Due Beke?

Sep 6, 2019 by

Due Beke?

Strictly will return to our screens tomorrow evening with the launch show being shown at 7.10pm on BBC1. Eight male celebs (assuming a male replacement for Jamie Laing is found) and 7 female this year will be a break from the norm, if it comes to pass, after 4 seasons of female celebs outnumbering the males.

It now stands at 9-7 in terms of the ratio of male-female winners over the show’s 16 seasons, but after Stacey Dooley’s victory last year, following 3 consecutive male winners, the pendulum does swing back to a male winner being more likely in 2019.

The simple fact is, without a few dark arts being thrown in, or Kevin Clifton for a partner in his 5th final, and trying to break his ‘always the bridesmaid’ tag, a middle England-friendly male celeb is a default winner of the show because the main demographic of Strictly voter is a middle-aged, middle class housewife.

The BBC’s casting of the show follows a predictable pattern and it appears to have struggled for big name signings more so than ever this year. It felt like it purposely withheld 3 of the better known celebs to the end of this year’s reveal in Anneka Rice, James Cracknell and Alex Smith.

What we have learnt from Strictly over the years is that anyone perceived as a ringer, or who comes out flying in week 1, is an unlikely winner. Of course, this doesn’t stop the betting market being initially thrown off. Think of Aston Merrygold 2 seasons ago who went very short in the Outright only to be a ‘shock’ 6th elimination. Alex Burke was a fantastic dancer in that series too and also traded short but proved toxic for voters, requiring lots of producer help to make the final. It was a similar story with Ashley Roberts last year.

You can also add to the mix a slew of highly proficient female dancers over the years who have made the final but lacked the x factor to win the series. Faye Tozer was a classic example of this type of female contestant last year. Debbie McGee in series 15, Louise Redknapp in series 14, Georgia May Foote and Kellie Bright in series 13… There is a long line of these female contestants who have come up short over the years, invariably beaten by a male contestant who ticks all the middle England-friendly boxes.

What we have learnt from Strictly over the years is that anyone perceived as a ringer, or who comes out flying in week 1, is an unlikely winner

Looking at this year’s field, if we start with the 2 female soap stars – Emma Barton (42) and Catherine Tydlesley (35). Emma has a dance background and played the lead Roxie in ‘Chicago’. She looks the type to prove decent as a dancer, especially in ballroom, and an Eastenders fan base will help her vote to a degree.

Spoiler alert, here are this year’s pairings –

David James and Nadiya Bychkova
James Cracknell and Luba Mushtuk
Will Bayley and Janette Manrara
Dev Griffin and Dianne Buswell
Mike Bushell and Katya Jones
??? and Oti Mabuse
Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden
Chris Ramsey and Karen Clifton
Saffron Barker and AJ Pritchard
Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice
Anneka Rice and Kevin Clifton
Emma Barton and Anton du Beke
Alex Scott and Neil Jones
Catherine Tyldesley and Johannes Radebe
Viscountess Emma Weymouth and Aljaz Skorjanec

Emma B being paired with Anton is a real eye-opener. Firstly, the big negative – Anton’s perceived weakness in fast Latin, both as a teacher and choreographer. This has to be a concern. At least the introduction of ‘Couple’s Choice’ (presuming it will continue this year) means contestants have the chance to duck another unfavourable dance along the way which often translates to one of the trickier fast Latins.

Anton is well-loved among Strictly stalwarts and there is a sense he has been hard done by over the years despite his sterling service for the show. He was snubbed when Sir Bruce passed away as a possible presenter of the show, he was snubbed for the position of head judge when Len Goodman stood down, and he was snubbed again as a potential replacement judge when Darcey departed ahead of this series.

He has an underdog status and it would certainly make a great story if he finally won in his 17th year – he is the only pro who has been there since series 1 – and potentially the perfect swansong. He is 53 now and it would come as no surprise if this turns out to be his last series.

Catherine Tyldesley is 7 years younger than Emma B, glamorous and northern, traits which are not show-winning ones historically on Strictly. This can be offset to a degree by having a sparkling personality and striking up a charismatic partnership with their pro partner but there is a catalogue of these women who have failed to win Strictly.

Anton is well-loved among Strictly stalwarts and there is a sense he has been hard done by over the years despite his sterling service for the show

Abbey Clancy remains the exception to the rule in overcoming the barriers such women face, and even then it was arguably only due to the show’s dark arts in engineering an all-female final in 2013. On the plus side, Catherine comes across well in interview and seems to have plenty of spark about her.

Newcomer Johannes Radebe as her partner has both positives and negatives. The big positive could be, he looks dynamite as a fast Latin dancer (and Catherine looks the type to be able to pick up the steps). The concern is, Johannes is an unknown at series start with no connection with the audience and as we saw with Graziano Di Prima last year you cannot be confident how it will play out with the new pros.

