Strictly Come Dancing? Strictly Come Sobbing, more like. This was the most emotional episode of the BBC hoofing contest’s current series, perhaps even longer. The Elstree ballroom was so awash with tears that its famous glitterball was at risk of rusting over. Pass the twinkly tissues and a sequin-spangled mop. Blub-ew-lous, darling.
As the competition hot-footed past the midway mark, there was one thing on everyone’s minds: Blackpool. Excitement is understandably high about heading north next weekend to the fabled Tower Ballroom for the first time since 2019 but the production needed to beware peaking too soon. The B-word was mentioned at every turn. Perhaps the salt water pouring from everyone’s eyes was an appetiser for the icy Irish Sea.
Kym Marsh dedicated her silky American smooth to Archie, the baby she lost moments after he arrived 18 weeks early in 2009. Marsh said she hoped that sharing her loss might help others open up about the pain of premature birth. Her professional partner Graziano di Prima, with whom she’s formed a palpably close bond, was as moved as she was.
Will Mellor slow-waltzed to “Three Times A Lady”, the song his late father Bill used to croon to his mother Shirley before he died suddenly during the pandemic. Mellor was so wobbly-chinned, he could barely talk. His professional partner Nancy Xu spoke for him, explaining how their beautifully classical, tail-coated routine was “for anyone who has lost loved ones and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye”. Head judge Ballas said it made her miss her own son, which seemed a stretch, considering he’s a pro on the US edition of the show. Never heard of FaceTime, Shirl?
All this catharsis came before we got to the show-closing dance. Hamza Yassin’s spectacular Afro-fusion number paid tribute to his homeland and heritage, complete with CGI wildlife and cameos from his relatives in the Sudan. South African judge Motsi Mabuse said she never dreamed of seeing such a dance on Strictly. Tongue firmly in cheek, she suggested that Yassin’s partner Jowita Przystal should take a DNA test to check for African blood.
The Couple’s Choice category is vague, tough to mark and much maligned but this demonstrated its potential power. Having risen from relative obscurity to hot favourite status, Yassin increasingly looks like this year’s Bill Bailey – the unlikely dancer who combines natural musicality and ease of movement with hard graft, progressing all the way to the glitterball trophy.
A point ahead of him, however, was Fleur East, whose spicy samba blew the Elstree Studios roof off. Previous panel criticism of East as “too powerful” and “wild” has verged on the racially loaded. She has unjustly appeared in two dance-offs but took the feedback on board to deliver a controlled, compact Rio carnival cracker, scoring a near-perfect 39.
This was very much a show of two halves. The opening routines – Ellie Taylor’s flat-footed Charleston and bare-chested Tyler West’s blocky paso doble – notched a modest 31. Helen Skelton scored just one point higher for a party salsa spoiled by nervous mistakes. Then came fan favourite Tony Adams.
The 56-year-old with a metal knee had struggled all week with the high-energy jive. Tonight’s effort had kicks but no flicks and, according to Craig Revel Horwood, was “a technical dis-ah-ster”. The former footballer did look like he was booting a ball into Row Z, rather than jitterbugging. It would be a shame if Adams wasn’t selected for the away fixture at Blackpool but he’s now been bottom of the scoreboard for six weeks out of eight. It could be time for an early bath.