Luck Be A Lady

Sep 5, 2018 by

Luck Be A Lady

Strictly 2018 gets underway on Saturday night on BBC1 and courtesy of the usual spoiler sources, we already know the pairings. Some of the key dates for the diary this year include the first live show on September 22, Blackpool Week on November 17 and the final on December 15.

Also of note, a new dance category, ‘Couple’s Choice’, is being introduced. This looks like an attempt to reinvigorate the show, and will be a potential ‘joker’ card to play over the weeks, with three styles of dance to choose from in the form of ‘Contemporary’, ’Street/Commercial’ and ‘Theatre/Jazz’.

It was noticeable the first 3 names leaked to the press this year were all female and all with varying degrees of dance experience lurking in their backgrounds: Faye Tozer, Vick Hope and Ashley Roberts. It’s perhaps an early sign TPTB (the powers that be) have their eyes fixed firmly on a female winner this year after 3 males have won on the bounce in the form of Jay McGuiness, Ore Oduba and Joe McFadden.

Last year was a stat-defying Strictly as we saw a third consecutive male winner for the first time in the show’s history. TPTB left themselves in a situation whereby a default popular male was topping the televote and they decided to run with it.

On reflection, there were mitigating circumstances that went in Joe’s favour – the Beeb loves to tick boxes and him being the show’s first ever gay winner was probably something TPTB were happy to endorse so, despite him being an average dancer, they did not seek to apply the breaks on his vote.

One aspect that went against them last year was, they didn’t have a female in the field that married the requisite dance skills with a winning personality. Alexandra Burke and Debbie McGee were both hamstrung by ringer accusations and varying degrees of toxicity in regard to their general voter appeal, while Gemma Atkinson had the likability but couldn’t back it up with enough dance improvement over the course of the series.

Looking at this year’s field, it appears strongly weighted towards finding a female winner, the pairings further hint this will be TPTB’s aim, and there are a few who potentially tick both the dance ability and likability boxes.

Favourite Ashley Roberts, ex-Pussycat Dolls, is 36 and came 2nd in I’m A Celebrity… 2012. Her being American was seen as a potential neg when she took part in IAC but she went on to nearly win it, beaten by Charlie Brooks by a little over 1%, with Brooks aided by a heart-rending VT involving her being given the chance to see her young daughter. In IAC, Ashley came across as easy-going, down-to-earth, positive, and someone with a good sense of humour.

The risk for Ashley is, she will very likely be outstanding from week 1 which will give her no room for a journey

She lives in London and is an honorary Brit. The risk for Ashley is, she will very likely be outstanding from week 1 which will give her no room for a journey. But her pairing with Pasha looks a definite positive – he is the last male pro to guide a female to victory (Caroline Flack in 2014), is an excellent teacher and always comes across well in interview as a humble guy.

Faye Tozer, 42, ex-Steps, has a 9-year-old son, starred in Lloyd-Webber’s one-woman musical Tell Me On A Sunday, and has a dance school training background including ballet, tap and modern. Dancing wise, she doesn’t look like being of the same standard as Ashley and Vick at series start so there is some journey potential with her. Giovanni has also made 2 out of the last 3 finals since his debut in 2015 and formed an endearing partnership with Debbie McGee in the last series.

TV and radio presenter Vick Hope, 28, works as Capital FM’s regional breakfast show presenter and will be something of an unknown to many viewers. Originally from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, she is a former club dancer, and also a former Cambridge graduate. She has explored world dance as part of her tv documentary work.

She comes across as very ambitious and the type that will throw herself into the training. She also ticks the ethnic diversity box which is so beloved by the Beeb and is a human rights activist. The downside for her is, lack of profile at series start but part of her journey could be viewers getting to know her and potentially warming to her throughout the series.

It’s a similar story with her pro partner, newcomer Graziano Di Prima. We haven’t got to know him yet, which could be perceived as a slight neg but he has the look of a real Latin heart-throb and this looks like a potentially dynamic pairing. First season pros have won the show before. Following Brendan Cole and Darren Bennett in the first 2 series, Artem Chigvintsev (series 8, Kara Tointon) and Aljaz Skorjanec (series 11, Abbey Clancy) also achieved this.

Former England cricketer Graeme Swann is 39 years old and obviously test cricketers had a good early run in series 3 and 4 with Darren Gough and Mark Ramprakesh both winning. Since then Phil Tufnell (eliminated in week 9, series 7) and Michael Vaughan (eliminated in week 9, series 10) fared less well.

