FAB-U-LOUS! It’s Strictly Come Dancing’s all-time top 20 moments

<span>‘That was the best worst dance I’ve ever seen’ – Ed Balls and Katya Jones salsa to Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing.</span><span>Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC</span>
‘That was the best worst dance I’ve ever seen’ – Ed Balls and Katya Jones salsa to Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing.Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC

Happy anniversary, Strictly Come Dancing. Please accept this suspiciously glitterball-shaped gift. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the BBC’s ballroom behemoth, which aired its first episode on 15 May 2004.

We’ve celebrated this milestone by hand-picking our 20 most memorable moments from two decades of pro-celebrity hoofing. This sparkly assortment mixes up classic routines with dance disasters, and wardrobe malfunctions with rewind-worthy bloopers. Let us know your own Strictly highlights in the comments below. And, of course, keeeeep dancing!

Rose and Gio’s silent symphony (2021)

Strictly’s first deaf contestant, EastEnders actor Rose Ayling-Ellis, used muscle memory, counting and vibrations to learn routines with pro partner Giovanni Pernice. They would go on to lift the glitterball trophy, but their pinnacle came in week eight of Strictly’s 19th series. The pair’s Bafta-winning Contemporary Couple’s Choice, to Symphony by Clean Bandit, included a spine-tingling moment when the music fell away. They danced in total silence, transporting us into Rose’s world and paying powerful tribute to deaf people. It left the judges (and presumably millions of viewers) in tears – not least when Gio said “I love you” at the end – instantly becoming one of Strictly’s most beloved routines. As Anton Du Beke said, his voice cracking with emotion: “The greatest thing I’ve ever seen on this show.”

Oppan Ed Balls style! (2016)

Heeeey sexy lady! Former Labour politician Ed Balls was written off as a joke contestant, but under the tutelage of Katya Jones, the notorious name-tweeter became a half-decent dancer. Nominally a salsa, his novelty number to Psy’s Gangnam Style combined the Korean craze’s moves with gyrating hips, flying leaps and dizzying lifts. Bruno Tonioli said he “nearly passed out” watching it, adding: “That was the best worst dance I’ve seen.” Craig Revel Horwood simply said: “Three letters, darling. O, M, G.”

Jill Halfpenny’s perfect jive (2004)

Nowadays, 40-pointers happen several times per series – but the first ever maximum score was a huge deal. In the series two final, actor Jill Halfpenny and partner Darren Bennett delivered a firecracker jive to Elton John’s I’m Still Standing. The ballroom roof nearly lifted when the entire panel raised their “10” paddles. There have been other classic jives – those by Jay McGuiness, Ore Oduba, Ashley Roberts and Karim Zeroual spring to mind – but Halfpenny’s remains the gold standard by which all Strictly flicks and kicks are measured.

Russell Grant shot out of a cannon (2011)

When Strictly went to Wembley for Children in Need, it needed scaled-up routines to fill the huge space. The obvious solution? Fire an astrologer out of a cannon. In front of 6,000 bewildered punters, Russell Grant’s joyously camp, star-spangled jive began with him donning a sparkly helmet and being shot into the arena from a giant glitter gun. His human cannonball act wasn’t enough to propel him through to another week though. “Dumbo springs to mind,” sneered Craig. He scored 24 points, lost the dance-off to Holly Valance and shot straight home.

Angela Rippon’s levitating leg (2023)

In an ageist medium, Strictly is one of the rare TV shows where older women can shine. The likes of Pamela Stephenson, Annabel Croft and Debbie McGee have all impressed and inspired. So it was last year, with high-kicking newsreader Angela Rippon. At 79, the Devon-born dynamo was Strictly’s oldest ever contestant, so it hit front page headlines when her first dance saw partner Kai Widdrington lift up her leg – and keep lifting until it was above her head. Rippon eventually bowed out in Blackpool; a neat, full-circle moment because it’s where she presented the original Come Dancing in the 80s.

Danny Mac’s history-making samba (2016)

The samba is a notoriously difficult dance, especially for celebrity males, but Hollyoaks bad boy Danny Mac managed to make it look effortlessly cool. Partnered with Oti Mabuse and shaking his open-shirted stuff to Magalenha by Sérgio Mendes, the fiery carnival dance got the judges hot under the collar and became the first ever Strictly samba to score full marks. One of the best glitterball champions Strictly never had, Mac was narrowly beaten in the final by Ore Oduba. Ah, well. We’ll always have that hip action.

