Strictly Come Dancing couples unveiled during the emotional 2023 series launch

The celebrity contestants on Strictly Come Dancing have taken to the dance floor for the first time following the announcements of their professional partners.

The first show of the 21st series opened with a dramatic performance from the professional dancers to Rhythm Is A Dancer from group Snap!, before the 15 celebrity contestants began to find out who they would be training and performing with on the show.

The pre-recorded Saturday show also included a tribute to the late Len Goodman, who became a judge on the BBC’s flagship programme in 2004, with his final appearance on the 2016 Christmas Day special.

Goodman, who became synonymous with his catchphrase “Seven!” on the show, was diagnosed with bone cancer and died in April aged 78.

Former Love Island star Zara McDermott was one of the first celebrities to learn their partners as she was paired with Graziano Di Prima, before it was revealed they will be dancing the Cha Cha Cha in the first live show.

Strictly Come Dancing 2023
Zara McDermott (Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA)

The 26-year-old, who has made a series of TV documentaries since appearing on the ITV dating show, said: “I think I’m probably the most nervous I’ve been in my life. I’m not a natural born performer, I’m not an extrovert, so this is the biggest challenge of my life.”

She later said Di Prima is a “family favourite” in her household and her mother Karen “screamed” when the pair facetimed her together as she was “so happy”.

Revealing her first live show dance, Di Prima said: “It is going to exotic, Latin and is the Cha Cha Cha darling,” to which McDermott said she was “excited”.

Co-host Claudia Winkleman said: “You can have fun with it, I think, I don’t know, I’ve been here 19 years and I have no idea.”

The show saw the Strictly Come Dancing professional dancers and the judges perform a dance in honour of their “Welsh dragon” Amy Dowden.

Amy Dowden breast cancer diagnosis
Amy Dowden (Isabel Infantes/PA)

The 33-year-old announced in June that she had undergone a mastectomy after discovering she had stage three breast cancer, and would be unable to have a celebrity partner on the show this year.

Host Tess Daly said: “We are of course missing one of our professional dancers, our gorgeous Amy Dowden is unwell and she can’t be with us for the start of the series.

“She’s our Welsh dragon and we know she’ll be back soon.”

While Winkleman said: “Amy, from your entire Strictly family, we are sending all our love and we can’t wait to have you back on the dance floor.”

The group number saw judges Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse and Anton Du Beke perform along with the professionals to a medley of songs including Afraid To Feel from LF System, Kylie’s Padam Padam and Higher from Michael Buble.

Strictly Come Dancing 2023
Amanda Abbington (Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA)

During the couple unveiling, Sherlock star Amanda Abbington said she was “ecstatic” to be paired with Giovanni Pernice, who lifted the glitterball trophy in 2021 with actress Rose Ayling-Ellis.

She later said the pair had the “same sense of humour” and she got a “bit teary” after discovering she was partnered with the multiple Strictly finalist.

Meanwhile Jody Cundy, who is an eight-time gold medallist who has represented Great Britain at seven summer Paralympics competing in cycling and swimming events, was paired with reigning champion Jowita Przystal following her 2022 win with Hamza Yassin.

The 44-year-old, whose parents were sat in the crowd, said: “No pressure… hopefully it will look like dance.”

He added: “I’m a complete newbie at this, I had years and years of practice at the other ones so we’ll see what happens… let’s shoot for the stars.”

Strictly Come Dancing 2023
Lauren Oakley and Krishnan Guru-Murthy (Ray Burniston/BBC)

Meanwhile, Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who described himself as “overweight” and “decrepit”, was partnered with professional dancer Lauren Oakley, who has a celebrity partner for the first time on the show.

“She gets me immediately, it’s been brilliant,” he said.

While Oakley said: “It might be the first time that I’m partnered with somebody, but I know it’s a big ask for the celebrities to go out there and dance.

“So I think I need to be kind and give you confidence to have fun, but when it’s time to be strict I know how to be strict, don’t worry about that.”

Strictly Come Dancing 2023
Angela Rippon and Kai Widdrington (Ray Burniston/BBC)

Broadcaster Angela Rippon, who is the show’s oldest contestant and was partnered with Kai Widdrington on the launch show, said she had introduced him to a digestive biscuit, adding “the breaks in rehearsal will be filled with dark chocolate digestives”.

Meanwhile, the only same-sex couple of this year saw Layton Williams paired with Nikita Kuzmin, who revealed they would be dancing the “Layton-ised Samba” during their first live show.

EastEnders actor Bobby Brazier, who plays Freddie Slater on the BBC soap, said he was “so pleased” to be paired with Dianne Buswell, who described him as her “adopted little brother”.

Casualty star Nigel Harman was coupled with Katya Jones, who replied after being told his partner was strict: “Everyone keeps telling me this and every time they tell me this I get more and more terrified, but I am pretending I’m really calm about it.”

The pairings continued when comedian Eddie Kadi was coupled with Strictly’s longest-serving professional Karen Hauer describing her as “a little bit like kryptonite”, adding: “I can’t even look at her.”

Meanwhile, former British number one tennis player and broadcaster Annabel Croft, who was partnered with Johannes Radebe, said she wished that the dancer could have met her late husband Mel Coleman – but described the pairing as “incredible”.

After former Coronation actress Ellie Leach was paired with Vito Coppola, he announced: “Our first dance is a sparkling Jive” to which a horrified Leach said: “Oh no that’s really hard.”

Waterloo Road star Adam Thomas said he was hoping to impress alongside “Russian princess” Luba Mushtuk, before he performed the robot dance in front of her on the launch show.

Strictly Come Dancing 2023
Nikita Kanda and Gorka Marquez (Ray Burniston/BBC)

Celebrity hopeful Nikita Kanda was paired with Gorka Marquez who revealed their first dance on the live show will be the Waltz, while their team name is Gorkita.

Winkleman said: “On behalf of everyone at Strictly, congratulations on your new baby,” referencing his partner former Hollyoaks star Gemma Atkinson giving birth to their second child.

Irish TV presenter Angela Scanlon said “thank you universe” when she discovered she was coupled with professional Carlos Gu, while comedian, actor and former Family Fortunes presenter Les Dennis was paired with Nancy Xu, who brought him a “lovely chilli sauce yesterday”.

“She’s teaching me to dance and I’m teaching her to speak Scouse”, Dennis added.

The show also included a dance from emotional reigning champions Hamza Yassin and Jowita Przystal who re-enacted their week four salsa performance, as well as a rendition of Free Yourself from British singer Jessie Ware.

Strictly Come Dancing will start on September 23 at 6.15pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.