Strictly Come Dancing: 15 things we learned from the stars of 2021

By Steven McIntosh
Entertainment reporter

Image caption, Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly will launch the new series of Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday

If there's one TV show that viewers across the country have been anxiously looking forward to all year, it is unquestionably the third season of Succession.

Until that arrives, however, we've got the shiny-floor magic of Strictly Come Dancing 2021 to guide us through those chilly winter Saturday nights.

Greta Thunberg will be pleased that Bruno Tonioli isn't planning to make his weekly transatlantic trips to appear on this year's judging panel - he's sitting this series out due to Covid travel restrictions.

Instead, Anton Du Beke is back again, alongside Motsi Mabuse, head judge Shirley Ballas and the gawgeous Craig Revel Horwood, darling.

We've been hearing from this year's celebrity contestants and learned the following 15 things.

1. Dan Walker has been nicknamed "Stricky-Leaks" by the other celebs.

We take our hats off to whoever came up with this outstanding reference to Wikileaks in the contestants' WhatsApp group, after the TV presenter accidentally revealed a closely-guarded secret.

Image caption, BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker and Loose Women panellist Judi Love

"I inadvertently gave away the start date of Strictly Come Dancing on BBC Breakfast, which was a total error," Walker recalls. "The reason I did that was I went to the post office and there are four lovely ladies in there who I always have a good chat to, and they're Strictly obsessed.

"And they'd said, 'Oh we're really looking forward to Strictly starting on 18 September.' So in my head I'm like, 'Oh, everybody knows that's when it starts.' So I talked about it on BBC Breakfast. But they'd just been guessing and I didn't realise it hadn't actually been announced yet."

2. Judi Love really does not Love high heels.

"How am I preparing? Sparkling water baby," says the Loose Women panellist ahead of her dancefloor debut. "And watching a few videos. I'm very conscious of keeping my body moving, a bit of swimming now and then, and just really focusing."

She might be one of this year's most likeable contestants and certainly the one with the most infectious laugh, but Love doesn't fancy her chances when it comes to rocking certain footwear during the series.

"I'm going to keep it 100% real with you, I cannot walk in heels," she says. "I can dance in them on a Friday night with my girls and a couple of glasses of Prosecco, but in a professional capacity? [She raises an eyebrow.] Let's see how that works."

3. Sara Davies's children were disappointed she wasn't an actual Dragon.

Image caption, Actor Greg Wise and Dragons' Den star Sara Davies

The entrepreneur, who joined Dragons' Den in 2019, says she always has to work extra hard if she wants to impress her own children.

"My two boys are four and seven, and I don't quite think they get [Strictly]," Davies explains. "I've shown them a little bit of the show, but when I went on Dragons' Den they were mortally disappointed.

"We had a big party for the launch show and they sat there watching the TV and at the end of it they said, 'Mum you were absolutely rubbish. You don't really look like a dragon do you? And that's not a proper den.'"

(They've got a point to be fair.)

4. Greg Wise has denied Emma Thompson a well-earned holiday.

"I'm the oldest one here, I'm the granddad," notes the actor. "So I've got to try and emulate Mr Bailey from last year, because we're the same age." (Comedian Bill Bailey, then 55, became the oldest winner of Strictly in 2020 alongside his pro partner Oti Mabuse.)

Wise married Dame Emma Thompson in 2003, but his involvement in Strictly has thrown their holiday plans into disarray.

"She's been filming solidly since January, she's made three films back to back," he explains. "We had planned a really nice Autumn, we were actually going to have our first holiday in seven years together. And over the space of a five-minute conversation, the entire Autumn was kicked into the long grass, and here I am, but she's thrilled."

We'd rather express our thrill from the comfort of a beach in Cyprus but good on her for being supportive.

Image caption, Actor Robert Webb and CBBC presenter Rhys Stephenson

5. Rhys Stephenson has a very particular set of skills. Skills that make him a nightmare for people like you.

As a CBBC presenter, Stephenson is seen as quite a cheerful chap, so Strictly will provide the opportunity to show a different side.

"Humour is a big part of me, and I look forward to bringing energy. But I can't wait to scare people, to do something like the paso doble where you've got to be serious," he says.

"I want people to look and go, 'Oh, I didn't know Rhys could do that.' I'll be in the mirror, practising that face. Maybe I'll start doing Liam Neeson's lines from Taken just to get me into the right mode."

When it comes to that glitterball trophy, Stephenson will look for it. He will find it. And he will lift it.

6. Nina Wadia knows how to (quite literally) stay grounded.

This year's contestants have a wide variety of superstitions and pre-performance rituals, but actress Nina Wadia's is easily our favourite.

"I always touch the ground before I start filming or perform. It's just something I've always done. It's to ground yourself and give thanks," she says.

"Obviously [the audience] don't see it because I do it backstage or before I walk on to a set for filming, but that's just something I do, it's just my habit."

Image caption, Actresses Nina Wadia and Rose Ayling-Ellis

7. Robert Webb isn't cool and never has been.

The comedian has previously impressed viewers on Let's Dance For Comic Relief. What made him say yes to Strictly?

"It's partly my age, and it's partly that nearly two years ago I had quite a big-deal health thing," he explains. "I had to have open heart surgery, so since then I think my attitude is basically, this is no time to be cool, sitting at the edges watching the other people do the dancing."

