Thursday, 23 December 2010

See Pamela and James' Argentine Tango

Even though the series has ended, still those nice people in the BBC Strictly Office are giving us some little presents to make us happy.

All Pamela and James fans were as dismayed that we didn't get to see their Argentine Tango as they were that they didn't get to perform it during the Final on Saturday night. Here it is, though, as they recorded it in training.

Even though they're in a gymnasium, with a crew of at least 3, this is one smokin' hot dance. Can you just imagine how it would have been with them in full hair and make up and costume and atmospheric lighting. It would have been better if they'd put up their dress rehearsal, but then our laptops might have spontaneously combusted.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Pamela writes about her Strictly experience and her crush on James

As her beautiful showdance told us all, Pamela had the time of her life on Strictly.

She wrote about the final, her regret at not getting to do her Argentine Tango (I feel her pain, really),  her crush on James and how they and their spouses handled it with honesty and humour in her Guardian column. Enjoy.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Strictly Finalists 2010; Pamela Stephenson and James Jordan

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, this is the last of my profiles of each of our deserving finalists, with a look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Kara's is here, and Matt's is here

Pre-Strictly Life

The first I ever heard of Pamela Stephenson was actually some time in the 70s as the wife of Nicholas Ball, the guy who played Hazell, the Cockney Private Detective who was the Minder of his day, I suppose. I can't really remember much except I thought he was quite good looking. 

It wasn't until Not the Nine O'Clock News started that I really got to like Pamela. That show was my first real introduction to irreverent political and satirical humour. It felt very grown up and very wicked to be watching it. I really can't resist the opportunity to show a bit. In the making of this profile, much time was wasted watching great moments such as these. Here's Pamela in one of their fabulous parody songs, I believe:

It was during this programme that she met Billy Connolly. This man has been making me laugh since I was a tot. There was not one single long car journey that didn't feature the car cartridge gadget thingy playing one of his shows. He's hilarious.  The two of them seemed exceptionally well suited and that's been borne out by the longevity of their relationship. 

Pamela has also stood for election to Parliament, in 1987, for Windsor and Maidenhead, for the Stuff Blancmange down Terry Wogan's Trousers Party. Not something I'd ever want to waste a moment doing, but it takes all sorts. The proof comes courtesy of Mr Derek Payne, on Twitter, who very kindly responded to my plea for definitive evidence of this result. 

If you're going to be a successful comedian, you have to have an interest in and understanding of human nature. It made a lot of sense then, that Pamela has been a respected psychotherpaist for the last 16 years. She specialises in sexuality and has done research as well as had a private practice. 

As well as that, she wrote a super and frank biography of Billy Connolly, not an easy thing to do when you are so close to the subject.

That's not to say she's just spent the last 16 years sitting behind a desk. She decided to take a year to go sailing in the South Pacific. With that sort of adventurous spirit, it's not surprising that she's done so well on Strictly. She doesn't do anything by half measures, embracing every challenge put to her. 

Strictly Partner

It's been quite a job to learn to love James Jordan. After his treatment of Georgina Bouzova in 2006, which verged on the bullying, I absolutely loathed him. He reminded me of some training footage of ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean in which he absolutely ripped her to shreds and made me wonder why on earth she'd put up for him for so long. It was literally years before I could even look at him again after I saw that.

It took me a while to find his redeeming features - and there are plenty. He is a fabulous dancer and an inventive, intuitive choreographer who is capable of really suiting routines to the people dancing. His Rumba to Songbird, with Cherie Lunghi was utterly beautiful and tasteful when I suspect someone else (that'd be you, Mr Cole), could make it look brash and inappropriate. He is very funny, as his testosterone fuelled Twitter Banter with Brendan often shows. 

He looked to be on course for victory with Gabby Logan in 2007, but while they were technically good, the public didn't warm to them because they made no secret of their desire to win. We British are strange - we're quite happy to encourage ambition, as long as we don't, at any time, show that we want success. Had they had any other dance than the Samba, always a difficult one to impress with, I suspect that they would have beaten Penny Lancaster in the dance off.

