There’s a rail of Santa costumes in a corridor at BBC Television Centre, Russell Grant is being helped into a fairy godmother costume, complete with curly wig and wings, and an incognito Robbie Williams (in a grey hat and sunglasses) has sneaked into a studio to watch his friend Robbie Savage rehearse. Welcome to an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special.
Eight of the finalists from the most recent series are performing a group dance, while five new celebrities are competing for a star- shaped Christmas trophy.
The festive line-up includes former Hi-De-Hi! actress Su Pollard, impressionist Debra Stephenson, Blue singer Simon Webbe, boxing champion Barry McGuigan and EastEnders star Charlie Brooks. The newcomers are quickly embracing the sequins and spandex.
“I don’t want anything too gimmicky,” says Su, 52, as she sits down to chat to one of Strictly’s hairstylists. She emerges from the room wearing a glittery gold bird on her head and glasses decorated with holly. Su did, however, reject the suggestion of having a small toy Santa stuck in her hair.
Judge Craig Revel Horwood, meanwhile, is having his face painted green, as he’s been persuaded to play the role of Grinch. “It’s my job to steal Christmas and I’m very much looking forward to it,” says the notoriously stern judge. In the recent series, he also dressed up as Brian May in the Queen tribute at Wembley. “I’ve been used and abused,” he laughs, “but I’ve had fun. It’s been nice to be part of the show in that way.” Will he be kinder to the contestants as it’s Christmas? “I’ll have a nice little sherry before I go on,” he says. “I can’t guarantee anything, but I’m going to try.”
As she waits to go into the studio to rehearse her lines, host Tess Daly tells hello! that she loves the atmosphere. “This has been my favourite series to date, absolutely,” she says. “It’s been our most successful series and there’s a buzz about it. Even the Duchess of Cornwall wanted to come and watch, which was brilliant.”
The model and presenter, who has two daughters with Radio 1 host Vernon Kay, says she doesn’t really want to watch herself in the show on Christmas Day, but her family insists. “It’s part of their Christmas Day now, but I’ll say, ‘Okay, this is my cue to exit and do the Christmas buffet.’”
Most of the stars will be watching at home, however. “I think it’s going to be really special,” says Debra Stephenson, as rollers are put in her hair. The former Coronation Street actress says her children, Max, nine, and Zoe, four, are excited about seeing their mum on the show. “My daughter is going to love my dress. There’s not much on TV that I let them watch, but this is real family viewing.”
Debra is hoping her children will be proud of her American Smooth routine with Ian Waite. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of training,” she says. “At the beginning, I had motion sickness. But I’m really loving it now and Ian’s brilliant; he makes me feel very comfortable.”
Will Debra be using her impressionist skills? “Ian said I should go away and watch Ginger Rogers,” she admits. “But it’s a lot easier for me to change my voice than the way I move.”
QUICK ON THEIR FEET
Simon Webbe is used to dancing on stage with boyband Blue, but the moves and costumes for Strictly are rather more camp. “There’s my little bit of spandex right there,” he says, pointing to the purple shirt with fitted cycling shorts hanging in his dressing room.
“They’re not my thing, but when I’m stepping into someone else’s arena and they know what looks good, I’m going to play ball.”
He is showing some impressive hip-swivelling moves in rehearsals, despite having had little time to practise. “I was asked on the Sunday and was in training on the Tuesday,” says the singer, whose bandmate
Antony Costa will be there for the show. Simon and his professional partner, Canadian Katya Virshilas, have had less than 24 hours in total to perfect their routine.
His fellow competitor Barry McGuigan also looks remarkably light on his feet when he leaps around the floor in a quickstep with Erin Boag.
“The problem with the quickstep is I’ve got to be like this,” the former world featherweight champion explains, sitting upright and holding his arms in a ballroom dancer’s pose. “But I’ve spent my life like this,” he says, crouching over as if he is boxing, “making myself a smaller target to hit.
“I just want to do Erin proud,” he adds. “She’s not just a beautiful girl, but a fabulous dancer and a great coach. I would love to be able to do this properly.”
Charlie Brooks has been fitting her rehearsals around filming a dramatic EastEnders New Year storyline. “But my daughter would kill me if I didn’t do this,” smiles the actress, who is partnered with cheeky Italian Vincent Simone. She admits being nervous. “I don’t thinkI’dbeabletodoitifitwas being filmed live.”
Su Pollard has been touring the country in the musical Annie. “At first I didn’t think it would work out,” she says. “Then I thought, ‘No, this is too nice a show not to do it.’ It’s iconic.”
Is she a natural dancer? “Oh no!” she insists. She’s in good hands as she’s being taught by the impeccable gentleman Anton
du Beke. “We’ve been ribbing each other constantly because his style is nothing like mine,” says Su, who is dressed in flower-print trousers and a slogan T-shirt. “I’m wearing bright socks, and he’s in Tom Ford and Lanvin.”
The respect is mutual. “Oh, she’s a showbiz legend,” says Anton. “I love her. She’s such a laugh and she’s right up my street, in that I love that showbiz thing, theatre and all that, slightly old school.”
How does he rate Su’s dance skills? “She’s done well,” he says. “We’ve got quite a camp number, so that helps. She’s coming in on a sleigh that’s being wheeled by two boys.” During the dress run, the sleigh slips as Su tries to get back into it at the end of the routine, leaving Anton to jokingly put his head in his hands.
OLD FRIENDS AND NEW
Ex-footballer turned pundit Robbie Savage is chatting to dancers James Jordan and Vincent Simone in the quadrant outside the studio during a break in rehearsals. Jokingly, he tries some fast dance moves with fellow contestant Harry Judd.
Robbie has arranged for his friend Robbie Williams be in the audience, and the Take That star sneaks in quietly, taking a seat in the back row. He also stops for a quick chat with the show’s musicians, before catching up with Robbie Savage in his dressing room, where he gives his mate a few tips.
Russell Grant is “thrilled” to be back on the show, telling the make- up and costume teams how much he’s missed them. Then he is quickly into the Christmas spirit, donning three costumes for the special, including a gold sequined suit.
“I think we should have him on the show every year,” laughs dancer Kristina Rihanoff, as she puts her arms around him.
The actor and astrologer says the response to his appearance in the last series has been “overwhelming”. “I’m humbled by it,” Russell says, as heavy blusher is applied to his cheeks. “I’m so thankful.”
He is still experiencing the Strictly effect. “My office has had to draft in two more people to help,” admits Russell, who is appearing in pantomime in Milton Keynes alongside fellow Strictly contestant Anita Dobson. “They’re getting call after call. I’ve also been asked to do this big Gordon Ramsay show on Christmas Day.”
THAT HOLIDAY FEELING
Sir Bruce Forsyth arrives at the studio in a black coat, ready to run through the show. Over the years he has formed a strong friendship with his fellow host, Tess.
“I’ve been really organised with my Christmas shopping, but I haven’t got Bruce anything yet,” confides Tess. “What do you buy the man who has everything? I got him cufflinks with his initials on one year, which he wears all the time, so I think I peaked with that.”
Tess is hoping Santa will bring her a holiday “somewhere hot” but says she’ll be missing Strictly “hugely” after Christmas. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I won’t see my friends every Saturday,’” she says.
Anton agrees: “We’ll look back on all of this and think ‘that was great’. I get to spend time with people like Barry McGuigan, who I was a great fan of growing up, and characters like Nancy [Dell’Olio]. Our paths wouldn’t normally cross, and this brings us all together in a magical way.”
The ballroom specialist says he wants to stay on the show. “Of course,” he says. “What else is there, apart from Strictly?”