In a swirl of sequins and a dazzle of diamantes, this year’s Strictly Come Dancing stars hit the floor for the first time last night.
After putting aside any last-minute nerves for a show-stopping group routine, this year’s celebrities finally discovered their professional partner for the next 13 weeks, who will help them cha-cha-cha towards the coveted glitterball trophy.
But, despite being partnered with veteran dancer Kevin Clifton, Anneka Rice admits it could be a long battle to rid herself of two left feet, especially after suffering a bad accident in the lead up to launch night.
“I actually feel I need at least two partners to hold me up on either side,” said the 60-year-old presenter, who is this year’s oldest contestant.
“I do feel like I’m the dunce of the class. I was sacked from ballet when I was about six because they said I was lumpy and uncoordinated with no rhythm. Since then I’ve literally never danced – no one I know has ever seen me dance, ever. Not at a disco, a pub or a wedding. I can’t even clap in time!
“For someone so sporty I’ve somehow gone my whole life without dance. So, I’m hoping Kevin can teach me to feel confident on the dance floor.”
The mum-of-three, who presented reality game show Challenge Anneka from 1989 to 1995, admits she surprised herself by signing up for this year’s dance-off, saying it came at a time of change when she needed a new challenge, after her youngest son finished university.
She explained: “It was a decision that I would not have said yes to last year or any other year that I was asked. I think I just felt slightly reckless. Reckless, mad, insane!
“I think as you get older it’s quite nice to take on new challenges, too.”
Last night, the BBC announced former Emmerdale star Kelvin Fletcher will join the line-up to replace crocked celebrity Jamie Laing. He will now join the other stars honing their skills before the first live show in two weeks’ time.
But for former England goalkeeper David James, 49, the gym sessions started long before he slipped into his first sparkly outfit, having lost a stone in preparation for rehearsals. Paired with Nadiya Bychkova, he says his background in football could also give him the edge over his fellow dancers.
He said: “When I was asked to do the show I thought it was quite similar to football – you have to train hard, learn new stuff and compete. All the basic elements are there.
“But it’s not about beating the other guys. It’s about us all doing the best we can and then leaving it to the public to vote and the judges.”
This year, alongside the celebrities, a new face joins the Strictly judging panel, with South African dancer Motsi Mabuse replacing former ballerina Darcey Bussell.
The excitement: “Being on the show is huge for me”
Former Coronation Street Star Catherine Tyldesley, 35, has been open about previously struggling with her weight, having gone from a dress size 22 to a slim 10, but says Strictly has made her feel more confident than ever.
“I don’t think ‘Fat Cath’ would ever imagine she would be doing Strictly,” said the mum-of-one, who played Eva Price during her time on the cobbles.
“I’ve still got body hang-ups and (being on the show) is a huge thing for me. But at the same time it’s really liberating. Ordinarily, I would completely shy away from dance or anybody watching my body. But the rehearsals have been so much fun, within an hour I don’t care what I look like.
“I think dancing makes you confident because it’s so enjoyable. Your body also surprises you with what it can do. When I was first showed the routine I thought, ‘Oh I can’t do that’. Then two hours later I was doing it. I feel like it’s almost a celebration of your body.”
Meanwhile, an aristocratic star of this year’s Strictly, Emma Thynn has spoken of her regret at giving up ballet when she was youngster.
Lady Weymouth, 33, who is married to Ceawlin, Viscount Weymouth, and lives at Longleat, one of the most spectacular stately homes in Britain, said: “I am athletic and I exercise a lot so I might look like I dance but I don’t. I gave up ballet when I was four because I was so shy. How I regret that now.”
A model and former actress, she has been offered other TV work but could not refuse Strictly. She said: “I’ve been offered many shows. I always turn them down but this is different.”
Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher was last night revealed as the replacement for injured Jamie Laing on Strictly Come Dancing.
The soap star, 35, will replace the Made In Chelsea star after he hurt himself during filming for Saturday night’s pre-recorded launch show.
Best known for playing Andy Sugden on the ITV soap between 1996 and 2016, Fletcher will be paired with South African professional dancer Oti Mabuse.
He will make his Strictly debut in the first live show on Saturday, September 21, when one couple will be voted off.
Fletcher said: “Is this really happening? It’s been the most surreal week of my life. I’m a massive fan of Strictly so it’s incredible.”
The emotion: “Eat well, sleep well… and don’t fall down the stairs”
Following a number of colleagues into the glamorous world of Strictly, including 2010 winner, Kara Tointon, EastEnders star Emma Barton, 42, says her background in soaps has given her drive and determination – but she has some big shoes to fill.
“Everyone from EastEnders has done brilliantly. They’ve all been so supportive and given me lots of tips, including to eat well, sleep well – and don’t fall down the stairs!
“I’m going to be doing EastEnders and Strictly at the same time, but I’m not shy of working and I love my job.
“I’m getting to work on two of the biggest shows on the BBC so I’ve just got to dive straight in, really.”
Having been asked to do the show a number of times before, Emma, who plays Honey Mitchell, admits she would have regretted saying no to this series – but wishes her beloved nan had been able to see her dance.
“My mum cried when I told her I was coming on the show. My family were all over the moon for me.
“I just wish my nan was alive. I lost her at the beginning of the year – she’d have loved it.
“She loved Strictly and she was so supportive of everything I’ve done. That’s the only thing I’m a bit upset about. I’ll be thinking of her when I dance, 100%.
“It will be an emotional experience, but I’ll be laughing a lot and I’ll enjoy every minute.”