Was this the moment Ellie Leach secured her Strictly Come Dancing title? Writes CHRISTOPHER STEVENS
Strictly come dancing: The Final (BBC1)
Admit it, you thought she’d fumbled her chance to lift the Glitterball. We all did.
As Ellie Leach wobbled and buckled on the shoulders of dance partner Vito Coppola and collapsed backwards into his arms at the end of their showdance in Strictly Come Dancing: The Final (BBC1), their hopes seemed dashed.
Her distress was there for all to see as she apologised over and over. Vito smothered her face with kisses and told her repeatedly she had nothing to be sorry for.
The judges praised her courage in even attempting the manoeuvre and insisted that, by maintaining her composure and rescuing the situation, she’d shown how much her skills had progressed.
But with her rivals Layton Williams and Bobby Brazier putting in faultless, breathtaking, tear-jerking displays, Ellie’s mistake seemed irredeemable.
As Ellie Leach wobbled and buckled on the shoulders of dance partner Vito Coppola and collapsed backwards into his arms, their hopes seemed dashed
And for many among the millions who have watched every minute of this year’s fab-u-lous contest, this felt unjust – because it was 22-year-old former Coronation Street star Ellie who represented the true spirit of Strictly.
It’s not only her vast technical improvement since the start of the series in September that is so impressive. Ellie has grown immeasurably in confidence – blossoming from a girl to a woman, according to the judges – and bringing an unfeigned joy to her performances.
Of course she wanted to win – no one could reach the final without a fierce competitive streak – but more than that, she wanted to give her very best, for her family and for her dance partner.
And when she was declared the winner, a shout of delight went up in my house and right across the country.
Bobby, 20, has improved immensely too, with the magnificent assistance of partner Dianne Buswell. The least experienced of all the serious contenders this year, Bobby has clearly worked without stint to get this far. He deserves huge praise for that.
His Couple’s Choice dance alluded to the death of his mother, Big Brother star Jade Goody, at the age of 27, when he was just four years old.
Silhouette images bookended the choreography, set to Kate Bush’s mournful classic This Woman’s Work: a woman handed her baby to a man, before fading away. In the audience, Bobby’s father Jeff choked back tears.
His showdance, a tribute to hit musical film La La Land, also seemed to acknowledge widespread predictions that this young man has a future in Hollywood.
When Ellie was declared the winner, shouts of delight went up right across the country
But the prize shouldn’t automatically go to the celebrity whose backstory is most touching, or who snaffles the most headlines.
Heaven forbid this pinnacle in the Beeb’s annual calendar becomes nothing more than a springboard for politicians to revive their voter base, or for TikTok influencers to churn through another couple of billion online views.
And it must never turn into a professional contest either. This year, the producers skirted dangerously close to that red line by including an accomplished musical performer and trained dancer in the line-up.
Layton, 29, is the original triple threat – actor, singer and able to spin on his toes like a gyroscope. He starred last week in a Christmas special of BBC3’s school sitcom Bad Education, which was practically a full-on West End musical (he has appeared in a couple of those as well: Billy Elliot, playing the lead, and in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie).One disgruntled Daily Mail reader emailed me in the middle of the broadcast to complain that, if Strictly’s amateur dancers are really pros, the competition is in danger of becoming as corrupt as the Olympics… and he has a point.
The judges praised her courage in even attempting the manoeuvre and insisted that, by maintaining her composure and rescuing the situation, she’d shown how much her skills had progressed
With rivals Layton Williams and Bobby Brazier putting in faultless, breathtaking, tear-jerking displays, Ellie’s mistake seemed irredeemable
The reason we all love Strictly was encapsulated not only by Ellie’s triumph but by that wonderful Class of ’23 dance, celebrating a host of favourite moments from this year’s series.
Les Dennis – the first contestant to be voted off – descended from the rafters on a sparkly anchor, Angela Scanlon relived her excellent Charleston, Annabel Croft and the injured Nigel Harman earned well-deserved cheers, and 79-year-old Angela Rippon provoked gasps of disbelief with that leg lift – quite as sensational as the moment on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special half a century ago, when she emerged from behind her newsreader’s desk to perform in a gown split to her hip.
Another irrepressible pensioner, the 77-year-old Cher, swept in to belt out DJ Play A Christmas Song. Strictly must be the only show big and camp enough to treat her as the A-list pop star she is, rather than an extraterrestrial whose spaceship has crash-landed backstage.
Terrific, too, to see dancer Amy Dowden in the professional line-up for the show’s opening number, after missing this series to undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer. As if that wasn’t enough, we had a Eurovision newsflash revealing that Years and Years star Olly Alexander will represent the UK at next year’s song contest: a clear indication that, after the debacle of our last contender, the whingeing Leftie Mae Muller (who tweeted ‘I hate this country’ before applying for a German passport), we’re back in it to win it. This final was a brilliant example of the BBC doing what it does best – bringing the nation together with a magnificent piece of family viewing.
Even judge Craig Revel Horwood, the Dark Lord of the Dance, became quite tearful at the sheer emotion of it all.
Might this have been his farewell appearance? That would explain the quivering lip. If so, he couldn’t go out on a higher note.
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