Saffron Barker appears to have been cast in the Joe Sugg role this year. She is another YouTube ‘sensation’ and has been transparently selected to engage that young online audience. Like Joe, she may well enjoy producer favour to help her have a run on the show, and keep that audience engaged, but as we saw with Joe a young online fanbase is not enough to win Strictly. Being young, female and attractive could also see her struggle for votes with Strictly’s core older female voters.

It looks like Saffron has had some dance training and her pairing with AJ always looked a certainty. We can probably anticipate the two of them being consistently styled ‘young’ in both outfits and song/dance combinations, much like Joe & Dianne’s treatment last year, which would potentially be limiting.

Michelle Visage (50) is this year’s LGBT champion and it looks likely the show will try and help her as much as it can during the early weeks. Her pro partner Giovanni has made the last 2 finals and 3 in a row seems unlikely.

Visage looks to have some dancing background but American women have proved poison in the past to Strictly’s staple voting audience – think of the likes of Michelle Williams, out in week 7 in 2010, Jerry Hall, 2nd elimination in 2012, and Anastacia, out in week 6 in 2016 after being given much assistance.

Michelle Visage looks to have some dancing background but American women have proved poison in the past to Strictly’s staple voting audience

Among the lesser ‘celeb’ names in this series, Viscountess Emma Weymouth (33) has to take high rank. You couldn’t find a better example of having friends in high places at the Beeb for her to be taking part on the show and unless she brings an incredibly winning personality to proceedings, being posh, privileged and an unknown look big negatives for her to overcome. Aljaz is a well-liked pro and a positive for her, and while there is a strong hint of dance experience lurking in Emma W’s background too, she looks up against it.

Mike Bushell (53) is BBC Breakfast’s chirpy, earnest sports presenter, looking to follow in the sequins of past winners Ore Oduba and Chris Hollins. Being paired with Katya Jones has to be a plus, given Katya has consistently proved herself the best female pro both as a teacher and choreographer.

He has a degree of middle England nice guy likability working in his favour, but he comes across as too much of a try-hard, and his bow-legged gait doesn’t look conducive to dancing well. Regardless of Katya being able to work miracles there will likely be a clear ceiling with his ability, as he shapes up as the ultimate dad dancer.

Chris Ramsey (32) is this year’s stand-up comic contestant. He’s a Geordie and his wit might help him win people over. He has come across as likeable in pre-lives interviews and the pairing with Karen Clifton looks a positive. You sense they are going to be a lot of fun together, and he might surprise with his dance ability. His wife used to be a professional dancer so he could have some hidden talent lurking despite his claims you would not find him on the dance floor at parties.

Former England goalkeeper, David James (49), looks a less likely contender pre-lives. As the tallest male in the field, fast Latin dances are likely to prove a tough obstacle to overcome and he comes across in interview as a bit vain and vacuous. Nadiya is an able tutor, however, and did well with Davood Ghadami a couple of series back.

In terms of the guys who look the most likely to be able to cut a rug from the outset, Karim Zeroual (25) looks top of the list, closely followed by DJ Dev Griffin (34). The issue with these 2 lies in their profile.

Karim is of Moroccan descent while Hackney-born Dev has a Jamaican father. The simple fact remains anyone of mixed race, or of ethnic origin does have more of a job winning over the core Strictly voter.

Karim might risk an Aston Merrygold-type trajectory on the show, coming flying out of the blocks in week 1, only to struggle to gain voting traction and stumble further into the competition. But we need to be wary of the show’s dark arts and having seen the way they guided Joe Sugg to the final last year, someone of Karim’s (in theory) far greater natural ability could potentially be steered to the final with assistance.

Karim might risk an Aston Merrygold-type trajectory on the show, coming flying out of the blocks in week 1, only to struggle to gain voting traction and stumble further into the competition

He may well need a push as a pairing with Amy Dowden doesn’t jump out as one that is going to particularly excite viewers. You sense TPTB may have given her Karim (ie, a contender) after her difficult time with Danny John-Jules last year.

As a CBB presenter Karim will at least know how to present himself in a likeable enough manner. He also went to the Sylvia Young Theatre School which means he would have learnt some dance. There is a clip on his Twitter feed of him walking on his hands so he’s a gymnastic guy who will have all the moves in his locker for impressive fast Latin routines. Sober ballroom numbers might be where he comes unstuck.

DJ Dev Griffin already made the final of the BBC’s Celebrity MasterChef and he says he’s in it to win it regarding his Strictly participation, which might hint at a degree of arrogance. Paired with Dianne, he has possibilities but it’s not a pairing that captures the imagination at series start and he will need to come across really well given the fact he, like Karim, is pretty much an unknown at show start.

Jamie Laing withdrew from this year’s competition due to injury yesterday. The suggestion is, the BBC intend to find a replacement to partner the charismatic Oi Mabuse.

