'It's good to see Holly Willoughby back but she deserves better material than Dancing On Ice'

ITV's skating competition returns and all eyes were on Holly

Stephen Mulhern and Holly Willoughby hosted the return of Dancing On Ice. (ITV/Shutterstock)
Stephen Mulhern and Holly Willoughby hosted the return of Dancing On Ice. (ITV/Shutterstock)

Holly Willoughby obviously had a lot on her mind as she made a tentative return to Dancing On Ice — but that still did not excuse the fact that she let a couple of glorious chances to lighten the mood go begging.

On two occasions we were shown footage of a contestant suffering a nasty fall in rehearsals, yet Holly failed to ask either of them: “Firstly, are you OK?” Come on, Hols. I know the last few months haven’t been much fun for you, what with the Philip Schofield scandal and the alleged kidnapping plot.

However, you should never underestimate the rejuvenating powers of a little self-deprecation.

Let’s be honest, if Holly had referenced her infamous 2023 address to the nation on This Morning it would have been funnier than anything in the clunking, cringe-inducing script that she and her new permanent co-host Stephen Mulhern had been saddled with on Sunday night.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with ITV asking Holly and Stephen to bring an Ant & Dec fun vibe to proceedings — no one would deny Dancing On Ice needed livening up a bit. It was a bit harsh to ask them to do it without any decent material though.

Watch Holly's return to Dancing On Ice

Things got off to a terrible start with a pun involving long jumper Greg Rutherford and having to wear a long jumper because it was cold. To be fair, on paper, that gag probably worked pretty well. Out loud, it stank the arena out. Even Stephen’s seemingly limitless grin could not mask his discomfort. The poor fella looked like he wanted the ice to melt and swallow him up — and then freeze over again.

No such luck. His ordeal continued for another hour or so. When the high-jinks culminated in Holly asking boxer Ricky Hatton to punch her partner in crime, the only surprise was Stephen didn’t plead with Ricky to hit him harder.

Then again, I suppose we shouldn’t have expected any better from a show in which the commentator thinks that squeezing as many S Club 7 song titles as he can into his round-up will bring the National Comedy Awards rolling in.

Robin Johnstone is Ricky Hatton's skating partner on Dancing On Ice. (ITV)
Robin Johnstone is Ricky Hatton's skating partner on Dancing On Ice. (ITV)

Just to be on the safe side, Sam Matterface also treated Hatton to a barrage of horrendous boxing puns and Love Island’s Amber Davies to a stream of Love Island-related nonsense. I don’t know what he has in store for Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards next week, but I’m not sure I want to find out.

Suffice it to say that when Holly told Matterface “It’s lovely to hear your voice again” I was fairly confident that she wasn’t speaking for the nation.

She was speaking for herself though. It was the only thing she said all night that could in any way be taken as a reference to her recent troubles. Prior to the weekend, there had been rumours that Holly would make some kind of public address at the start of the show.

Whoever advised her against that course of action definitely made the right call. Much better for her to come out looking glamorous and confident and act like nothing was wrong. She pulled it off beautifully — and it was a joy to see her back on screen. Whether she will be able to sustain those levels of enthusiasm for a full run is another matter.

Dancing On Ice hosts Stephen Mulhern and Holly Willoughby. (ITV)
Dancing On Ice hosts Stephen Mulhern and Holly Willoughby. (ITV)

She wouldn’t be alone if she struggled with that, of course. Watching a full series of Dancing On Ice can be a challenge for anyone. Whatever glory days it may have had are long gone. ITV even prefaced this opening episode with an advert that encouraged us to watch Mr Bates Vs The Post Office on ITVX instead.

When Emmerdale’s Roxy Shahidi assessed her debut routine on Sunday night, she pretty much echoed what I say at the end of each series: “I’m just grateful to have got through it. I just want a cup of tea and a biscuit.”

If you think that’s harsh, I should tell you that my thoughts at the start of each series tally more with Ricky Hatton's reaction when he was first asked to take part: “Dancing On Ice? I’d rather get punched in the face.”

PS. I just remembered something that did actually make me laugh on the night. Pro skater Andy Buchanan apologising for not knowing who all the celebrity contestants are and explaining that it’s because he’s from Canada.

Andy, mate. Don’t sweat it. We’re from Britain and we don’t know half of them either!

Dancing On Ice airs on Sunday nights on ITV1.

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