First season pros have won the show before. Following Brendan Cole and Darren Bennett in the first 2 series, Artem Chigvintsev (series 8, Kara Tointon) and Aljaz Skorjanec (series 11, Abbey Clancy) also achieved this

’Swanny’, as he is affectionately known among cricket fans, is a charismatic guy and he’ll definitely throw himself into the challenge though he says he hasn’t done much sober dancing in his life. One concern is, he does sometimes come across as a bit too full of himself, and someone who loves the sound of his own voice. The only form guide is The Sprinkler Dance he helped make famous during England’s successful Ashes tour in Australia back in 2010-11, and on Test Match Special Swann recently said his kids had taught him how to do the floss which he performed at the official red carpet launch.

He says he would like to perfect the waltz and he could certainly prove himself better than mere dad dancer material. Oti will also ensure they entertain with their routines when they have the chance. Him following the same winning trajectory as Darren Gough and Mark Ramprakesh looks likely to be a step too far but Test Match Special listeners seem to be quite a nice fit with Strictly’s voting demographic and he looks capable of a decent run.

Danny John-Jules of Red Dwarf fame is 57 and another with a dance background appearing in West End theatre productions and a previous Wham! video. He looks like being the ‘good oldster’, like Debbie McGee last year, but does seem to like sounding off on Twitter. Indeed, on the eve of this series he has been mired in tabloid controversy for past Tweets claiming the judges have been racist in their scoring, with reference in particular to Aston in last year’s series.

At the outset he looks like being the best male dancer on this year’s show, but being the best male doesn’t always equate to being the last male standing, and there have to be a few nagging doubts regarding how popular he will prove with voters in the long run despite being remembered fondly among middle-aged BBC viewers for playing the Cat in the long-running sci-fi comedy.

Blue member Lee Ryan, 35, certainly isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed as we saw when he took part in Celebrity Big Brother 2014 but comes across as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously which is a plus. In interview at the red carpet launch he mentioned he struggles to concentrate which could make things hard for him in the training room and learning choreo. In his favour, he’s a good looking, middle England-friendly white guy, and at least has a performing arts background, although he claims he avoided dance lessons back in those performing arts days and this was one reason he focused on singing.

Fellow Blue member Simon Webbe made the podium back in 2014 behind winner Caroline Flack. If he can show improvement he could be in the mix for Top Male honours, with Blue’s older female fans likely to be a decent fit with your average Strictly voter. Nadiya did a great job with Davood last year, finishing in 6th place, and the two of them could have a bit of spark which hopefully for Lee’s prospects doesn’t extend to scurrilous tabloid rumours of a showmance given Nadiya has a partner with whom she has a young daughter.

Seann Walsh, 32, is a stand up comic and looks like being the contestant called upon to bring some humour to the dancefloor. There is usually one each year who becomes the must-see no-hoper who garners voting support. It was Susan Calman last year, Ed Balls the year before; Jeremy Vine, Judy Murray, Mark Benton in the 3 preceding years. If he goes for the comedy/entertainment vote this might enable him to go further than his ability merits. We saw a couple of series back how Katya was able to work her magic getting Ed Balls to entertain.

If Lee can show improvement he could be in the mix for Top Male honours, with Blue’s older female fans likely to be a decent fit with your average Strictly voter

Kate Silverton, 48, follows a long line of BBC news presenters. Natasha Kaplinsky of course won series 1, while Susannah Reid achieved a top 3 finish back in series 11. She is a mother of two and we have a small form guide when she attempted to dance a Lady Gaga routine during Children In Need 2010… It looks unlikely her dance ability will be good enough for her to make it to the latter stages but being paired with the well-liked Aljaz is a positive.

Stacey Dooley, 31, is famous for her investigative journalism and earned an MBE earlier this year. Her documentaries have appeared on BBC3 on subjects such as child labour and sex trafficking in the Third World. Part of her success on these shows is her empathy. She comes across well in interview but she will be more of a beginner at series start compared to the likes of Ashley and Vic.

Kevin from Grimsby has a strong track record on the show, and seems to be generally well liked by the average Strictly viewer, even helping Susan Calman reach week 10 last year. He is a good teacher, clever choreographer and looks a positive for Stacey’s long-term prospects.

Katie Piper, 34, is most famous for having sulphuric acid thrown at her and requiring her face to be re-built. This lends itself to a certain empathy among viewers at series start but she has also said she has no sense of rhythm. Investigating her profile she did take dance lessons when she was younger including tap.

