Putting the sparkle back in weekends

Susan Calman and Kevin Clifton
Susan Calman and Kevin Clifton

The arrival of Saturday nights in autumn mean just one thing - Strictly is back! Rachel Popow looks at what to expect.

BBC1, 6.25pm

Two weeks after the launch show revealed which celebrity would be dancing with which professional - and exposed the depth of comedian Susan Calman’s obsession with her new partner, Kevin Clifton - we can see just how well those pairings are working as the competition begins in earnest.

No doubt many of the celebrities will be feeling anxious about hearing the judges’ feedback for the first time. But it may calm them down a little to remember that this year, at least one of the panel could also be suffering from a touch of first-night nerves.

Shirley Ballas is taking over from Len Goodman as the head judge, and she realises she has some big dance shoes to fill. She says: “I’ve known Len since I started in the dance industry many years ago and when I used to compete from about the age of 9 or 10 and he was one of the judges. Len always had great things to say about my dancing and I’m a big fan of his sense of humour and his insight into ballroom dancing. He played such an iconic role on Strictly and I know the viewers adored him!”

Luckily, though it seems that she’s not too daunted by the prospect of joining the panel. That may be because, as her long friendship with Len indicates, while she’s a newcomer to Strictly, she’s definitely no stranger to the ballroom.

Shirley is a three-time former British Open to the World Latin American Champion, 10-time United States Latin American Champion, and multiple-times British National Champion, as well an international coach. No wonder she’s been dubbed the Queen of Latin.

In addition to her own impressive credentials, it seems she’s also given plenty of thought to her new judging role. Shirley says: “It’s all about the four F’s; fun, firm, feisty and fair. I may look and come across as quite strict, but I want the celebrities to know that when they are stood in front of me, my heart will be pumping a thousand miles an hour for them in that moment and I’ll want to give them comments to inspire them.”

But that doesn’t mean she’ll be dishing out 10s and failing to pick up on gapping or sloppy footwork. “I can also be strict - if I ask them to do something and they don’t deliver it the following week, I’m not going to tell them that it’s ok, I’m not that kind of judge. I will be expecting things from them and I hope that they will be expecting things from me, to be as honest and as forthright as I can, to help them become the best dancer they can be.”

But which of the celebs will stand out for her tonight? Pop stars Mollie King, Aston Merrygold and Alexandra Burke may seem to have have an advantage when it comes to picking up the steps, but is a dark horse about to emerge?