Strictly Come Dancing 2021 launch show – as it happened

Last modified: 08: 46 PM GMT+0

The sparkliest contest on TV has returned to brighten up our weekend evenings, with the likes of Robert Webb, AJ Odudu and Tom Fletcher taking to the floor in search of Glitterball glory

And that’s IT for this year’s Strictly launch show – thank you so much for keeping me company for the liveblog, it’s so great to see you so many old friends and new faces down in the comment box, I’m off to have a proper read.

We kick off the live shows next Saturday, in a 2 hour 20 minute marathon that starts at 7pm. I’ll be here with bells on, so I’ll see you then!

I mean, there’s not much to see here, it’s more wooden than a B&Q warehouse. But right now Rhys is our nailed down winner, and Katie and Nina have some moves too. Dan and Greg are both doing it for the dad dancers, and they all look entirely fabulous. I’M EXCITED.

Strictly 2021 first group dance
Strictly 2021 first group dance Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA


So all our pairings are now paired; goodness me there are a lot of them this year. Which means all that remains is for our couples to awkwardly strut their stuff on the Strictly dancefloor for the first time. It’s a good opportunity to spot potential winners and early exits, so keep an eye out for those with shimmying hips and those who have only the vaguest connection to the concept of rhythm and timing.

Which means UGO MONYE must be paired with OTI MABUSE, arguably the hottest Oti pairing since Danny Mac (sorry Kelvin Fletcher). Oti’s lifted the glitterball for the past two years – can she make it a hat trick?

Ugo and Oti
Ugo and Oti Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Tilly and Nikita are dancing the Waltz in Week One. I’m already obsessed with Nikita’s 90s sweeping hair flick. How much Elnett does that take? It defies gravity.


TILLY RAMSAY is paired with NIKITA KUZMIN, who is one of this year’s new dancers. I always assumed Nikita was a female name, but I’ve done some digging and it turns out it’s a male name in Russia/Ukraine and female in western Europe. This has suddenly made Elton John’s noodly 80s ballad SO much more interesting.

Both Tilly and Nikita were secretly hoping they’d get each other, because sure they were. DRINK.

I will be including Gordon Ramsay in the Bingo. He’s going to pop up EVERYWHERE, isn’t he?

Tilly and Nikita
Tilly and Nikita Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


TOM FLETCHER is paired with AMY DOWDEN. She managed to make the final with Karim Zeroual in 2019 – can Tom Fletcher help her lift the Glitterball? If I was a betting woman (which I am not), I’d probably put a couple of quid on these two.

Tom has three sons, so I’m fully expecting some kind of rota to maximise Adorable Points.

Tom and Amy
Tom and Amy Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Nina and Neil’s first dance is going to be the Samba. There should probably be a law against a Samba in Week One, but let’s go with it.

NINA WADIA is paired with NEIL JONES – good to see him off the subs’ bench and back in the main line-up this year. She’s an incredible actress and comedian so I have very high hopes.

‘I said anyone BUT HIM’ screams Nina when he turns up on a boat, apropos of nothing. See, I already love her.

Nina and Neil
Nina and Neil Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Ugo Monye is a sports presenter who used to play rugby for Harlequins until he moved into punditry after retiring in 2015. He has two young daughters who I predict will provide Adorable Points for many weeks.

Ugo Monye on Strictly
Ugo Monye on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC

Tilly Ramsay is (according to my notes) a chef, social media influencer and TV presenter with over 9.5 million followers on TikTok, where she regularly posts funny videos of herself and her Dad, Gordon Ramsay. I have lots of friends with teen/tween kids who are very excited about her being on the show, so yay for this year’s line-up having something for everyone.

Tilly Ramsay on Strictly
Tilly Ramsay on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA

Tom Fletcher is the lead singer of McFly, and also writes children’s books. He follows in the glittery footsteps of his bandmate Harry Judd, who won Strictly in 2011, so absolutely no pressure there then. Tom is also a Sylvia Young alumni, so it’s reasonable to assume he might have a few moves.

I’ve just seen that one of Tom’s children’s books is called ‘The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas’. Incredible.

Tom Fletcher on Strictly
Tom Fletcher on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC

Time to meet our final four pairings! Nina Wadia OBE is a brilliant and funny actor, mostly known (by me, anyway) for starring in BBC Two’s brilliant Goodness Gracious Me. She seems genuinely up for being Strictlified and I suspect she has secret moves.

Nina Wadia on Strictly
Nina Wadia on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC


Last year’s winners, Bill Bailey and Motse Mabuse, are BACK, and performing their brilliant Rapper’s Delight Couple’s Choice. This is reminding me of how much we needed Strictly in 2020, and what a balm to the soul it was during a very long autumn.

