Craig Revel Horwood (Photo: BBC/Ray Burmiston)
Craig Revel Horwood has credited early Strictly Come Dancing winner Jill Halfpenny with changing the direction of the show.
The long-standing judge, who has appeared on the BBC ballroom show since its inception in 2004, admitted he felt the show was “a little bit jokey” in its first series, which changed as soon as former EastEnders star Jill hit the dance floor the following year.
In an interview ahead of the launch of Strictly’s landmark 20th series this weekend, Craig was asked about how he thinks the show had evolved over the years.
He said: “It’s got more spectacular, the sets have become extraordinary and the quality of dancing has gone up.
“Also, the contestants themselves treat it really seriously now rather than it was a little bit jokey in the very first series. As soon as Jill Halfpenny danced, she set the bar for amazing dancing.”
He also hailed Jill and partner Darren Bennett’s Jive to Elton John’s I’m Still Standing as his stand-out dance from Strictly’s history.
Of her reprising it in the final of series two, he said: “She stood out because she was incredible, it was the first 10 that I ever gave.”
Jill Halfpenny and Darren Bennet are announced as the winners of Strictly Come Dancing series two (Photo: PA Images via Getty Images)
Craig admitted he also never thought the show would last after signing up as a judge for the first series.
“I thought it would last three weeks but I was totally wrong about that,” he said. “And it’s gone on and won the hearts and minds of the nation.”
This weekend will see Craig return to the panel alongside Motsi Mabuse, Shirley Ballas and Anton Du Beke to judge the latest crop of Strictly stars.
Strictly Come Dancing returns to BBC One on Friday at 7pm.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.