Behind the scenes with the Strictly ‘family’ – BBC News
There are three weeks to go until the Strictly Come Dancing final. At the BBC’s Elstree film studios, runners with earpieces are chasing around frantically, herding the contestants between rehearsals, interviews and fittings.
Christmas trees and presents are being unloaded from a van for the show’s festive special and sparkly costumes hang on racks lining the corridors of the set.
There is a buzz about the place – something of that elusive Strictly magic that has made the show such a success – and even the marquee used for guests is adorned with chandeliers.
Just what is it that makes the Strictly experience so special, with the stars likening it to being a family?
Robert Rinder – known to many as Judge Rinder, from his ITV show resolving disputes in a “courtroom” – keeps apologising for gushing about his Strictly experience.
But he can’t help it.
“One of the nicest things about this experience is learning about dance,” he says, explaining his most recent routine with partner Oksana Platero was about his “dare I say it, ‘journey’ on Strictly”.
“When you watch other people going through the experience, you think they’re being disingenuous,” he tells the BBC.
“I heard all these stories but thought – ‘oh please, it’s a dancing competition, come on’. But it’s been everything people said it would be.
“All these ingredients go towards creating this extraordinary experience I have no words for.
“And you form these genuine friendships, for example the one I have with Greg [Rutherford, the Olympic long jumper].”
Rinder may be battling a cold, with vitamins tucked into his pockets, but insists he is not battling any of his Strictly co-stars.
“I’ve heard in other years it has felt like a competition but it’s not been, not for a second,” he explains. “We’ve formed this rather strange community of friends, from all different backgrounds and ages. The alchemy has just worked.
“I cant imagine anyone winning, including Ed [Balls, the former shadow chancellor], that there wasn’t genuine affection for and authentic upset when they leave.”
Asked if his close friend Benedict Cumberbatch would consider taking to the Strictly dance floor in the future, Rinder says no, before adding: “Who knows? You could get a year where you have Cumberbatch, [George] Clooney and [Brad] Pitt. I can see it now.”
‘Proud as punch’
“You’ll do a great job, you always do,” Kevin Clifton tells his partner Louise Redknapp between mouthfuls of dry cereal he is munching from a packet.
They may make it look effortless, but as former Eternal singer Redknapp admits, “you can never realise the hours you have to put in to make it work”.
Despite all that individual hard work, no one is out for themselves on the show, she says.
“We’ve been so lucky – everyone has been great. People read it may think, ‘oh, I’m not buying that’, but it’s true.”
Referring to the psychological thriller set in the ballet world, she says: “There have been no Black Swan moments, with someone trying to destroy somebody – not yet anyway!”
Redknapp says she especially enjoyed being able to bring her two sons to the show.
“The youngest one has never seen me do anything other than being his mum. He was as proud as punch after.”
Strictly will leave ‘huge hole’
BBC presenter Ore Oduba has been known for getting emotional during the show – and cannot stop praising his dance partner Joanne Clifton for the work she has done.
There is genuine closeness between the pair, as they giggle together on a sofa when Clifton shows him a clip of her being accidentally knocked down and falling over during a competition.
“With three weeks to go of the whole show, you really appreciate every minute, every hour of the day,” he says.
“Whether it’s being with Jo, the opportunity to learn the dance, being here at Elstree and the production coming together… You have to take every single second in.
“Anything that you love is going to be stripped away from you, shortly. This week it dawned on me it’s going to be over soon. It’s going to leave a huge hole when it ends.”
He says he has been trying to keep his emotions in check, but it is clear to see what the show means to him.
Oduba says of the moment he was partnered with Clifton: “I was being given a lifelong friend and I didn’t even know it. it’s a chapter of your life you will always remember. So you can’t not become emotional about it.”
Dancing is ‘an honour’
Former Hollyoaks actor Danny Mac, who has wowed the judges and achieved a top score of 40 for two consecutive weeks, says: “The positivity throughout the entire experience for me – and I think everyone on the show – has been just unbelievable.
“Everyone watches wanting to be entertained, wanting people to do well. It’s not about, ‘oh, who’s going to mess up this week’. No one is even watching Ed for that, they want to be entertained. They don’t want to see him making a fool of himself.
“To be part of it is an honour, it really is.”
Mac adds of the show: “Kids, grandparents, aunties, mums and dads – everyone can enjoy it together.
“It’s so nice to walk down the street and have a whole family acknowledge the show.”
His dance partner Oti Mabuse agrees, adding: “The whole production has created such a lovely family feeling – people can see it through the TV. Everybody at home wants to be a part of that family.”
Olympian Claudia Fragapane, the youngest contestant in the series, says: “The whole experience has been amazing.
“I really, really love it – it’s a different feeling to being a gymnast. I wanted to come away as a really good dancer and put all that experience into my floor routine.”
Fragapane says it will be a shock whoever the bottom two are from now on – but that even those who have already left the show still take part in their Whatsapp group.
“On a Saturday morning, we get messages saying, ‘good luck dancers, and non-dancers – keep dancing!’. It’s just so nice all the messages we’ve been getting.”
With that, she and partner AJ Pritchard are whisked off for spray tans and to continue their preparations.
Fragapane says she hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympics and would then consider a return to dance – but for now, for her and her remaining Strictly stars, all they can think about is staying in that Strictly family for one more week.