Will Bayley (31) is this year’s less able-bodied contestant and a less able-bodied winner of the show remains a box the overtly PC Beeb might quite like to finally tick. He is a Paralympic table tennis player and has arthrogryposis which apparently affects all 4 of his limbs.

He has a heart-rending back story, undergoing 12 bone-breaking operations to re-shape his feet as a child and overcoming cancer in the form of a lymphoma. Janette Manrara looks a nice pairing for him as, much like Chris and Karen, you sense they will spark some good chemistry and have a lot of fun together.

Will comes across as an effervescent guy in interview and appears to be something of an extravert – famously once celebrating Paralympic gold by jumping on the table tennis table. Despite his physical struggles, which should earn him plenty of goodwill, he looks pretty nimble, and the type of person who will throw himself into the challenge with gusto.

Anneka Rice is 60 now and almost has national treasure status among middle-aged viewers after her years chasing round the UK countryside in Channel 4’s ‘Treasure Hunt’. We have never had an oldie win the show although both Debbie McGee (58) and Pamela Stephenson (61) made previous finals. Joe McFadden remains the oldest winner of the show at 42 but these stats are always there to be broken.

Anneka’s pairing with Kevin Clifton is a bit of a surprise. We know how popular Kevin from Grimsby is and Anneka looks one of the more voteable women among this year’s female cast.

Joe McFadden remains the oldest winner of the show at 42 but these stats are always there to be broken

She remains in great shape for a woman of her age and has likability firmly on her side. While she looks like being an absolute beginner at series start this can often be a plus if improvement is forthcoming over the weeks, and Kevin is probably the best male pro teacher and choreographer on the show. But after winning the final last year, the audience might feel Kevin has now had his moment in the sun and focus their attention elsewhere.

Alex Scott (34) MBE is a former England footballer who could leverage solid support on the back of the Lionesses run to the World Cup semi-final this summer, which she helped cover on the BBC as a presenter. She has also spoken out about the sexist abuse she has received on social media as a football pundit, which is a tick in the box in terms of the sort of pioneering woman the BBC loves to fanfare.

She seems to have plenty of spark about her and she had a run out on a Strictly Come Dancing Special for Sports Relief last year. She did win that but it wasn’t much of a field as she defeated Chris Kamara and David Ginola but the VT of her dancing with Pasha does hint at a modicum of dance ability.

Her pairing with Neil Jones looked on the cards after Gorka was benched for this series. She probably won’t be among the best dancers at series start which is usually the best place to be. But her price does look too short given there may well be 5 or 6 other celebs who come out of the blocks quicker than her and impress more in the early weeks.

Neil will earn a degree of sympathy early on after Katya’s fling last year but they recently split by mutual consent. He is also another unknown in terms of exactly what he brings to the training room and choreographing routines for the live show.

Among this year’s males, the one who looks the most obvious fit with the Strictly core audience has to be James Cracknell (47) OBE. A double Olympic gold medalist as a rower, he also helped Cambridge win the Boat Race this year.

While married to Beverley Turner he was infamously banned from appearing on the show by her. Earlier this year they divorced by mutual consent and the difficulties they encountered during their 17-year marriage stem mainly from a head injury Cracknell suffered when he was hit by a lorry while cycling across America in 2010.

They co-authored a book ’Touching Distance’ about life before and after his brain injury which has left him with epilepsy and a changed personality including a short temper. While this may set alarm bells ringing in terms of the intensity of training day-in, day-out in a dance studio and the problems he may encounter, given the circumstances we might expect sympathetic edits if any issues do arise. He suffers from slightly slurred speech and his harrowing back story could (like Will) end up forming part of a compelling journey for him.

Among this year’s males, the one who looks the most obvious fit with the Strictly core audience has to be James Cracknell

However, based on the very brief video intel available to date, you would have to say he doesn’t look a natural dancer (much like David James and Mike Bushell). He has mostly been seen lurking in the background and underplaying his dance ability. But he is someone who throws himself into every endeavour he does whole-heartedly, and he will train hard.

Luba Mushtuk is in her first full season and we also need to see what she brings to the table but she has been working as an assistant choreographer on the show since 2016 helping to create many of those show-stopping group numbers.

Given the depth of this year’s field, TPTB will probably look to sell this as ‘the most open Strictly ever’ with numerous celebs taking it in turns topping the leaderboard.

After the official launch show on BBC1 tomorrow evening, with all eyes at the ready for the group dance at the end of the show, we should see training footage of all this year’s contestants in the days following that, available to watch on the BBC Strictly website. Only then will we glean more intel ahead of week 1.


  1. Stoney

    Hi Rob. I dont usually like to back the favourites in reality shows and Alex is the first favourite ive backed in Strictly. I just think she ticks the most boxes and the bbc will be keen to give womens football a boost in the publicity stakes. Could all change over the next month or so though.

