vest – and even made his entrance riding in on a white horse, a first for the show. 

‘Ooh, my inner thighs after cantering,’ he purred afterwards, even funnier if you imagine it being said in Alan Carr’s voice.

Much of this was provided by this year’s star signing, the actor Greg Wise 

This is also the first time that Anton has joined the show as a full-time judge. Since the first series in 2004, the poor bloke has steered all the clunkers around the ballroom, now it is his turn to call the shots

In the studio the campery continued when he complained that he had ‘never worn such tight trousers in my life’ although fans who remember his white britches in Sense & Sensibility might beg to differ.

No doubt the sizzle factor will be turned up to max over the next few months, and we all can all enjoy watching Greg’s steak bake. It was a night for firsts. 

EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis is the show’s first deaf contestant and was teamed with Giovanni Pernice, who showed that he was already learning how to sign.

Former Bake Off star John Whaite was paired with Johannes Radebe – making the show’s first male single sex couple. 

The pair of them make such a dream team you have to wonder why it took so long. ‘I was born to be Strictified,’ said John, looking born to the role in his spray-on outfit and spray-on tan – but even he was a whisk of emotions. 

‘I am like a wooden spoon I am so tense,’ he admitted. It is always fascinating, seeing the stars at this vulnerable moment, staring into the dancing abyss.

BBC presenter Dan Walker sounded like a nervous suitor on a first date. ‘Are you disappointed?’ he asked dance partner Nadiya Bychkova. 

Oh, Dan! He went on to describe himself as a man who has never undone two shirt buttons ‘in my life’. On screen or off.

By contrast, millions are used to seeing Olympic gold medal swimmer Adam Peaty in nothing more than a tiny scrap of chlorine-resistant polyester. 

Welcome to the ballroom of broken dreams, to the terpsichorean colosseum throbbing with celebrity gladiators in their gladrags, preparing to do battle with the beat

‘I am best known as the fastest breaststroker on the planet,’ he said, which is quite some claim, but entirely true.

Peaty may be an Olympic champ but even he was worried about ‘going from the horizontal to the vertical’. 

He described himself as a ‘reverse triangle’ and also ‘a sponge’ but cheered up when he was paired with the formidable Katya Jones.

Talking to host Claudia Winkleman, the two of them practically oscillated with ambition. ‘I tell him what to do, he listens and does,’ said Katya, while the fastest stroker nodded along.

This is also the first time that Anton has joined the show as a full-time judge. Since the first series in 2004, the poor bloke has steered all the clunkers around the ballroom, now it is his turn to call the shots.

He promised to be the milk of human kindness against the curdled Craig Revel Horwood, the ballast to Shirley Ballas, the sweet popsie alongside the critical Motsi Mabuse. 

What is he looking for? Good heel turns on the foxtrot, apparently – but aren’t we all?

What can I say? The Strictly class of ’21 do not disappoint. The cast, the pairings, the potential drama are all terrific – is it too soon to say it is all shaping up for a vintage year? That is certainly what it feels like.

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