It’s that time of year where one of the biggest shows on TV comes to Lancashire. When Elstree Studios are in use for BBC Children in Need, the south’s loss is the north’s gain because this was the week when Strictly came back to the spiritual home of ballroom dancing – Blackpool!
BBC Radio Lancashire had been given tickets to review the hottest show in town and was raffling them off for a lucky member of staff. Having watched all this series and become somewhat of a super fan of course I was going to enter… and won! I’d got engaged the previous weekend, so it added to the memories and became a wonderful engagement gift from the station to me and my fiancé.
We had to arrive at Blackpool Tower for 15:30 and were taken to the VIP holding area. It was sequin central as we made our way among the glitz and glamour to Jungle Jim’s play area to wait to be allowed in the studio. Former pro dancers Ian Waite and Natalie Lowe were on hand to welcome guests next to the cuddly toy grabbers and climbing frames. There was something surreal but down to earth about it all.
An hour later and we were allowed in into the famous Tower Ballroom. Mobile phones were confiscated from guests on entry, probably to stop everyone’s necks craning down during the presenters’ links. While this scuppered any chance of a selfie or a Facebook check-in it actually gave a chance to soak up the atmosphere and take in the resplendent surroundings. If there’s any room that you’d want to spend six hours of your life this would be one of them – and it’s a good job because that’s exactly what we did.
After a quick warm up by a man wearing the obligatory glittery jacket, the musical performances were recorded. Our floor seats were to the right of the stage and three rows from the front which gave amazing views of all the dances, Gloria Estefan and Take That. During the boys’ performance in particular the ballroom’s dance floor literally sprung into action. When all the dancers were jumping in sync we could see and feel the floor bouncing up and down in time to the music. The show was going live on BBC One at 18:45 and right before transmission began The Foundations ‘Build me up Buttercup’ gets the audience geared up for the show. The familiar title sequence played – we clapped along – and were live.
It’s an impressive production in every area; from the talent in front of camera to the crew behind the scenes who work incredibly quickly changing the sets and clearing the floor between dances, while the training VTs are playing. As well as watching the dance choreography it was also fascinating to see how the show was filmed. The audience was on good form all night, with standing ovations and applause aplenty. Then the room erupted when the first perfect score of 40 for this series was awarded by the judges to Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovalev for their jive set in a fish and chip shop.
As you can imagine, when the live show finishes and the voting lines open there’s a mad dash for a much needed loo break but to keep our spirits up the production team hand out a Freddo chocolate frog and carton of orange juice, while packets of Haribo sweets are thrown into the audience for a sugar boost. As I was making my way across the dance floor I bumped into Charles Venn from Holby City, who had a quick chat and shook my hand. *Swoon!*
The results show is recorded after voting lines close and it’s a much longer process as the team is taking different shots and re-takes; the opening sequence was recorded around three times, for example. This show isn’t shot in sequence, so some of the presenter links or chats with Claudia are filmed in a different order to what you see in the final edited programme on screen.
Then it was time for the the dance-off with former cricketer Graeme Swann against newsreader Kate Silverton. It was Kate and her partner Aljaz Skorjanec who had their last dance but what a fab-u-lous place to have it – in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. I feel privileged to have watched the production of Strictly Come Dancing – a programme that is a credit to the BBC. It was a long night but an unforgettable experience.
Here’s the moment I appeared on Strictly, for a fleeting glance, at the end of Stacey and Kevin’s performance…