I still want Couple’s Choice to be fired into the sun, but DAMN this routine was good.

Bill and Oti back on Strictly
Bill and Oti back on Strictly Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA


Time for a musical interlude, courtesy of singer Anne Marie singing her new single ‘Kiss My (Uh Oh)’. I thought this was collaboration with Little Mix, or is that something else? Anyway Little Mix aren’t there, but Anne-Marie’s wearing a plastic bin bag, which is an admirable commitment to recycling. Cameron and Jowita are giving it Samba.

Anne Marie on Strictly
Anne Marie on Strictly Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA


John and Johannes’ first dance is the Tango to New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. Incredible.

JOHN WHAITE is paired with JOHANNES RADEBE, because the Strictly gods are kind and benevolent souls. I can’t WAIT to see these guys dance.

John is another one who eschews shirt buttons, and already has a tan sponsored by Cuprinol. He’s proud to be part of Strictly’s first all-male couple, because if he’d seen that on Strictly when he was a kid it would have made life that little bit easier. Do NOT make me cry in Week One.

John and Johannes
John and Johannes Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Their first dance is the American Smooth to Aretha Franklin. Yes please.

JUDI LOVE is paired with GRAZIANO DI PRIMA. I don’t know what it is about Graziano, but every year I forget his name and have to go and look it up. Hopefully a turn with Judi will cement him in my Strictly memory forever.

Judi dreamed that Graziano was her partner. I mean, come on. Drink.

Judi and Graziano
Judi and Graziano Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


GREG WISE is paired with KAREN HAUER, which is the Strictly pairing of dreams. I continue to swoon.

He arrives on a white horse outside a ridiculously huge house. For a minute I thought it was HIS house, but apparently it was a location from Sense & Sensibility. Boo.

Greg and Karen
Greg and Karen Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


John Whaite won Bake Off in 2012, despite putting his hand in a Magimix and salt in his rum babas*. Nine years on he’ll be taking the Strictly dancefloor as part of the UK show’s first all-male dance partnership. We all want Johannes for him, right? It’s what the nation needs in these troubled times.

*Rumba-bas? This joke needs more work, but we’re here until Christmas.

John Whaite on Strictly
John Whaite on Strictly Photograph: BBC/PA


Judi Love is a comedian, TV presenter and queen of lockdown viral videos. She comes across as an absolute laugh a minute so I can’t wait to see her bring some Saturday night joy to the Strictly dancefloor.

Judi Love on Strictly
Judi Love on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC

Right, let’s pair up a few more. Greg Wise is a swoon-worthy actor and husband of national treasure Dame Emma Thompson. You may remember him from wooing Kate Winslet in Sense & Sensibility, or playing Lord Mountbatten (aka Uncle Dickie) in The Crown.

Greg Wise on Strictly
Greg Wise on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC

Time for an Anton VT! After 18 years as Strictly’s longest-standing pro dancer, he’s finally made it to the judging panel. I’m genuinely happy for him, and I wish Bruno all the best for the future. See, this is Week One magnanimity. It won’t last.

this year’s Strictly judges
this year’s Strictly judges Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC


I don’t wish to alarm anyone, but we’ve only paired eight of the celebrities - we’ve still got seven to go. Next Saturday’s opening show is going to be LONG.

AJ ODUDU is paired with KAI WIDDRINGTON. He’s one of this year’s new dancers, so no idea what to expect, but they already look entirely fab together.

‘Kai’s who I wanted’ says AJ. DRINK.

AJ and Kai
AJ and Kai Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


ADAM PEATY is paired with KATYA JONES. Ooh, that’s a good pairing. Katya’s choreography is always outstanding, and Adam looks like a man who has only a passing fancy for shirt buttons.

Katya’s broken all the rules of the leisure centre by wearing heeled boots on poolside. Not so much as plastic shoe cover. Former 90s lifeguard Heidi is having palpitations.

Adam and Katya
Adam and Katya Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Rose and Giovanni’s first dance is the Jive. Is anyone else ridiculously excited about next weekend already?

ROSE AYLING-ELLIS is paired with GIOVANNI PERNICE. OK, so this pairing is OUTSTANDING. I’m fully expecting lots of joyful Latin and swoony ballroom from these two.

Giovanni has been learning sign language so he can work with Rose. I hadn’t imagined I could love him more, but apparently there’s a whole new level.

Rose and Giovanni
Rose and Giovanni Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


DAN WALKER is paired with NADIYA BYCHKOVA. I hope for Nadiya’s sake that Dan is more of a Davood Ghadami than a Lee Ryan.

Nadiya is SO pleased to get Dan. DRINK.

