Viewers certainly weren’t put off by Strictly Come Dancing’s new pandemic-era format when the show finally returned to the screen on Saturday.
The audience was the largest for a launch show since 2017. Seeking a slight relief from the gloom and gloom, an average of 8.6 million watched this year’s celebrities team up with the pros, with a peak of 9 million.
This is a significant increase from the 2019 average of 7.8 million, while the 2018 launch show drew 8.1 million viewers. Hostesses Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly were socially distant, but the dancers had created bubbles earlier.
Strictly Come Dancing returned on Saturday night, delivering a gleeful explosion of fun for viewers hungry for sparkle and gagging for glitter.
In the midst of the chill-sucking Covid cultural desert, this homecoming seemed particularly timely; a dear old friend coming out of the schedules like a glittering mirage, an emerald city of all that is pretty and fun.
Indeed, there were times when I had to rub my eyes at the sheer wonder of it all, including hostess Claudia Winkleman dragging herself into what looked like Liberace’s crumpled old jim-jams; her baguettes were undoubtedly crispy well under the excess ruler of rose-tinted foil.
Acolyte Tess Daly was no exception and came dressed as Perdita as 101 Dalmatians. Why?
Celebrities with their professional dance partners at the BBC1 dance show’s launch performance, Strictly Come Dancing, which kicked off this weekend to record audiences
As many as nine million viewers have watched celebrities team up with their counterparts. Pictured: American football star Jason Bell with professional dancer Luba Mushtuk
Good Morning Britain presenter Ranvir Singh dancing with his partner Giovanni Pernice
Perhaps as a tribute to the fact that she still remembers so little of her lines. Tess, I mean. Not the dog.
“It was a difficult year. Are you going to be nicer? she managed to ask the evil judge Craig Revel Horwood. “No,” he growled. Same here. Craig had dusted off his low-scoring paddles and indulged in a monstrous amount of peachy lipstick in defiance of the news that there won’t be a Halloween-themed show this year. Oh, the crazy joy of it all. Welcome, welcome to each of you.
Of course, this 18th series is strictly strictly, but not strictly as we know it.
In the studio, a masked and socially distant audience hovers around the edges; slightly strange sentries testifying to the carnage of clods.
Meanwhile, the trio of judges sit behind individual desks much like the Cha Cha Airways check-in team. (The seats are all crammed together, as Craig won’t allow any deviations.)
Strictly Come Dancing hosts Claugia Winkleman and Tess Daly presented the Pandemic Edition of the show which will see fewer episodes and no specials in Blackpool this year.
Bruno Tonioli is absent this year, but I’m afraid he will be missing a lot in the shortened format; no Blackpool, no Clauditorium, fewer episodes. As for the celebrities, everyone seemed ready to rock and quite possibly too.
Bill Bailey, Jacqui Smith and Caroline Quentin led the pack of names I had heard of, alongside young competitors whose star vehicles have yet to make a dent in Jan’s brain bumper.
Someone who was a DJ, someone who had a podcast, someone with a three-bob tattoo on their neck, someone else who has already had a dozen hits – but only on their website, a pop singer called Max George who seems hilarious enough to be a stand-up comedian?
It does not matter. Friends, I hate digging up a cliché in the bones of the reality graveyard, but it’s really the journey that counts on a show where stars are born and knees die.
This year, Strictly’s first gay partnership garnered a lot of attention, but what is it all about?
Former professional boxer Nicola Adams teamed up with Katya Jones to form the series’ first gay couple to appear on the show, which caused a stir when the decision was announced.
This year’s series of Strictly got off to a lively start. Pictured: Caroline Quentin with professional dancer Johannes Radebe (left) and (right) Maise Smith with Gorka Marquez
Comedian Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse, at this year’s Strictly Come Dancing launch show
Already the pairing of former Olympic boxer Nicola Adams with professional Katya Jones seems quite routine. “We are free to do whatever we want, there are no real rules,” Katya enthuses enthusiastically, although I suspect Craig will not agree on that, Daahling.
It may not have already escaped your notice that EastEnders actress Maisie Smith is fabulously boring and dances like someone who has been professionally educated at a significant stage in her life.
This was in stark contrast to former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who moves like a sack of paws slowly carried through a grid of cattle. Oh Jacqui!
“I’m best known for being a politician,” she said, though some of us would complain about this bold statement. Jacqui says she seeks ‘joy’ in her late fifties and was quickly rewarded for this impertinence by being paired with Anton du Beke, a dancer who is regularly prescribed to older female contestants as if he was acted as a patch of human estrogen.
Indeed, the newly gray haired clog maker is the last step of the four stages of femininity; early childhood, puberty, procreation, Anton.
Professional Anton Du Beke was paired this year with Labor politician Jacqui Smith
Some of the duds that make his toes crack he has collaborated over the years including Ann ‘Dead Weight’ Widdecombe, Judy ‘The Plank’ Murray, and Nancy Dell Calamity-Olio. There are fears that Jacqui may be one of her most difficult challenges yet.
Meanwhile, Claudia and Tess are spending way too much time patiently explaining the show’s Covid rules – we got it! – though the admirable ingenuity, planning skills and determination to put on the show are nothing short of miraculous.
Many of those involved made personal sacrifices while coming together and obeying the rules for the greater good.
Even when not draped in glitter and lippy, these celebs and dancers are an example to all of us. Yes, Tess. Even you.