After a respectful six-day delay for Queen Elizabeth II's funeral, the jewel in TV’s light entertainment crown was back. The state broadcaster has spent the past fortnight showing its sombre, serious side. Now it was time for a cathartic release of showbiz sparkle as Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One) launched its landmark 20th series.
Once again, 15 plucky, publicity-hungry celebrities are being rolled in glitter and dipped in teak tan for the nation’s autumnal amusement. Did we recognise most of them? Of course not. Happily it tends not to matter much once the ballroom blockbuster gathers momentum. “Who?” becomes “Hurrah” after a few weekends of feelgood family viewing. Just to add to any audience bafflement, this year’s batch includes an East, a West, two Ellies and three Adamses.
The choreographic machine cranked into action with hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman welcoming the class of 2022. The main order of ballroom business was pairing them with their professional partners. This took place at locations ranging from the clumsily literal (Arsenal stadium, Walford market) to the wilfully random (a Scottish lighthouse, a Runcorn riverbank, wetsuits in a Welsh lake).
Bros singer Matt Goss might be among the headline names but he was endearingly nervous meeting his Ukrainian partner, Nadiya Bychkova. Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds has a form of dwarfism and it will be fascinating to see how pro Nikita Kuzmin adapts the dances for their height difference.
This year’s field includes two same-sex pairings for the first time. Comedian Jayde Adams was matched with Venezuelan firecracker Karen Hauer, while Radio 2 presenter Richie Anderson lucked out by landing Giovanni Pernice - four-time finalist and arguably the best current pro.
Among the bookies’ early favourites are former Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton, Coronation Street’s Kym Marsh and rapping radio DJ Fleur East. All three have prior dance experience on their CVs, so expect “ringer” rumblings. Actor Will Mellor, who formed a promising couple with Nancy Xu, admitted an unusual link to judge Anton Du Beke: “He lives near the same village as me and I’ve seen him at the tip.” Mellor must hope it wasn’t a sign that his dancing will be rubbish.
Proceedings began with a spine-tingling group dance from the pro troupe, partly set in Blackpool - signalling that this run includes a return to the prestigious Tower Ballroom after a two-year absence. The return to post-pandemic normality also meant a full studio audience for the first time since 2019, which only enhanced the infectious celebratory atmosphere. Fan favourite Du Beke, now a permanent replacement for Bruno Tonioli on the panel, beamed with pleasure throughout.
Four new pros were introduced via a cinematic Latin-spiced number. Soul star John Legend crooned his apposite new single, All She Wanna Do (Is Dance). Reigning champion Rose Ayling-Ellis was reunited with Pernice to reprise their magical Viennese Waltz, which included a sign language interlude - all the more potent during International Week of the Deaf.
For the traditional crescendo, everyone made their dancefloor debut in a chaotic group number. From this sneak peek at their skills, Anderson, comedian Jayde Adams and former footballer Tony Adams might surprise a few people. East, Marsh and CBBC star Molly Rainford could be in the frame for the glitterball. By contrast, comedian Ellie Taylor and Loose Women’s Kaye Adams could well be home in time for Hallowe'en.
This opening show was a tad overlong - nearly two hours for a glorified trailer - but after a tumultuous two weeks, it was a televisual tonic. It shimmied. It shone. It provided a welcome dose of giddy, glitzy escapism. An irresistible curtain-raiser to a series which looks set to warm our cockles right through to Christmas. Neither is there long to wait until the contest starts in earnest, with the first live show airing tomorrow night. We might as well surrender to the sequins now.