Shirley Ballas admits love for joke contestants as 'Strictly' judges share their favourite celebrity dancers

Shirley Ballas says she loves joke contestants on Strictly Come Dancing. (Getty)
Shirley Ballas says she loves joke contestants on Strictly Come Dancing. (Getty)

Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas has admitted her favourite contestants are often those who can't dance, rather than the most talented performers.

The BBC One show is heading into its 20th series and when the judges were asked about their favourite contestants from seasons past, Ballas admitted a fondness for notorious joke performers including Ann Widdecombe and Ed Balls.

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On her standout celebrity from the show's history, tough-to-please judge Ballas gave the surprising answer: "Ann Widdecombe with her Samba, it was just iconic.

"I also loved Ed Balls when he did 'Gangnam Style'. I want people to understand that it’s not always the best dancer that delivers the entertainment factor, which is extremely important in this show. Yes it’s great to have talent and be coordinated, but I love the journey for those who cannot dance.

"I loved Ann and Ed for their banter, and they gave it their full 100% even when they were scoring low scores. Sometimes the journey can be found in the not so gifted and not so experienced."

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Fellow judge Motsi Mabuse shared that her favourite was comedian Bill Bailey, who won the 2020 series with her sister, Oti Mabuse.

She said: "I remain and will always be a fan of Bill Bailey. Because of the timing, with the pandemic, and what he provided."

Programme Name: Strictly Come Dancing 2021 - TX: 18/09/2021 - Episode: Strictly Come Dancing - Launch Show (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Bill Bailey, Oti Mabuse - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy
Bill Bailey won the 2020 series with Oti Mabuse. (BBC)

Craig Revel Horwood, the only judge to have taken part in every series of the show, said he still thought one of the early champions was hard to beat.

He said: "Strictly Come Dancing series two - Jill Halfpenny’s jive in the final. She stood out because she was incredible, it was the first 10 that I ever gave."

"The contestants themselves treat it really seriously now rather than it was a little bit jokey in the very first series," he added. "As soon as Jill Halfpenny danced she set the bar for amazing dancing."

Jill Halfpenny and Darren Bennett perform at photocall to promote Strictly Come Dancing - Live Tour 2009! at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle.
Jill Halfpenny was Craig Revel Horwood's favourite. (PA)

Meanwhile Anton Du Beke, who partnered Widdicombe and has swapped dancing for judging on the show, opened up about his "career highlight" with the late Sir Bruce Forsyth, who originally hosted Strictly with Tess Daly.

He said: "One of my personal favourite moments for me, was doing a number with Bruce Forsyth. We did ‘Me and My Shadow‘ together.

"That was a real career highlight and I can't tell you how grateful I am to Strictly and Brucey for that."

Strictly Come Dancing's launch show airs on Friday at 7pm, followed by the first live show on Saturday at 6.45pm, both on BBC One.

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