Last year was one of the most challenging in Strictly Come Dancing’s history, as the team behind the show had to deal with Covid regulations, some of which were changing as the show was on the air.
The second episode was preceded by an announcement from Boris Johnson about another lockdown, and the final came on December 19, the day when the government revealed it was tightening the rules around Christmas.
Yet despite it all, the contest went ahead, still delivering memorable routines, many of them courtesy of the show’s eventual winner Bill Bailey and his professional partner Oti Mabuse, who became the first dancer in Strictly history to lift the glitterball trophy two years on the trot.
It confirmed the dancing contest’s status as a national institution, and has made many people even more excited about the show’s return this year.
Admittedly, it’s not quite Strictly business as usual. Due to the uncertainty around international travel, it was announced earlier this year that Bruno Tonioli would not be returning as a judge for this series. However, while fans will miss him, most will approve of his replacement, veteran dancer Anton Du Beke, who has been in the ballroom since day one and previously stood in for Motsi Mabuse when she had to sit out a couple of episodes in 2020.
Anton said: “My loves I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be stepping into Bruno’s brogues for the next series of Strictly. It’s a dream come true to be judging alongside the best of the best and I promise to be kinder to all the couples than any of them have ever been to me.”
Tonight, he’ll be taking to the panel alongside Motsi, Shirley Ballas and Craig Revel Horwood, but we won’t find out if he’ll be sticking to his word about being kind just yet.
That’s because as a launch show, tonight Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman will be introducing viewers to this year’s crop of celebrities and pairing them up with their professional partners.
The first member of the class of 2021 to be announced was McFly’s Tom Fletcher, who must also be one of the favourites to win, not least because he can ask his bandmate, Strictly 2011 winner Harry Judd, for advice.
However, he’ll face stiff competition from actor (and former Let’s Dance for Comic Relief victor) Robert Webb, presenter AJ Odudu, kids’ TV star Rhys Stephenson, Dragon Den’s Sara Davies, former Coronation Street resident Katie McGlynn, BBC Breakfast’s Dan Walker, chef Tilly ‘daughter of Gordon’ Ramsay, The Crown star Greg Wise, actress and comedian Nina Wadia, Olympic swimmer Adam Peaty, comedian Judi Love and ex-rugby player Ugo Monye.
There are also a couple of celebs making Strictly history as EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis becomes the first deaf contestant, and Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite forms the first all-male partnership.
We’ll get a chance to assess their form when they take to the floor for a group number, while last year’s winner Bill returns to show them how it’s done.
Then next week, the competition begins in earnest…
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