At the start of another season of Strictly Come Dancing, I should mention that I am once again thankful that it's no longer scheduled against The X Factor. What a wonderful world we live in that fans of manipulative reality TV formats can enjoy a bumper Saturday night of carefully orchestrated plastic emotion with no awkward clashes. And I no longer have to feel like I'm choosing Cliff Richard over Elvis as I tell TV hipsters that I watched Strictly Come Dancing and haven't yet managed to catch up with X Factor. All this is a weight off my mind, I don't mind telling you. Now I can get on with ironing out the finer details of world peace.
So this is me reflecting on the Strictly Come Dancing pair-up show, where the celebrities discover which professional dancer's body odour will soon be as familiar to them as their favourite song. This episode is the essence of showbusiness perfectly distilled, as people mask the crushing disappointment at the identity of their new partner by showing the world the effectiveness of their teeth whitening programme; glowing through the despair, praying for the time when they can go back to their dressing room and drink fake tan and sequin glue until they lose consciousness and the pain is over.
I'm here to run down this year's contestants, but I can't really begin without saying this: Tess Daly used to be a model. She is in great shape. So why she is apparently so hard to dress? A daffodil coloured jumpsuit is a friend to no one, not even the member of Pan's People who last wore Tess's get-up in the 1970s – and whose cupsize was apparently quite different. Top marks for thrift, the Beeb.
The first contestant to meet their new partner is lion-haired Robbie Savage. He lines up opposite the seven female pros, who are all wearing variations on the same dress. It's Seven Brides For Seven Brothers in sequins. I say that. I've never seen Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. Anyway, he lucks out by getting Ola. Join me, readers, over the coming weeks as we embark on a quest for Robbie Savage's redeeming features. I'm excited.
Last series, US pro Katya was tasked with animating Gavin Henson. This year, her experiments in human galvanisation continue with a new specimen, Daybreak's Dan Lobb. Tall and Next-catalogue handsome, can she transform him from lurching, late-thirties Ken doll into rubber-hipped dancefloor dynamo? Will he be Mark Foster or will he be Gethin Jones, is what I'm saying. Judging by the first group dance, it could be Foster, but I like Dan, and he has the grace to look a little sheepish about this whole matchmaking hoopla. I suspect Katya will have called in the acting coach by week 6, if they get that far.
Harry from McFly gets flame-haired choreographic delusionist Aliona. I'm not saying she lost the title for Matt Baker last year but I've heard that Kara Tointon still sends her flowers once a week. Harry won a one-dance Strictly special for Children In Need last year with Ola, and I must assume the BBC have paired him with Aliona to avoid accusations that he has an unfair advantage. Harry seems lukewarm. 'She's such a great dancer,' Bruce says to Harry encouragingly. 'Sure,' says Harry. 'They're all amazing. ESPECIALLY OLA. WHY AREN'T I WITH OLA? SHOW ME MY CONTRACT. I WANT OLA.' He communicates the last bit by telepathy. I am psychically very gifted.
Anita Dobson is possibly the most excited celebrity on the show. She and new partner Robin look so pleased to see each other, for a moment I feel like I'm watching Surprise Surprise. Robin was ever so nice to Patsy Kensit last year, so I'm pleased for Anita. An anxious-looking Brian May is in the audience, one seat for him, one either side for his hair. I hope that Brian is now taking this extremely seriously, and wiping over videos of Queen on Live Aid with tonight's first celebrity group dance, in order to pick apart Anita's competition. Anita is the kind of older lady I can imagine being friends with. Maybe we'd meet at work or at a book group, and then I'd end up going round to the Dobson-Mays' house for home-cooked lasagne and a lengthy explanation of Brian's guitar collection.