    • Rob

      Hi Stoney. She does look a solid contender & someone the BBC would probably love to win. Just think her price on the short side pre-lives, with a good few others likely to be better dancers than her in the early weeks. But as we know, that would not necessarily be a bad thing, if improvement is forthcoming & the audience grow to like her & her partnership with Neil J.

  2. Tim B

    Is the presence of Jamie Laing not going to be an issue in the launch show? I wonder how they will address it.

  3. M8

    I’m hoping that Alex starts slowly, giving her an even bigger price to lump on. As stated above, she really does tick every single BBC box when it comes to ideal winner. I have to see a big picture of her grinning face alongside Lineker, Shearer and co outside the BBC studios every time I find myself in MediaCity. Being a football fan I see a lot of her punditry and she is very likeable and will come off as much to first time viewers of her on television. She’s been given a likeable pro who has never won before to give her a boost as well. At this point the only couple that I genuinely worry will beat her is Emma and Anton. It can all change however!

  4. Stoney

    Ive pulled my stakes off for the time being. As I think Alex has the potential to drift a bit in the odds. Not being favourite at this stage is a postive anyway.

  5. Stoney

    Of the male participants Kevin Fletcher would be the one that catches my eye. Far more likely to get the votes than this years favourite (Aston mark 2)

  6. Stoney

    Ive had to pounce on the decent odds for Kelvin while they are still about. If he can dance he will suck up the votes at a canter. Ive seen a few snippets to believe he can move especially with Oti training him.

  7. James

    Hi Rob

    Only three celebs aged 45 or over have ever finished in the top four of a series (Lesley Garrett, Pamela Stevenson & Debbie McGee), and I don’t see any of Anneka, David, James, Michelle or Mike having the necessary stamina or ability to improve on this statistic.

    Every series however, has had one, or more, celeb aged older than 35 reaching the top four, which suggests that at least one of Catherine or Emma B will reach this year’s final.

    I see Karim as likely finalist. Eight of the ten previous male celebs who were aged younger than 28, made it to the top four in their series, including Harry, Louis & Jay who went on to win.

    As a telegenic, ambitious, early thirties celeb, who works for the BBC, Alex has much in common with recent Strictly winners Ore & Stacey. Neil has had four years to devise a set of innovative routines, and it would be no surprise to see them go a long way in the competition.

    Some unearthed Instagram clips suggest that Kelvin has the potential to impress. It feels inevitable that Oti will become a Strictly champion at some stage. Could this be the year?

    Of the others, I expect Saffron to make it to Blackpool, but she looks like an unlikely winner. Chris comes across very well, and has the potential to be a ‘journey’ contestant. I am keeping him green in my book. I expect both Emma W & Dev to receive decent scores from the judges, and to struggle on the public vote. Will seems to be a lovely chap, with a great attitude. I can see the public getting behind him, but making Blackpool would be the best case scenario for him.

    So my pick for the final four are Alex, Karim, Kelvin & Emma B; with Catherine & Chris as the next most likely contenders.

    When trying to predict the winner, I noticed an interesting trend when looking back at the previous celebs who averaged an impressive 33.5, or above, over the course of a series. The 14 male celebs who achieved this, appeared in ten separate series, and nine of those series were eventually won by a man (including ‘journey’ winners, when Darren beat Colin, and Chris beat Ricky). The one exception was s8, when the exceptional Kara Tointon (helped in part by the budding romance with Artem) managed to overcome both Matt Baker & Scott Maslen. The six series which didn’t include any of the top 14 male celebs (s1, 2, 5, 11, 12 & 16) were all eventually won by a woman.

    So history shows, we usually end up with a female winner, when the male competition is unexceptional, and a male winner otherwise. As I have high expectations that Karim, and possibly Kelvin will average 33.5 or above, I think this year’s winner will eventually turn out to be one of those two.

    • Rob

      Many thanks for those stats, James. I would qualify your findings by suggesting the default male winner is overcome by either the show’s dark arts or a female with a highly compelling series narrative, which is also partly the show’s dark arts IF they decide to focus on this, ie, Kara’s romance with Artem to get Matt Baker beaten – who was also put away by nit-picking judges’ comments on the back of exemplary routines.

      To find a female winner, you need to find something that can set them apart, and gives the audience something special to buy into. Last year, it was partly KfG trying to win the final at his 5th attempt, as much as down to earth Stacey and her ‘non-dancer’ journey.

      So the Anton factor could well be key in this series in helping Emma B defeat the likely male celebs she will come up against in a possible series final. It is very much in the hands of the prods and they were clearly SO confident Stacey would win last year they didn’t mind being critical on the night and under-scoring her, which may well have been a tactic in itself to ensure her and KfG’s fans were motivated to vote for them even more.

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