Strictly fans danced through the darkness last night as their favourite show returned to dispel months of doom and gloom in a shower of sequins and sparkle.
As the celebrities were matched with their professional partners on the opening episode of the BBC dancee extravaganza, JJ Chalmers, a Scots broadcaster and former Royal Marine who was injured in a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2011, was delighted to discover he would be dancing with Amy Dowden, a ballrooom and Latin American dance champion.
He said: “I’m seriously delighted. I secretly had wanted Amy, she seems like the nicest person in the world and it was even better to find out that is the case.”
His new partner was equally enthusiastic: “JJ’s got work ethic, he’s got commitment. I’m really excited.”
And, while the judges scrutinise this year’s 12 contestants, no one will be watching more closely than JJ’s parents.
John Chalmers and wife Liz, from Dunfermline, say they’ve never been big Strictly fans before, but they’ll be tuning in every Saturday to cheer on their son.
“We have never been big Strictly watchers,” said John. “Now we’ll absolutely be tuning into every show. We just want to see JJ do well now. We know he will put 110% into it. He’s in it to win it.”
Dad John, a Church of Scotland minister and former moderator, believes his son will adopt the same determination to reach the final as he did recovering after being injured in Helmand Province.
JJ – John James – and his comrades were blasted by an improvised explosive device (IED). The explosion killed two of his squad and injured JJ’s entire body. He underwent years of reconstructive surgery.
JJ, 33, said: “My arms essentially came off and were stuck back on by incredible surgeons in the coming weeks and months, and years for that matter. My face was crushed, my neck broken, my eardrums burst – pretty much everything had some level of damage, except for a couple of fingers.
“The surgeons built me a new body and I spent the best part of four or five years learning how to use that body. And here we are now – and we’re going to find out if it’s fixed or not!”
John added: “We can hardly believe the contrast between now and where we were 10 years ago. It seemed as if his life was in ruins. He battled back, made a career for himself, and threw himself into everything with incredible enthusiasm. He never stops.”
When it comes to his fellow celebrities, JJ says boxer Nicola Adams, who made history becoming the first contestant to dance in a same-sex pairing, will be his main competition.
“I’ve covered Nicola in sporting competitions in the past and I’ve used the line, ‘She’s going to be hard to beat’ and she’s proved that right every single time,” said the dad-of-one ahead of last night’s launch show. “She’s a dedicated athlete and I’m sure she’s going to bring that level of dedication to Strictly.”
As for his own performance in the weeks ahead, JJ, who lives just five minutes from his parents with wife Kornelia and four-year-old daughter Hayley, admits he’s focused on doing the best he can. He said: “Strictly is an unbelievable opportunity to learn a new skill – and to do it with the very best in the business. I’m hoping I go as far as I possibly can because I want to see the benefit of this experience. Hopefully, in several weeks’ time, I come out fitter than I’ve ever been and more able than I’ve ever been.”
For this year’s live shows, starting this Saturday, JJ and the other 11 celebrities will be joined by judges Motsi Mabuse, Craig Revel Horwood and Shirley Ballas, while Bruno Tonioli will share his feedback via video link from LA.
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