As the Strictly Come Dancing final unfolded, amid all the glitz, camaraderie and spangles, a mutinous thought formed in the showbiz ether – had this series missed the Ed-factor?
Well, perhaps a bit. Few could forget the former shadow Labour chancellor Ed Ball’s appearance in the last series, including his now infamous Bafta-nominated Gangnam Style routine, where he danced as though demonstrating the tragic effects of lifelong undiagnosed rickets.
However, as the 2017 final got going, it soon became clear that even mentioning Balls was just “So 2016!” The night belonged to the finalists, singer Alexandra Burke and her partner, Gorka Marquez; former magician’s assistant and widow of Paul Daniels, Debbie McGee and Giovanni Pernice; former Holby City actor, Joe McFadden and Katya Jones; and Hollyoaks actor, Gemma Atkinson and Aljaz Skorjanec.
They all faced the de-fanged near-powerless judges (only viewers’ votes count in the final) Craig Revel Horwood, Darcy Bussell, Bruno Tonioi, and new head judge for 2017, Shirley Ballas, who were all lined up on their panel like the cast of a failed Grimm’s fairy tale. Then there were the presenters Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman – it continues to be remarkable how, since the departure of the late Sir Bruce Forsyth, these mere women have managed to host this primetime show, and in such an expert entertaining way. It could only speak of witchcraft.
All the contestants showed what they could do with their three final dances of the series, proving from the off that, with grace, style, athleticism, Strictly has become the equivalent of the showbiz Olympics. Sure, Strictly’s television dominance this year had been helped by The X Factor committing what amounted to weekly ratings hari-kari over on ITV. (I’m not saying that The X Factor’s viewing figures are low, but a strong rumour went around that, one week, a suburban man putting the bins out too early got more people watching). However, Strictly also proved yet again that it understood its own winning formula – drown the contestants in a vat of fake tan and what a cynic might term even faker bonhomie, and let the controversy and sequins fly.
This had been a remarkably good-humoured series, topped off by a zesty competitive final
This year, the major controversy came in the reactivation of what is sadly becoming the annual Strictly race row – in that, despite two past non-white winners, including last year’s Ore Oduba, non-white contestants generally tend to vanish with disquieting swiftness, and seemingly due to the viewers’ votes. This year, Chizzy Akudolu had gone out first, while Aston Merrygold, and Davood Ghademi, had gone out shockingly early, and Burke ended up in the bottom two dance couples, despite coming at the top of the leaderboard after the judges had given their marks.
At which point, one could raise a facetious eyebrow and muse, gosh, what could it all mean? However, is it fair to also factor in how predominantly white most weekend primetime television is? In short, could the race be less of a Strictly-problem than it is a general British light-entertainment issue?
Apart from that, and the other now-routine row about the fact that some of the contestants had previous dancing experience, this had been a remarkably good-humoured series, topped off by a zesty competitive final.
Highlights included Joe and Katya performing their tin soldier– themed Charleston as though determined to out-do last week’s Tango in which Katya had lifted Joe’s entire body in a human wheelbarrow move usually seen at school sports days during particularly eventful dads’ races. There was also Gemma and Aljaz moving through their show-dance as though living inside their own sparkly romantic snow globe, and Alexander and Gorka performing a jive as though the floor had been electrified and then flooded with Prosecco. And Debbie performing moves in her Argentine Tango that reminded a younger and lesser woman such as myself that, one, I’ll never to be able to do the splits, and two, if I tried, I would saddle the already beleaguered NHS with a gynaecological emergency.
Ultimately, it was McFadden, the favourite, who triumphed, though all the finalists and the other contestants (even the ones who had gone out deservedly early, after dancing like a communal “walk of shame”) were quick to say that they all felt like winners. At this point, the Strictly final descended into what could only be described as a sugar-rush of schmaltz combined with a brawl on the entertainment deck of a cruise ship. So, basically Strictly business as usual, and why not? It’s what the people want.