Ann Widdecombe’s Big Bird samba (2010)

Before swapping his dancing shoes for a scoring paddle, it was Anton Du Beke’s burden to be lumbered with unpromising partners – no offence, Judy Murray, Jerry Hall, Jacqui Smith and Susannah Constantine. Worst of the lot was the former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, with all the grace of a supertanker stuck in the Suez Canal. Seared into viewers’ memories is her Blackpool samba. Resembling Big Bird in a yellow feathered frock, Widdecombe was hauled around the floor. Head judge Len Goodman compared it to a motorway accident: “You don’t really want to watch but can’t help yourself.” Alesha Dixon said Widdecombe was “dragged around like an appliance”. Despite never scoring more than 21 points, she clung on until the quarter-final, when the public put Anton out of his misery.

Brucey rescues Mark Ramprakash (2006)

Not just a memorable blooper but a textbook example of Bruce Forsyth being a total showbiz pro. Champion-to-be Mark Ramprakash’s microphone got caught in the fringing of partner Karen Hardy’s frock and brought their salsa to a halt. There was a sharp intake of breath when they stopped dancing, but host Sir Brucey wasn’t fazed. He strolled over and cheerfully helped untangle them, saying: “I love it. This is what live television’s all about.” He even danced with the sound technician who rushed on. The couple were allowed another go, scored 36 points, then reprised it in the final – this time with no whoopsies, notching Strictly’s second ever perfect 40.

Jojo blazes a trail (2019)

It took a long while but Strictly has embraced same-sex partnerships in recent years. Nicola Adams and Katya Jones were the first in 2020. John Whaite and Johannes (Jojo) Radebe, and Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin have since reached the final and come within a whisker of winning. The way was paved by South African favourite Radebe, dancing with fellow pro Graziano Di Prima during a 2019 group number to Emeli Sandé’s Shine. Jojo later told the Guardian that it “felt like my coming-out party … There was something empowering about saying ‘Enough of the shame, enough of hiding, this is who I am’.”

Bill Bailey’s street dance delight (2020)

Funnyman Bill Bailey seemed to have been cast as the comedy contestant. The beardy wizard defied expectations by being surprisingly twinkle-toed. Ballroom Bill’s high point was his Couple’s Choice street dance with partner Oti Mabuse. Set to Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang, the infectious routine included intricate business with props. Bailey nailed it with swagger and impeccable rhythm. Hailed as “the king of pop and lock” and “the real deal”, he became Strictly’s oldest champion at 55. Up jump the boogie, indeed.

Nancy’s feather boa malfunction (2011)

Self-defined “Italian siren” Nancy Dell’Olio, nicknamed “Nancy De LOL” by fans, was more wooden than the coffin she climbed out of during the Halloween spooktacular. She set a stompy tone during her series-opening waltz, tripping over her feather boa as longsuffering partner Anton Du Beke struggled to untangle her feet. They scored a mere 12 points, including a one from Craig. It’s up there in the pantheon of wardrobe malfunctions with Darcey Bussell’s knicker flash and Brendan Cole’s split trousers.

John Sergeant’s sack of spuds (2008)

Strictly’s original “dancing pig” was the BBC’s chief political correspondent. Despite having two left feet and the musicality of a mahogany wardrobe, journalist John Sergeant’s popularity with voting viewers meant he survived until week nine – at which point, he sportingly withdrew for fear of knocking out superior dancers. The Sarge’s nadir was his lumpen paso doble. He managed to make partner Kristina Rihanoff look like a sack of potatoes as he stomped across the floor, dragging her behind him. Viewers compared it to a grumpy dad taking out the bins.

Super sub Kelvin Fletcher (2019)

When Jamie “Biscuits” Laing injured his foot during the series launch show, Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher was brought off the subs bench at the last minute. Despite having half the training time of his rivals, Fletcher made a spectacular entrance alongside partner Oti Mabuse. With a broad grin and bulging biceps, he busted out a hip-shaking, shoulder-shimmying samba – as Oti’s sister Motsi fanned herself with a scoring paddle. Fletcher topped the week one leaderboard and went on to lift the glitterball. Not bad for a backup option.