It was the Samba that saw him off last year too, in week 7, with Zoe Lucker. 

By a little bit of luck, or producer sleight of hand, do you want to take a guess at which dance he and Pamela haven't done?

His wife Ola won last year with Chris Hollins, so will he be able to take home another glitterball to even up the mantlepiece tonight?

Strictly Story

Every so often, the producers put a couple together who have an absolutely magical partnership, bringing out the best in each other. Bill Turnbull and Karen Hardy were one example. Chris Hollins and Ola Jordan were another. 

Pamela and James are another great match. Pamela has enough life experience, poise and balls not to take any of James' nonsense. They are two very strong personalities and it could have gone very badly wrong, but Pamela has really got James laughing and toning down his harsh competitive edge while he has appreciated the talent he's been given and taught her extremely well, giving her choreography that shows her at her best. He's appreciated that he has a partner who, despite being past her Diamond Jubilee, will try any challenge given to her and has an inner grace and radiance that is beautiful to watch.

It may be that with her psychological knowledge, she's ensured that she and James have been playing the audience like a fiddle, manipulating us into loving them. But even if that's the case, I don't care. I still love them regardless and could watch them dance all day. And train. And laugh. And talk to Claudia on ITT.

Pamela had a wee trip on her first journey down the famous Strictly stairs, which didn't bode well. Her waltz in week was one of  the most beautiful, elegant dances we'd seen. The judges raved about her arm placement, which gave me some confidence as that's what I'd been saying too. The question after week one was could she do Latin?  She came out the next week in a scarlet dress and showed that she could deliver an amazing Salsa. The fact that she stumbled, and while she seemed to be on her way to hit the deck, gave a radiant smile and a shimmy before she righted herself and carried on with the dance earned her many fans. "Don't throw Granny on the floor" she said afterwards. And then on It Takes Two the next week, she literally spent five minutes giggling about it with Claudia. I think that moment showed her spirit and even then set her on track to the final.

We knew that she had public support from the unfortunate incident on Hallowe'en. Ok, so she lost her place a couple of times in the Jive, but she actually jived down the stairs. The judges undermarked her, giving her only 27 when she desrved much more leaving her in a perilous bottom of mid table position. She made it through and that was her only real wobble and her only sub 30 score..

She always manages to capture the spirit of the dance and has used her acting skills and comic timing to great effect in her Tango, her cheeky Charleston and 40-scoring magical, ethereal Viennese Waltz to Unchained Melody. Last week she excelled with a dramatic Paso to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance but scored another perfect 40 for a complicated Quickstep which involved a routine with canes at the beginning, a costume change in the middle and a spot of tap dancing on her own.

Pamela's the finalist who's had the most improvement, who's surprised us the most and whose radiance has grown with every dance she's done.  In an age obsessed with youth, she's struck a blow back for women with a certain age.

The Dances

First Dance - a beautiful waltz

Best Dances perfection for their Viennese Waltz and Quickstep

My Favourite

It has to be the Charleston. Of course it plays to her comedic strength, but look at how intensely difficult this choreography is. And it shows the depth of trust between them. Those lifts are dangerous. She had to pick him up, then end up a split second later upside down doing a tumble off his back. That takes guts. And to portray the cheeky, slapstick spirit of the dance while you're doing it is remarkable.

I suspect her showdance will have Hollywood panache, elegance and glamour, with a splash of comedy and some outrageous tricks. She's the one I'll be voting for as soon as the lines open tonight and I hope that the whole country will vote for a brave, spirited, funny woman who brings beauty and grace to the dance floor.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Strictly Finalists 2010: Matt Baker and Aliona Vilani

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, this is the second of my profiles of each of our deserving finalists, look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Kara's is here and Pamela's is here.

