In the end, it was a relief to get a fun, big-hearted Strictly Come Dancing final, featuring broadcaster Stacey Dooley (paired with Kevin Clifton), Former Steps singer Faye Tozer (partnered with Giovanni Piernice), social media star Joe Sugg (dancing with Dianne Buswell), and former Pussycat Doll Ashley Roberts (teamed with Pasha Kovalev).
At times, this has been something of an awkward, snitty, moany Strictly series. There was the “kiss scandal” involving comedian Seann Walsh and Katya Jones. Bullying allegations swirling around Danny John-Jules and partner Amy Dowden. And the usual non-stop griping about contestants with “previous dance experience”, this year directed at Roberts, which seemed a little unfair (the song wasn’t called Don’t Cha Wish Your Girlfriend Could Charleston Like Me?).
Even as the final dawned, Dooley was being labelled a diva, and there were rumours that Sugg’s over-zealous fans were rigging the vote from overseas. Crikey. As the show began, the group performance featuring all the previous contestants was in danger of coming across less like a lovely reunion, and more like someone unlocking the cell-doors of the Strictly sin bin – or a light entertainment (petty) Crimewatch.
Tess Daly (style on the night: Elsa from Frozen channelling Anthea Redfern), and Claudia Winkelman (friendly Death Eater) were our able and charming co-hosts. Then there were the judges, Craig Revel Horwood, Shirley Ballas, Darcy Bussell and Bruno Tonioli, all of whom wriggled and frugged over to their seats, unwittingly encapsulating that much-feared corner of the old-style showbiz vortex where “Give ’em the old razzle-dazzle” meets Hi-De-Hi.
Getting back to the final, one of the exciting features was that no one was quite sure who’d win. The glitterball trophy was absolutely up for grabs as the couples embarked on three dances – the judges’ pick, a no-rules show dance, and their own favourite dance from the series. Roberts and Kovalev produced such a dangerously hot salsa they risked chafing their internal organs, a barefooted show dance that thematically erred a bit too close to “Drunk Enya”, and a fun Charleston.
Dooley and Clifton performed a perky foxtrot, a show dance so exuberant that it almost ended both their lives (Clifton repeatedly hurling Dooley between his legs), and a beyond-dramatic (darling!) paso doble.
Tozer and Piernice performed a gorgeous Viennese waltz, a Fred and Ginger show dance, and then did their stunning experimental couple’s dance (if Tozer doesn’t get cast in Chicago after this, West End casting directors should eat her leotard). Sugg and Buswell performed a passionate paso doble, a “Rocky Horror Show/Marshall amps” show dance (reminding everyone how he had the “yoof” vote), and then another crowd-pleasing Charleston.
Even at this stage, it seemed too close to call, as Michael Bublé performed a quick croon-a-thon, and all the contestants from the series blubbed about their amazing Strictly – even contestants such as plucky Susannah Constantine and Blue’s Lee Ryan, who’d been voted off so fast, they’d barely had time to form blisters, never mind lasting memories.
Then there was the aforementioned group performance – always a guilty pleasure as you see the (ahem) “less able” celebrity dancers hidden as much as possible behind moving scenery. As always, this dance was at once glorious and life-affirming, while also chillingly reminiscent of the last 10 minutes of a very tiring wedding in the second-best function room of a mid-market Holiday Inn.
After this, the result was announced – a win for the intrepid, gutsy, talented (and totally amateur) Dooley and Clifton – the latter shouting “It’s a Christmas miracle!” as they hoisted the trophy. And, in so many ways it was – not least, that, considering the rest of the series, no one punched anyone else.