It will be a dangerous tightrope to walk if she is going to seek sympathy throughout and bang on about the difficulties she is having. There has already been a news story about her struggling with the training due to respiratory problems and being unable to move her head to the right position because of a band of scar tissue.

Lauren Steadman, 25, is this year’s less able-bodied box ticker as a paratriathlete. She could well have a similar trajectory on the show to Jonnie Peacock last year – scored generously, patronised regarding ‘being an inspiration’, before bowing out with dignity around Blackpool Week. The Daily Mail reported she has taught salsa classes for 4 years and it is always dangerous to under-estimate the BBC’s desire to box-tick minorities so if Lauren impresses enough it may love to have its first less able-bodied winner.

This Morning’s resident doctor, Ranj Singh, is 38 and fills the This Morning quota this year, and he is this year’s gay male contestant to boot. Some have tried to describe him as a housewives’ favourite but being openly gay doesn’t seem to fit with the notion of being a housewives’ favourite. He has also worked on CBeebies and looks like he will be able to cut a rug, but the Beeb ticked the gay male winner box last year with Joe.

The Daily Mail reported Lauren has taught salsa classes for 4 years and it is always dangerous to under-estimate the BBC’s desire to box-tick minorities

Having promised not to scrape the z-list barrel this season Joe Sugg, 26, was announced as taking part. He is apparently a ‘YouTube sensation’, known as ThatcherJoe, with 8.2 million subscribers.

Looking at his videos he clearly has ‘youf’ appeal which is by no means a good fit with the Strictly voting audience. His YT channel gives him a platform and some of his fans may be persuaded to follow his progress on the show and vote for him but a video found of him learning street dance also suggests he will be a total novice and is not especially well co-ordinated.

Susannah Constantine, a 56-year-old mother of 3, and famous for the Trinny and Susannah and What Not To Wear tv fashion shows, looks like a definite also-ran this year. She went out early when taking part in I’m A Celebrity… in 2015, and doesn’t come across as very easy to like. It was no surprise to see her paired with Anton who often gets lumbered with the ropey older woman.

Charles Venn, 45, has studied performing arts and starred in Casualty since 2015, following a stint on Eastenders. Venn is a ripped guy so we can expect some drooling from Tess, Claudia, Shirley and co. He looks a potentially good mover and on the plus side, his partner Karen is an excellent teacher and always comes across as a lot of fun in interview.

There is no doubt we will see some dark arts along the way to the final and we will need to keep an eye on who is announced for the Strictly Tour 2019. TPTB love a confected ‘shock’ elimination for the headlines it brings, some are sacrificed because they are unavailable for the Strictly Tour, while others lose out at the expense of a diversity box the Beeb is desperate to tick.

Looking back, perhaps in the case of Ore Oduba winning the series in 2016 it was also to do with a Len Goodman betting sting, as renowned gambler Harry Findlay describes in his autobiography hearing via Goodman’s neighbour to back Ore at double figure odds to win on the eve of the final:














Given this story, one starts to wonders if the Goodman cash was down on Kellie Bright in 2015 when he helped give her and Kevin a monster ramp in the final which saw her odds crash. Certainly with Shirley Ballas, while her scoring appeared very inconsistent in the last series, there didn’t appear to be as many dark arts at work with her as head judge, though Aston’s ’shock’ exit did look cleverly teed up.

In summary, Ashley looks a worthy favourite but sustained brilliance over the weeks may ultimately prove her downfall as we have seen so many times down the years, and she may end up being pipped to the post by a ‘journey’ female.


  1. James

    Hi Rob

    I expect it to be another series dominated by the female celebrities this year. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the gender split of the final five contestants were to be four females and one male, as has happened in four of the previous six series.

    I’ve also noticed that in 12 of the 15 series, the age split of the final five contestants has consisted of three celebs aged under 35, and two aged 35 or over. This year has six contestants aged under 35 (Joe, Katie, Lauren, Seann, Stacey & Vick).

    Vick & Graziano will become the 11th partnership containing a female celeb aged under 30 with a first year male professional, and seven out of the previous ten went on to a top four finish (including wins for Jill, Kara & Abbey).

    Kevin has arguably over-achieved with three of his five partners, and I feel is one of the two professionals (along with Anton) who carries a high personal vote. Most Strictly finals contain at least one BBC employee, and I see Stacey as the most likely candidate to fill that role this year.

    As I mentioned in a previous post, Pasha’s early exit in 2017 and his good performance in the Christmas special were pointers for a successful 2018 campaign. At this stage I don’t see Ashley winning the final, but ‘team Pashley’ should be good enough to get there, unless a Pixie or Aston ‘perfect storm’ elimination occurs.