Dan and Nadiya
Dan and Nadiya Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Dan Walker’s kids don’t want him to go out in Week 1. Nobody goes out in Week 1 Dan. You’re safe.

AJ Odudu is a TV presenter, who according to her BBC blurb has presented The Voice, The Voice Kids (was that even a thing? It entirely passed me by, but that’s OK because it sounds terrible), Big Brother’s Bit On The Side, Don’t Rock The Boat and Apocalypse Wow. She seems like excellent value.

AJ Odudu on Strictly
AJ Odudu on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC

Adam Peaty MBE is a swimmer who defended his Olympic title in Tokyo earlier this year. When it comes to dancing, will he be a Louis Smith or a Victoria Pendleton? I’m actually quite excited to find out.

Adam Peaty on Strictly
Adam Peaty on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC

Rose Ayling-Ellis is best known for playing Frankie Lewis in Eastenders, and is the first deaf contestant to take part in Strictly Come Dancing in the UK. She hopes to do the deaf community proud and break down some preconceptions of how deaf people can relate to music. If you’re interested in how this works for Rose, there’s a very good explainer here.

Rose Ayling-Ellis on Strictly
Rose Ayling-Ellis on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA

Dan Walker presents BBC Breakfast and lots of BBC Sport things, and is by all accounts an extremely nice man. He also doesn’t work Sundays because of his church commitments, so this may finally kill off the illusion that the Sunday results show is filmed live. I don’t think any of us will be sad about this.

Dan Walker on Strictly
Dan Walker on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC

We’ve got FOUR new pro dancers this year, and it’s time to meet them. Kai Widdrington is a Brit and Nikita Kuzmin is originally from Ukraine but grew up in Italy – they’re both taking to the floor with a celeb partner this year.

South African Cameron Lombard and Poland’s Jowita Przystal are both joining the pro dance troupe, along with Luba Mushtuk, who’s back on the bench after dancing with the lovely Jason Bell last year. We also won’t see Janette on the dancefloor this year – she’ll be presenting It Takes Two.

Here ends your 2021 pro dancer update. You’re welcome.

SARA DAVIES is paired with ALJAŽ ŠKORJANEC, and she looks (quite rightly) like all her Christmases have come at once. I mean you would, wouldn’t you?

Please note also that this is the first and last time I will spell Aljaz’s name with the correct accents because they’re an absolute pain to include unless I cut and paste his name from somewhere else each time. Forgive me Aljaz, you know I love you but I’m on a deadline here.

Sara and Aljaz
Sara and Aljaz Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


RHYS STEPHENSON is paired with NANCY XU, who is off the bench and in the starting fifteen for the first time this year. She looks entirely fierce in the group dances and I can’t wait to see her bust some moves with Rhys.

For what it’s worth, I much prefer this VT partner reveal than the old days of lining up all the pros like a Butlins beauty contest. I have a strong suspicion that Rhys and Nancy are going to be AMAZING.

Rhys and Nancy
Rhys and Nancy Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


KATIE MCGLYNN is paired with GORKA MARQUEZ. Ooh, now this could be one to watch. I mean, Gorka’s always one to watch, but you know what I mean. Did they say what their first dance is going to be? I missed it.

Katie and Gorka
Katie and Gorka Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Robert and Diane’s first dance will be the Cha Cha Cha to ‘Rasputin’ by Boney M. Because if there’s one thing Russia’s greatest love machine was known for, it was Latin hip action.

ROBERT WEBB is paired with DIANNE BUSWELL. I’d hoped Dianne might get a more stately partner this year in the hope it might avoid that Simpsons abomination from last year. In fact, did we ever do a petition to kill off Couple’s Choice entirely? We should have.

Dianne meets Robert in Boston. It’s not clear if this is Lincolnshire or Massachusetts.

Robert and Dianne
Robert and Dianne Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Sara Davies MBE is an entrepreneur and television personality who is part of the Dragon’s Den panel. She runs a company called Crafter’s Companion and has won a whole ton of business awards. I’ve never seen her on DD but apparently she’s much nicer than all the other Dragons so I already love her.

Sara Davies on Strictly
Sara Davies on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA

Rhys Stephenson is a presenter on CBBC, so he’s bringing it for the kids and the mums. I also saw on his blurb that he used to present Blue Peter, which I didn’t know was still a thing. Does it still have a dog? Do they still make dodgy crafts? I need more info.

Rhys Stephenson on Strictly
Rhys Stephenson on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA

Katie McGlynn is an actor who plays Sinead Tinker in Coronation Street. She also did a Greatest Dancer thing for Sport Relief in March 2020 with Louis Smith, Saffron Barker and HRVY (remember him?), so maybe that was a clue that none of us noticed because we were all too busy hoarding pasta and toilet roll.