Chelsee Healey, from Waterloo Road, is single, although you'd never know as she hardly mentions it at all. From her VT we can surmise that she is A RIGHT LAUGH and A BIT MAD. Also, BUBBLY. She gets new dancer Pasha, who I believe we are meant to get all kinds of excited about, but for me, so far, he is two parts Jeremy Edwards and three parts Chico from The X Factor. At this stage, we applaud the BBC's policy of investing young trainees with genuine responsibility on high-profile shows. The director of photography is clearly a 14-year-old boy who's positioned a camera at precisely the right point on the stairs to capture maximum chest jigglage from the female contestants.
Lulu looks terrified to be paired with Brendan. Well, I think that's what her face is saying. He reacts to this by putting her over his shoulder and carrying her up the stairs. That's the way to win her over, Brendan. Women of a certain age love to be held upside down on television with their underwear exposed to the nation. Luckily, Lulu has the presence of mind to yank her skirt down to cover her modesty. These are the kind of smarts you learn during 40 years in showbiz.
I'm concerned about Jason Donovan. I want him to do well, but when he earnestly reveals one of his mantras - 'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail' - my heart sinks. Please don't let him be 2011's Craig Kelly - which is to say, 'I'm trying so hard to be awesome. Why aren't I awesome?' He's paired with Kristina, who looks ecstatic at drawing someone who a) can move at a greater speed than 'gentle amble' and b) is genuinely held in affection by the GBP. Although, saying that, I tried to persuade some of my oldest friends to join me in a karaoke take on Especially For You recently, and the response was not purely enthusiastic.
Rory Bremner gets Erin Boag – no surprise there. You would reasonably expect Rory to be pulling out impressions of the judges at every opportunity, but when it comes to ludicrous caricatured versions of Len and Bruno, it would be hard to beat their own performance in the last series. Ooh! A little bit of Strictly politics! At this point, I think I would like Rory to do well, but I am fickle.
Having won an Olympic gold medal, Audley Harrison probably thought he knew quite a lot about the will to win – until he met his professional partner Natalie Lowe, who makes Sally Pearson looks like she lacks a little focus. They are paired together on account of their enormo height, so if 6ft 6in Audley fails to find his inner Fred Astaire and is ejected early, perhaps they could fill their days playing basketball together, provided, of course, that Audley lets Natalie win.
Flavia is paired with Russell Grant. If she ends up dating this partner too, I think we can say that her feminine wiles are so phenomenally powerful we should be harnessing them as a natural energy source. Russell is being painted as the loser of the bunch, and also being made to wear a lot of velvet. Inhumanity upon inhumanity. I hope he turns out to be amazing. Come on, Russell!
Alex Jones gets James Jordan. I think I like Alex. She seems like a laugh. Also, she is a Jones, which is awesome, whichever way you slice it.
In a baffling tease that achieves nothing other than to make everyone feel massively uncomfortable, we are led to believe that Edwina Currie might be paired with Artem. Edwina is practically drooling. I'm not sure it's right that Strictly is scheduled before Doctor Who, because some children could be watching this and it's pretty icky.
He actually ends up with Holly Valance, which is all about their physical compatibility for dancing, of course, and not at all some clumsy attempt to create a love triangle between Holly, Artem and Kara Tointon. For Holly, a lot is at stake in this series. By Christmas, if she plays her cards right (ha!), she could be playing a sexy Australian doctor who arrives to shake up the staff of Holby City. Or even Casualty! In the meantime, she should watch out for Edwina haunting the corridors and dressing rooms like Sylvester Sneekley. 'Remember, Valance, Artem was my partner first. I TOUCHED HIM FIRST.'
Nancy Dell'Olio, meanwhile, thinks she's the most famous Italian in the UK, apart from Sophia Loren. Somewhere, over a large plate of pasta, Pavarotti is having a right laugh about that. She gets Anton, but clearly would much prefer Vincent. It's business as usual for Strictly warhorse Anton. New haircut, same old jokes and, I suspect, another early exit.
That leaves my beloved Vincent to dance with Edwina. There are no words. Apart from it looks like he and Flavia may have a tour booked in for November and December.
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
9 months ago