    I also have high expectations for Faye, and from interviews she seems very determined to do well. To me, Pasha seemed to be the natural partner for her, and I was surprised to see her paired up with Giovanni. He did bring out the best in Debbie McGee, and perhaps TPTB are following last year’s Katya template by rewarding the pro who provided unexpected, positive publicity by pairing them with a 40-something superfan, who has the ability to win the show?

    Of the remaining female celebrities, Lauren is the only one I see with the possibility of getting to Blackpool and beyond. She comes across very well in interview, and will no doubt be willing to put in long hours in the training room. If she does get through to week 12, surely TPTB would look to avoid a third straight semi-final exit for AJ.

    I don’t see a stand out contender in the top male market, as each of the contestants have at least one significant flaw. Before the partnerships were announced, I was leaning towards Charles, as he is a BBC employee who appears to have the potential to be a good dancer. I am not sold by the partnership with Karen though. After the split with Kevin, I feel that her personal vote will take a hit. Unlike in 2014, when the show was happy to push Clifton vs Clifton in the final, I think a similar scenario this year would lead to an awkward atmosphere that the show would aim to avoid.

    One value bet that I have spotted is for Vick to be awarded the first 10 of the series (8/1 with Betway). Eight of the last nine celebs who were the first to receive a 10 in their series were aged between 25 and 30 (Ricky 27, Kara 27, Harry 25, Denise 38, Natalie 29, Frankie 25, Jay 25, Ore 30, Alexandra 29), and the only contestants in that age bracket this year are Joe, Lauren & Vick.

    Given that a female celeb winner seems likely this year, one thing to look out for is how each of the contenders does when performing the foxtrot. Each of the six previous female champions topped the weekly leaderboard in the week that they danced the foxtrot!

    • Rob

      Thanks for sharing your stats, James. Insightful, as always. The composition of this year’s field does make it look like we could be on for an Abbey Clancy year, and an all-female final.

      Charles could be this year’s Patrick Robinson. I wouldn’t be as negative regarding Karen’s prospects of carrying him to Top Male honours. But the prices are of no interest among the perceived front runners in that market with far too much uncertainty involved. There is probably a decent case to be made to back Graeme Swann at 14-1 with PP, purely as a value bet and with the chance for him to trade shorter.

      Great spot on Vick to receive the first 10 at 8-1. That’s an amazing price; just a shame a lot of people will not be able to take it as Betway are one of those firms that let you have one 4-1 winner on a Specials market & then restrict you to pennies.

      • Laurie Stone

        Can’t believe that time has come back around again. So quick.
        For no real reason the 1 who has stuck out for me this year as the potential winner is Stacy Dooley.

        • Stoney

          Bloody autofill.
          Stacy and Kevin should be a good paring I think.
          The producers have been itching to give Kevin a win. Apart from last series hes always had one of the favourites.

          • M8

            Yep they’d love a Kevin win. When Stacy was announced I never saw her as a potential winner but after watching last night I take that back. She was practically glowing and looked like she could dance. Kevin as much as I loathe him is a good teacher as well A properly likeable journey contestant in the making.

  2. Anonymous

    Hi all, it’s that time of year again!

    Agreed with the consensus that TPTB are going all out for that female winner this year with last year meaning it’s the first time ever we’ve had three same gender winners in a row. The cast only adds weight to that consensus. I agree with all about Stacey. I’ve managed to get on the train just in time after finding out Kevin was her partner. After watching her in tonight’s launch show it looks like a shrewd move.

    No doubt one of the dance trained trio (Ashley, Vick and Faye) will probably have to take the fall and suffer a shock elimination to satisfy the bloodthirsty viewers’ demand that a trained dancer shouldn’t be competing. For that reason, as of now my money’s on Ashley. She’s American, she’s loud and a super ringer. She’s ticks all the boxes as being someone who may struggle for votes although having a likeable pro like Pasha may help her. Faye has a far less likeable pro in Gio which could come back to bite her.

  3. James

    Kevin has announced today that he has landed himself a role in the ‘Rock of Ages’ musical. I see that the dates of the musical clash with Strictly UK arena tour in Jan/Feb 2019.

    This time two years ago, Joanne Clifton announced that she had signed up for a musical, before subsequently winning with Ore, and missing the arena tour. So this news certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility of a Kevin & Stacey victory, but nevertheless it could be a useful bit of information to remember as the series progresses.

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