Katie McGlynn on Strictly
Katie McGlynn on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC

First up is Robert Webb, who is an actor and comedian, best known for stuff like Peep Show. He’s also got a BAFTA, and “can’t wait to get packed into a spandex onesie and fired from a glitter cannon directly at Claudia Winkleman”. Where Russell Grant leads, Robert Webb follows.

Robert Webb on Strictly
Robert Webb on Strictly Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA


Time to meet this year’s celebs! There’s a full house of fifteen this year, and I know a whole seven of them, which is a very high recognition rate for me. I like this look of this year’s line-up – lots of new faces, but they all seem like good fun.

Also worth mentioning at this juncture that I’m perimenopausal, so I can’t be entirely sure what impact the inclusion of Greg ‘Oh Mr Willoughby’ Wise might have. I’ve got a fan and a bottle of smelling salts on hand just in case.

They all look spectacularly awkward. Splendid.

TESS AND CLAUDIA DRESS WATCH: Tess in a black sparkly spider’s web, Tess in a white strapless pantsuit. They both look spectacular.

Out come the judges! Shirley’s gone full orca, Motsi’s got a mushroom for a shoulder, and they all look like a summer of rest has taken YEARS off.

They’re joined by Anton Du Beke, who has finally secured his space at the high table. I’m absolutely fine with this, mostly because it means we never again have to watch him a) dance a constipated Samba or b) haul a woman of a certain age around the dancefloor like a sack of potatoes.

Tess and Claudia
Tess and Claudia Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA


And we’re off! We open with the first pro dance of the season, which features Nadiya looking pensive on a balcony. Cue more musing in high buildings and skyline observation. Aljaz gets on his motorbike to the studio, and it’s a disco routine to an orchestral version of I Feel Love by Donna Summer, featuring Tess on a giant white fibreglass horse. It’s camptastic trippy glitter cannon fabulousness and I’m extremely here for it.

Tess on a white horse
Tess on a white horse Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA


I want all our pre-Strictly viewing to be bonus Strictly from now on. Karen Hauer hawking the Countryfile Calendar. Giovanni doing the casual weather in a cable knit rollneck.


Is everyone ready? I’ve got a plate of snacks, a peppermint tea, a pair of rainbow pyjamas and a sleeping Labrador. What more could I possibly need?

It’s time for our first Strictly Come Bingo of the season! If you’re new here, this is a nonsense weekly drinking game that gives you permission to booze excessively, or adapt to your personal preferences. Use water if you like, it’s a good way to stay hydrated. We’ll ease you in gently this week - take a swig of whatever tickles your fancy for any occurrence of the following:

  • Early wheeling out of adorable children
  • Someone getting their first ever fake tan
  • CGI hangovers from last year
  • The joyful return of out-of-time audience clapping
  • Pro dancers showing a disingenuous level of enthusiasm when they discover who their celebrity partner is, e.g. “OMG I’m THRILLED to be dancing with <insert new dancer nobody’s heard of>, he/she was EXACTLY WHO I WANTED”.


The Hit List has inexplicably been commissioned for another series, but actually I’m very much enjoying this Strictly special. Can we just do Strictly contestants every week?

Although let’s be clear that there has never been a bigger ringer than Clara Amfo on this show.


Evening all, and welcome back for another year of the Strictly Liveblog! After last year’s shorter run of Strictly Covid Dancing, we’re all systems go for 2021, with fifteen celebs getting ready for a full season of glitter, shimmy and sparkle. The audience is back too, albeit in cabaret-style tables of four rather than the old-style rows of seating. If you’ve ever wedged yourself into one of those Elstree Studio chairs and smushed butts with the people either side, you’ll agree this is a blessing for all concerned.

This evening is about pairing up the new stars with their professional partners, meeting some new Strictly pros, welcoming Anton Du Beke to the judge’s table as a permanent member of staff rather than a supply teacher, and generally kicking Autumn 2021 off with a glitter cannon. It’s a pre-recorded launch show and our couples are already in training, which means the first LIVE show will be happening next Saturday.

I’m delighted to be back at the Strictly helm for another year, and will be your official liveblog host right through until Christmas. I think this is my 13th year, so if you were thinking of dropping by to ask why on earth The Guardian liveblogs this nonsense, I’m afraid that sequinned ship sailed a very long time ago. Instead please feel free to embrace the joy, festoon yourself with chiffon, spandex and feathers, and join in via the comment box below. It’s unofficially the friendliest and funniest corner of the internet, so get stuck in.

Kick-off is at 7.45 - I’ll see you then!


Heidi Stephens

The GuardianTramp

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