Strictly's Layton Williams is the best dancer, why is he not the favourite?

The Bad Education star has faced criticism for his background as professional dancer.

Layton Williams  Strictly Come Dancing promo shot
Layton Williams is the best dancer on Strictly 2023 but he is not favourite to win. (BBC)

Strictly Come Dancing's Layton Williams is the best dancer on the show this year but Coronation Street star Ellie Leach is still favourite to win the glitterball. The Bad Education star has the highest score across the 12 weeks of the BBC dance series so far – with 116. And in Week 11 he became the first celebrity contestant of the series to achieve a perfect 40 for his Paso Doble.

Williams, 29, has made it through to the final alongside soap stars Leach and EastEnders actor Bobby Brazier, who have scored 111 and 107 respectively. But the bookmakers place Ellie Leach and her partner Vito Coppola as the favourites to win Strictly 2023 with the latest odds from of 1/8. Williams and professional partner Nikita Kuzmin lag in second place with odds of them scooping the glitterball set at 13/2.

Strictly loves an underdog

Strictly Come Dancing 2023 Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin dancing
Layton Williams has wowed the audience and the judges on Strictly Come Dancing. (BBC)

Strictly viewers tend to favour the underdog, with past recent winners including wildlife presenter Hamza Yassin, EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis and actor and comedian Bill Bailey. For fans of the show, it is about the 'journey' watching a celebrity go from clumsy and unsure to confident performer.

And so there has also been a history of a backlash against Strictly contestants who have a background in dance or dance training, even if it was way back when they were a child at stage school. As a result Williams has faced hateful trolling online for being part of the show.

Williams has studied street dance and ballet and performed on stage in West End musicals Billy Elliot, Everybody's Talking About Jamie and Thriller, in which he played a young Michael Jackson. As a child he trained at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London, and as a result appeared in CBBC documentary series School for Stars.

Williams was awarded the highest score from the Strictly judges in Week 2 for his Quickstep, and has topped the leader board for seven weeks out of 12.

Bending the rules

Layton Williams showed off a back flip in Strictly Come Dancing Halloween Week.
Layton Williams showed off a back flip in Strictly Come Dancing Halloween Week. (BBC)

Although he has demonstrated his his flexibility and gymnastic skills during his performances on the show, he has come under criticism from the judges on his loose posture and ballroom style, particularly when dancing in hold, rather than on his own.

Head judge Shirley Ballas suggested he bent the rules of ballroom dancing, and said she would have sent him home following the dance off with Angela Scanlon in Week 10, when he performed an America Smooth to Bjork's It's Oh So Quiet. But others celebrities and dancers who have taken part in Strictly have spoken out in his defence.

Team Layton

Choreographer Dame Arlene Phillips has worked with Layton Williams as a dancer. (Getty Images)
Choreographer Dame Arlene Phillips has worked with Layton Williams as a dancer. (Getty Images)

Dame Arlene Phillips has said it will be a "tragedy" if Layton Williams does not win the show. The former Strictly head judge of Strictly is a musical theatre choreographer and has worked with Williams. She told the Mirror: “Unless the public gets behind Layton, he won’t win, and in many ways, I think that’s a tragedy because yes, he has danced but the force and the personality that Layton puts into it is his own."

Phillips - who judged Strictly for the first six series - said of Layton's dance background: “It’s no more unfair advantage than the other dancers that they’ve had on, such as the Pussycat Dolls Ashley Roberts. They’ve had people who have come on before who’ve danced… There was always an anger from certain members of the public that they had danced before..." She added: "Am I biased about Layton? Completely. I want him to win. Because Layton has worked very hard for everything he has and everything he does."

Former Strictly pro Robin Windsor, who worked on the show between 2010 and 2013, has spoken out on social media, calling for trolls to leave Williams alone. He wrote on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter: "STOP this hatred for Layton Williams it’s BULLYING ffs. The poor guy sees all these comments everyone tags him in - how is that supposed to make him feel You should all be ashamed of yourselfs What ever happened to be KIND ? [sic]."

Neil Jones is a professional dancer who joined the show in 2016. He previously insisted Williams still deserved a place in the competition, as he could improve his Latin and Ballroom technique every week. Jones told OK!: "Layton is a dancer but he’s never danced Latin Ballroom, it’s different. He’s doing a great job and I really feel that we’re going to see the growth from him, and that’s when people are going to change their opinions."

James Jordon has defended Layton Williams' right to compete in Strictly. (Getty Images)
James Jordan has defended Layton Williams' right to compete in Strictly. (Getty Images)

Professional dancer James Jordan worked on Strictly for eight series between 2006 and 2013. He said said of Williams' Charleston, which scored him a perfect 40: "I just thought it was perfection." Writing in his Hello! magazine column Jordan said: And I've never said that in all the years. It was perfection. Now, I know there's going to be be people at home saying, 'But he's a professional dancer', and I get that. He's at a massive advantage. But you've still got to admire the fact it was, in my opinion, the best dance that's ever been on Strictly."

Ellie Leach's perfect journey

Strictly Come Dancing Vito Coppola & Ellie Leach in a passionate clinch on the dancefloor
Ellie Leach and partner Vito Coppola are the favourites to win Stritcly 2023. (BBC)

Corrie star Leach, 22, was a child actor, cast in the soap when she was just 10-year-old and recently left the cobbles after 12 years. She has no known dance training but she began with a strong start in Week 1, scoring 29 for her Jive, the same score as Williams. Leach did not manage to top the leader board until Week 6, with her Salsa to Murder On The Dancefloor in Halloween Week. But viewers and judges have continued to be impressed by her visible improvement week on week, as well as her dedication to rehearsals and her sheer joy in performing.

Leach has also set tongues wagging with regard to her close relationship with professional dance partner Coppola. The pair appear to have become very close throughout the 12 weeks and even shared a kiss on the dancefloor after the steamy Rhumba.

If there's one thing Strictly viewers love even more than an underdog - it's a love story. The infamous Strictly curse has seen many celebrities end relationships after falling for their dance partners. And experts agree that spending so much time together, getting physical and acting out passion on the dancefloor, it's no wonder Strictly can be a recipe for love.

The Strictly Come Dancing 2023 final airs live on BBC One on Saturday 16 December at 7pm.

Read more: Strictly Come Dancing

Watch: Layton Williams shuts down Strictly criticism