Tom Chambers’ charming showdance (2008)

Holby City’s Tom Chambers scraped into the grand final on a technicality but he secured the glitterball – plus a future career in West End musicals – with a fab-u-lous freestyle. When he emerged in tailsuit and tap shoes, viewers knew they were in for a treat. A razzle-dazzle Sweet Charity routine with partner Camilla Dallerup deployed his acting ability, strong technique and quirky choreography to provide sheer golden age entertainment. The judges didn’t like it; they loved it.

Shirley’s Lindy hop shambles (2018)

It’s been jettisoned in recent years, but there was a time when the later stages of each series saw all the couples take to the floor at once, competition style, to be ranked by the judges. Cue chaos after series 16’s “Lindy hop-a-thon”. When head judge Shirley Ballas tried to read out the results, there was a painful delay while she jabbed at her iPad and got flustered. She switched to old-fashioned pen and paper, still getting names wrong, while host Claudia Winkleman told viewers: “If you’re watching this at home, for goodness sake have a drink.”

Layton’s Broadway-worthy Charleston (2023)

Layton Williams was so consistently high-scoring he was nicknamed “Lay-ten”. For all the griping, sniping and trolling about his dance background, he and partner Nikita Kuzmin deserved all those maximums. Their thrilling semi-final Charleston had it all: speed, style, spot-on synchronisation, spectacular tricks, plenty of prop work and that all-important swivel. Even the judges gave it a standing ovation, with Craig calling it “the best Charleston I’ve seen in 20 years on this programme, darling”. Shirley hailed him as “dance royalty”. The Charleston is a fan favourite, often producing showstopping routines – see Chris Hollins, Caroline Flack, Georgia May Foote, Rhys Stephenson or AJ Odudu – but Layton’s was next level.

Bruno falls off his chair. Again (2013)

He’s now plying his judgely trade on Britain’s Got Talent, but for 15 years Bruno Tonioli was Strictly’s resident court jester – all flamboyant gesticulations and purring innuendo. He became known for falling off his chair, which occurred so often you began to suspect it was deliberate. The original and best tumble came after Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev’s quickstep. When Craig advised Riley to “tighten your bum cheeks, darling”, Len took the mickey and Bruno laughed so hard he ended up under the desk. Mamma mia.

Alexandra Burke channels Tina Turner (2017)

Big hair, big scores. Singer Alexandra Burke’s Strictly stint was a turbulent one, beset by unjust criticism and rumours of diva behaviour, which smacked of tabloid racism and misogyny. Out on the ballroom floor, she could forget it all and was a helluva hoofer. Partnered by Gorka “The Corker” Márquez, her high-octane jive to Proud Mary by Tina Turner scored a near-perfect 39, remarkable for week four. There wasn’t a dry eye in house when she sobbed, “I wish my mum was here to see this.” Her mother, Soul II Soul singer Melissa Bell, had died a week before the series began. Burke went on to score the most 39s in Strictly history.

Stevens and Simone sizzle (2008)

We could have opted for a glitterball winner’s dance. Abbey Clancy’s waltz, Louis Smith’s showdance, Harry Judd’s quickstep and Alesha Dixon’s cha-cha-cha nearly made the cut. Instead, we’ve gone for a champion who never was, in harness with a much-missed pro. Vincent Simone was the undisputed king of tango and proved why in this semi-final Argentine with S Club’s Rachel Stevens. Set to When Doves Cry by Prince, it was poised, powerful and passionate enough to set off the studio sprinklers.

Craig’s puts his foot in Anton’s mouth (2019)

It’s not often that resident panto villain Craig’s face turns from orange to red. After Anton’s Austin Powers-themed salsa with EastEnders actor Emma Barton in Movie Week, Craig said in his critique: “I was slightly distracted by the wig and the fake teeth you have in.” Presenter Tess Daly cracked up laughing and said: “They’re all his own teeth, just to clarify.” The camera cut back to Craig, open-mouthed and mortified. “The cheek!” said Anton. Craig even apologised for once.

Do you agree with our selection? What glittery greats have we missed? Please let us know your own all-time favourite Strictly moments in the comments below.