Strictly Come Dancing is back and the launch show ratings suggest that the tenth series will be as popular as ever (Week 1: 2 x shows: 9pm Friday, Oct 5 & 6.30pm Saturday Oct 6).
There is a particularly topical line up of 14 celebrities. Two Olympians are swapping sporting glory to don dancing shoes.
There is a new judge too. The retired ballerina Darcey Bussell has taken the place of Alesha Dixon (she jumped ship to join Britain’s Got Talent) on the judges’ panel. Could this lead to a more technical approach to scoring?
Louis Smith, the silver medal winning gymnast, has been paired with the Latin specialist, Flavia Cacace. He is the favourite at 5/2 in the Strictly Come Dancing betting and shortened slightly in price when his professional pairing was announced. Flavia choreographed Matt Di Angelo into the runner up position in 2007 and definitely deserves a win after her heroic efforts with the tubby astrologer, Russell Grant.
On his intro VT Smith said that he likes to get noticed (as a gymnast) by changing his hair style regularly, he also said that his ‘dance moves aren’t too sharp’. He might be a little too full of himself to attract the following needed to go all the way. Smith is easy on the eye and will find the Strictly training schedule a breeze compared with his former regime. It has to make sense to wait and see how well he can actually dance and whether he is likely to appeal to the Strictly voting public. Smith is currently available at odds of around 5/2 but is definitely not a value bet at that price when all we have so far seen is back flips.
Essex girl presenter and performer Denise van Outen is the second favourite and is available at a price of 7/2. She has been paired with Strictly veteran, James Jordan who partnered Pamela Stephenson into third place in 2010.
The shapely 38-year-old has had the benefit of basic dance training and should not be fazed by performing live, having played Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago on Broadway and in the West End. She has already responded to criticism that she has an unfair advantage because of her dance experience, pointing out that she has never attempted ballroom and only had one dance number in Chicago. She has proved her fitness and determination by completing a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief in 2009 – Kimberley Walsh, Fearne Cotton and Alesha Dixon also completed the climb.
Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh is the next in the betting at 9/2. She has been paired with Pasha Kovalev. He is a recent addition to the Strictly male professional dancer crew but did a great job in his first attempt, leading Chelsee Healey into second place in the last series.
Walsh seems to be a likeable character and looked more comfortable than most in the launch show. Former band members have a pretty good record in Strictly. Alesha Dixon triumphed in 2007 and Emma Bunton came third in the previous series. Harry Judd, the McFly drummer, won the last series.
Most significantly, judge Craig Revel Horwood has publicly named this couple as his favourite to win. Darcey Bussell also made very positive noises about them on the opening show.
Walsh has already acquired at least one high profile supporter. The Duchess of Cornwall, a serious Strictly fan, promised to vote for her when they met at a charity event at Clarence House. She looks to be one for the shortlist.
Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan has been paired with Natalie Lowe. Cricketers have a great record in Strictly, Mark Ramprakash and Darren Gough both won. Vaughan retired from cricket with a dodgy knee and claimed that he is more of a Tuffers (Phil Tufnell who was unplaced) than a Gough. His initial effort suggests he is right.
Actor Colin Salmon, best known for his appearances in Bond films, claims that he has rhythm but is unsure about his dancing ability. He is paired with the very capable Kristina Rihanoff. Standing at six feet four inches, even if he has natural talent he is probably going to struggle with the Latin dances.
Television presenter Richard Arnold’s dancing experience is not extensive but he did take part in Dance Relief. He will benefit from the experience of Erin Boag – and looks likely to need every bit of it.
Former Eastender Sid Owen says that he can’t dance but was delighted to be paired with Ola Jordan. Ola helped Chris Hollins lift the glitterball in 2010 with some outstanding comic choreography. Owen looked more comfortable than the majority of the male celebrities and I would not be surprised to go much further than his initial odds of 33/1 suggest.
At 74-years-old, Johnny Ball is the oldest celebrity to take up the challenge of Strictly. He may be long in the tooth but he looks to be in much better shape than many of the previous ‘senior’ celebrities. Aliona Vilani could not hide her disappointment when the pairing was announced which does not bode well for them.
