Strictly Come Dancingthreatened to become Strictly Come Snogging last year when Katya Jones was snapped in a romantic clinch with her dance partner Seann Walsh.
But even as the ensuing scandal reached wildfire levels Katya’s pro-dancer husband and Strictly colleague Neil Jones maintained a dignified silence. There are reasons to suspect he’s been rewarded for his decorous behaviour as the launch episode of Strictly 2019 paired him with competition favourite Alex Scott.
The England footballer turned pundit is not only likeable and natural in front of the cameras. She’s also a heroic hoofer, as demonstrated by her Sports Relief Strictly Special win in 2018. “I’ve been in a tracksuit since the age of eight,” enthused Scott. “I’m ready for the glitter.”
With all Neil has been through – he and Katya recently announced their separation – his promotion from background hoofer to headline strutter is the perfect opportunity for him to dance away the heartache. He certainly appeared to appreciate the extra loud cheer he received during the professionals’s big introductory number, to the strains of Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love.
There was an equally raucous welcome for new judge Motsi Mabuse, in for the departed Darcey Bussell. “You have to have fun. That’s the most important thing,” were her first words of advice. She then pitched in on a routine featuring pros and judges pirouetting inside huge multi-coloured boxes.
The fall-out from “snog-gate” will also cast a shadow over Katya as she teams up with BBC sports presenter and human anorak Mike Bushell. Last year, Katya took the “Strictly Curse” to places it had never gone before when her compromising photograph with Walsh went viral (she later apologised).
However, 53 year-old dad dancer candidate Bushell is more of a fuddy in the tradition of Ed Balls. The Labour politician became an unlikely sensation dancing with Katya in 2016. Bushell could be in line for a “Gangham Style” moment of his own.
“I’m like a dog jumping up and down with the lead, I’m so excited,” confessed Bushell, who followed through by clicking his heels in midair. Katya was so taken she pulled off a heel click of her own.
The other big talking point going into the launch was the premature exit of Made in Chelsea star and digestive biscuits heir Jamie Laing due to a foot injury sustained filming the episode, at Strictly’s spiritual home of Elstree Studios.
He was at least around long enough to see special guest Kylie Minogue open the series with a medley of her biggest and cheesiest hits. “When I go out, I wanna go out dancing,” sang Kylie – slightly spooky as it seemed to foreshadow Laing’s accident during the group twirl to Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling.
“As I kicked off, I felt a pop and a searing pain,” he said in a short interview tacked on at the end. “There’s definitely swelling. There’s definitely tissue damage. I’m going to be in a boot for eight weeks recovering.” His replacement is expected to be announced soon.
“Yoof” documentarian Stacey Dooley’s win last year saw the youth vote carry the day. Back for one final “Paso Dooley” – as she seemed to call it – her advice to the class of ’19 was “just love it, love it, love it”. Will history repeat itself in terms of age-profile in 2019? Or might a more seasoned celebrity claim the Glitterball trophy?
One of the most exciting pairings will surely be that of favourite Anton du Beke and former EastEnders actress and “biggest strictly fan ever” Emma Barton. Because Anton is adored by viewers, Barton would probably have to slip and go crashing into the orchestra in order to be eliminated early. “I’m over the moon,” she said. “My mum is going to be so happy.”
Anneka Rice and Kevin Clifton are another potentially captivating team-up. Kevin and Stacey Dooley made for a tasty combo foxtrotting their way to victory in 2018. Sixty year-old Rice, the oldest celeb this year, is a very different prospect, it’s true.
She also goes into Strictly with a shoulder injury having had a fall out walking. Still, audience members with keen memories of Treasure Hunt in the Eighties, in which she scoured Britain by helicopter looking for clues, will recall her cool head under pressure.
“It is scary – I can’t say I’m at all relaxed about it,” she said. “Dancing on live television… I just don’t dance… I have a complete phobia about dancing.”
Sporty types tend to do well on Strictly: working up a sweat in front of a crowd is all in a day’s work. Olympic rower James Cracknell is therefore surely one of the contenders, though he didn’t come across as particularly confident. “I’m hoping for songs with no rhythm…then I’ll fit in,” said Cracknell, going straight to the land beyond lycra with his see-through top.
Strictly 2019 has another potential break-out star in Viscountess Emma Weymouth, partnered with the always popular Aljaž Škorjanec. Viscountess Weymouth has walked the catwalk as a model and so is experienced in keeping cool under the spotlight. “It’s really happening and it’s incredible,” she beamed.
So will it be about the foot-work rather than the tongue-tangling on Strictly 2019? All shall be revealed when the competition proper kicks off in a fortnight.