As a matter of fact, Webb says, he and his comedy partner David Mitchell have never been traditionally cool.

"I don't know if it's necessarily obvious because we were in Peep Show, a slightly cool Channel 4 show," he says. "But David and I have always been slightly mainstream in our hearts. I mean, one of the first conversations I had when I met him was how much we liked Morecambe and Wise... Strictly is many things, but cool isn't the first word that springs to mind."

8. Katie McGlynn is relieved there won't be as many murders and tram crashes as there were in Weatherfield.

We love a bit of Corrie but my goodness does it get a bit dramatic sometimes.

"I love doing challenging storylines, but when it's very serious it can drain you and I am normally a positive, fun person," says McGlynn, whose on-screen character on the soap died from cervical cancer in 2019.

"I always try and see the positive side of stuff and try and laugh at stuff instead of getting upset," the actress continues. "So this is my cup of tea all over, I wanna smile, I wanna dance, and hopefully make some lifelong friends along the way."

Image caption, Actress Katie McGlynn and McFly star Tom Fletcher

9. Tom Fletcher considers himself the "king of the dad dance".

But that hasn't stopped him becoming an early bookies' favourite, partly because of his extensive performing experience with McFly.

"I went to theatre school... but that was 25 years ago, and it definitely wasn't ballroom and Latin," he says, playing down the suggestion he has an advantage.

"I kind of avoid all dancing. I'm the last person to get up to dance at a wedding, I'm the person who awkwardly hangs around at the edge."

10. Tilly Ramsay stands a better chance of winning Strictly than her dad.

"I think I'll take criticism pretty well - I mean I do live with one of the harshest critics in my house," notes the TikToker and influencer, referring to her famously foul-mouthed father Gordon Ramsay.

"Dad is very excited for me to be taking part. He's always wanted to learn how to dance, but he's not very good at all. He definitely has two left feet."

The 19-year-old is starting university around the same time she's starting Strictly, but she's more nervous about the dancing "because at least with university I've done a bit of psychology before, whereas with this I'm going in at the deep end".

11. Rose Ayling-Ellis isn't getting great value for money from her gym membership.

Image caption, Rugby player Ugo Monye and influencer Tilly Ramsay

"I tried joining the gym but that wasn't very successful," she admits. "So I went to exercise with my friends, I do yoga, and I started lifting weights just to try and get strength in my arms. I was quite impressed, I picked up 61kg last week!"

Ayling-Ellis, who will be Strictly's first deaf contestant, adds that her acting experience will come in handy for Strictly. "I'm not sexy, so I need to create a character to be able to do the tango," she says.

The EastEnders actress says she is "most nervous about tripping over" (she'll get on well with Judi Love), adding: "I've tried on the heels and they're so wobbly."

12. Ugo Monye will be un-learning all of his rugby training.

The newly-installed Question of Sport team captain sadly won't be allowed to rugby-tackle Craig Revel Horwood to the ground if he gets bad feedback. In fact, he's having to readjust his brain entirely for the surroundings of Strictly.

"In rugby, you're actually built to be stiff and robust. So for example, pointing your toes, you need to have flexible ankles. Whereas I spent 40 years of my career trying to have stiff ankles," says Monye.

"So I guess my immediate challenge is to undo everything I've learned in my rugby career, in the next few weeks. And in ballroom dancing when it's all about poise, grace, shape and form, I think that's going to be a real challenge for me. I'm not the most flexible of lads."

13. Adam Peaty is going to find gravity a bit of an annoyance.

Image caption, Swimmer Adam Peaty is an Olympic gold medallist

Peaty has a similar problem to Monye - and will have to get his body used to a little less breast-stroke, a little more ballroom.

"My swimming skills will probably hinder [my progress], because I'm used to being in the water, I'm not used to being on land, against gravity, but hopefully my hips will be quite fluid," he says.

"I'm constantly getting challenged in the water, I'm used to training and working hard, but I feel like I need to take a bit of time away from swimming because it's been my whole life basically, so for me it's all about the challenge."

14. AJ Odudu's meme game is strong.

The contestants' WhatsApp group is already the stuff of legend, with Walker and Davies having taken the roles of the two parents.

"Sara takes notes in meetings, scans them, makes them into a PDF, and then puts a PDF folder into the WhatsApp group!" confirms presenter AJ Odudu. "This is why she's an absolute boss. I can't wait to spend more time with Sara just in general. I feel like she's really going to sort my life out."

What's Odudu's role in the WhatsApp group? "If Dan and Sara are the mum and dad, I'm the scatty teenager. I'm basically the person who posts memes and funny stuff into the group."

Image caption, TV presenter AJ Odudu and Bake Off winner John Whaite

15. John Whaite won't be bringing Tupperware boxes of fairy cakes to rehearsals.

"I've made a vow not to make any cakes during Strictly, because I can't take the pressure of the other celebs judging my cakes, as well as the judges judging my dancing," says the former Bake Off winner.

Whaite, who now appears on Steph's Packed Lunch, adds: "I'll be fine with the [judges'] criticism, because I see it as learning. Listen, if you can survive Paul Hollywood, you can survive Craig Revel Horwood."

Image caption, We couldn't squeeze this picture in any higher up but here are this year's professional dancers

Strictly Come Dancing begins on Saturday 18 September on BBC One.

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