Westlife’s Nicky Byrne is likely to prove popular with female viewers. He claims to have little dancing experience as he spent most of his time singing from the safety of a stool – his only ‘dance’ move was to stand up when there was a key change. Although a seasoned performer, he has admitted to feeling rather exposed as this is the first thing he has done without the support of Westlife.
Byrne has also been a professional footballer, representing Ireland. He should know how to control his feet and believes in keeping in shape so stamina should not be an issue. Byrne is paired with a new member of the Strictly professional team, the Venezuelan Karen Hauer. She is the World Mambo Champion and has appeared on other dance shows so should prove a competent teacher. Nicky Byrne seems to be a likeable character with a sizeable existing fan base. If he has a reasonable talent for dancing he has to a serious contender.
Poor Anton du Beke has been saddled with the former model and rock star’s wife, Jerry Hall. At 56 years-old, the towering Texan is past her sell by date. Du Beke may be able to coax a decent ballroom performance from her but the very thought of them attempting a Latin routine is laughable. Du Beke is one of the most popular pros but his partner is unlikely to have the same appeal to Strictly voters.
Dani Harmer aka CBBC’S Tracy Beaker has been paired with the pint-sized Vincent Simone. Harmer has appeared in musicals and pantomimes and recorded an album (which was never released) so we can expect a reasonable standard of musicality. Harmer has had some dance training too but has never attempted ballroom. Simone must be delighted with the pairing having got stuck with Edwina Currie in the last series. If Harmer’s young fans are allowed to vote by their parents she could go far.
Gold and silver medal winning cyclist, Victoria Pendleton has the expert assistance of Brendan Cole in her quest to win the glitterball. Cole has form of his own, partnering Natasha Kaplinsky to victory in the very first series. Head judge Len Goodman has high hopes for this partnership. They are both fiercely competitive and there will be no lack of focus on the task. Pendleton is using the series to ease herself into retirement from cycling.
Pendleton is obviously in great physical shape and certainly looks the part in the figure hugging dresses that she is looking forward to wearing. She has apparently encountered a slight set back already. After many years of cycling, her feet do not bend in the same way that those of lesser mortals do. That should not stop her and Cole giving the other competitors something to worry about. Pendleton is also looking forward to wearing high heels – she was banned from wearing them as an elite athlete.
Whilst the physical side of Strictly should present no problems, it will be interesting to see how she copes with the performance element. She is rumoured to have enlisted the assistance of Olympic Team GB’s psychologist, Dr Steve Peters to help her achieve the best possible result in Strictly. When she said at the launch show that she would be taking this contest very seriously she was not joking.
Her Olympic success should win her quite a few votes but it is difficult to see her beating the likes of Walsh or Van Outen. Her ultra serious, competitive approach may also prove to be a turn off for some viewers.
The 55-year-old TV presenter Fern Britton is definitely not the sporty type but she is an established TV personality and knows how to project her personality in front of the camera. She attracted some negative publicity when she claimed to have lost a significant amount of weight through the conventional methods of diet and exercise. She was subsequently exposed by the tabloids when they discovered that she had actually had a gastric band fitted. It was more than a bit embarrassing as she had appeared in Ryvita ads, promoting them as helpful for weight loss, and had made her own exercise video.
Britton danced a very respectable jive in the 2010 Strictly Christmas Special showing plenty of sparkle if less than precise kicks and flicks. She has been paired with Artem Chigvintsev, winner of the glitterball in 2010 with Kara Tointon who has since become more than just his dancing partner.
Actress Lisa Riley, the barmaid from Emmerdale, is not blessed with the ideal physique for dancing. She has a big personality and a body to match it. Her professional partner Robin Windsor is going to have to do some extra training himself if he is to lift her without fear of injury. Riley will undoubtedly provide plenty of entertainment but is an 80/1 outsider in the betting for good reason.
Strictly Come Dancing Best Bets & Tips
- At this early stage, Nicky Byrne looks to be the pick of the male celebrities and provides decent value at his current best price of 8/1 with Ladbrokes.
- Kimberley Walsh has already won over two of the judges and looks likely to appeal to voters too. She is biggest @ 5/1 with Stan James.
Expect both to shorten in price and they are our tentative betting tips. But take a good look at the betting odds table halfway through this Strictly Come Dancing preview to see if another celebrity catches your eye. Remember, at this stage, the bookies are as much in the dark as anyone else.