The Times – 9 February 2010

Last autumn Guinness World Records proclaimed Strictly Come Dancing the “most successful reality television show”, with licensing rights sold to broadcasters in 38 nations. More power to the hit BBC series, especially if it increases the public’s pleasure in watching all kinds of dance or motivates people to go out and do it themselves.

I balk a bit at the word reality. Granted, learning to dance can be hard work. That it can also be fun is one of the key messages underpinning the Strictly phenomenon. But, to me, pairing up a group of celebrities — be they TV presenters, soap stars, models or sports figures — with professional dancers in a competition scored by judges and voted on by viewers seems less about reality and closer to a canny fantasy of light entertainment for the masses. Still, the point is that it works.

Strictly first went on the road in 2008. Catering to an army of fans who cannot wait until the show’s eighth season in September, the third British stage tour is a glammed-up popularity contest and a celebration of the triumph of aspiration over mediocrity rolled into one big ball of glitzy fluff. Yet for me, the arena version of Dancing on Ice engenders greater excitement. For although flashy ensemble dances help to alleviate the inevitably formulaic nature of Strictly live, you cannot forget its small-screen origins. Two oversized screens are placed on either side of the judging table fronting the bandstand. They’re needed, too, given the amount of quip-filled postmortem banter between talking heads after each dance routine. Guided by the MC Kate Thornton, the judges — the avuncular Len Goodman and perky Arlene Phillips bookended by the quasi-sourpuss Craig Revel Horwood and the hyperbolic Bruno Tonioli — fulfil their duties with practised ease.

And what of the dancing by the eight celebs? It runs a gamut from clumsy but trying hard (Ricky Groves, ex-EastEnders) to impressively polished. Among the highest scorers at this performance was Kelly Brook, all legs and hair in a sassy jive with Matthew Cutler before returning in the show’s second half as the epitome of glittery elegance in waltz-time. The statuesque Zoe Lucker of Footballers’ Wives also earned praise for contrasting waltz and rumba numbers with the snake-hipped James Jordan.

Despite winning Strictly 2009, and being paired again with the voluptuous Ola Jordan, the good-humoured sports presenter Chris Hollins proved an also-ran. Instead it was the moonlighting cricketer (and Strictly 2006 champ) Mark Ramprakash who captured the audience vote for his torrid yet disciplined partnering of the blonde bombshell Kristina Rihanoff.