Pre-Strictly Life

Matt Baker is another Blue Peter boy made good. Like Simon Groom, who was one of my Blue Peter presenters, he was raised on a farm - but unlike Simon, he is also a accomplished acrobat and gymnast. He wanted to be a physiotherapist, but ended up presenting Blue Peter for seven years instead. Since leaving Blue Peter in 2006, he's been doing various presenting jobs, most notably The One Show and Countryfile. He's also commentated on gymnastics and participated in a previous reality series, Only Fools on Horses, for Comic Relief which was ultimately won by Jenni Falconer. He's also been on tour in a dance show before, Disco Inferno. 

So, coming into Strictly, we knew that he had a cheeky chappie side to him, he was incredibly fit and agile, and game for anything. All of these indicate huge potential to do well on the show and he has wowed us with tricks and acrobatic feats never seen before on the show, but which were there to enhance his already natural ability to dance. He's back-flipped off the Judge's desk and ridden a unicycle, for goodness sake. Sometimes the dancing hasn't been as polished as it could have been, but when you consider that he had a full work schedule as well, what he did achieve was spectacular.  He has thrown himself in to everything he's been asked to do despite the exhaustion.

Strictly Partner

We didn't learn much about Russian Aliona Vilani last year as she was out very early on after her partner Rav Wilding in the third week. I have to say that I didn't take to her at all. She seemed quite sulky and petulant with few saving graces. This year, it's been very different. She can sometimes be quite fierce and sulky, but anyone who is as obsessed with custard as she is has to have a lot of good in them. She is also very funny and quirky. Her hair is the most garishly unashamed shade of red I have ever seen - although she seems to have put some softer highlights in it for the final. It clashed with everything except her Austin Powers dress. Her inventive choreography has sometimes brought trouble and their marks generally haven't reflected how good their routines are.

Strictly Story

Matt's first move on Strictly was a double cartwheel. I don't know if he's the first ever to do that while wearing a tartan tank top but the evidence exists, so he could end up in the Guinness Book of Records. He could have been mistaken for a professional in that first dance - and he even beat Kara that week by one point. He threw down the gauntlet in style.

He has always been up there at the top of the leaderboard, but the judges' marks haven't always reflected the excellence of their performance. I think that maybe they didn't appreciate Aliona's choregraphy. Their American Smooth was a case in point. Aliona had captured all the drama of the song. It was very untypical to see a man do the Smooth without a suit on. 

I said at the time that whoever thought of doing an Argentine Tango to Bat out of Hell should be shot at dawn. Despite that mismatch, they did really well and deserved their 34. 

They have established themselves as the couple with the quirkiest choreography and spectacular acrobatics and were dead certs for the final from the very first show.

The Dances

First Dance

That show-stopping cha cha cha

Best Dance

There are two of these, a carefree, bouncy, Samba from Blackpool and a dramatic, edgy Tango from the semi-final. It was strange that Matt managed to achieve his highest and lowest scores in the space of 24 hours in week 11 of the show. His Salsa was uncharacteristically as insipid as the costumes he and Aliona wore on the Friday, but he came out and nailed his Tango on the Saturday.

First though, that spirited Samba, in which he demonstrated beyond any doubt that he knew where his hips were and what they were for. They also really captured the essence of  young hearts, running free. And getting a ten for a Samba takes some doing.

And the Tango, to Hung Up, one of my favourite songs.

My Favourite

I have hummed and hawed over my favourite dance. Charleston or Jive, Jive or Charleston. At one point I thought of copping out completely and putting up both. But, because Matt nailed his character so well, and he was so brave in doing the backflip off the Judge's desk on live tv, it has to be Austin Powers. There was next to no Jive content. And they'd spent half the week in the Outer Hebrides - the first week of the snow, too. It was just perfect for the theme and I loved it.

Matt has to start tomorrow night as the favourite - he's a boy, and it's women who vote, and he has charm, pizazz and lots of tricks at his disposal. Their showdance will be acrobatic and fast. He'll have all our hearts racing. 

Download X Factor Gamu's Charity Single for Aberlour Child Care Trust

I hope you don't mind a bit of an X Factor crossover. I like the way Strictly and the X Factor have not clashed so that it's easy to just sit down with your glass of wine and watch them both on a Saturday night. So, many of you will remember the lovely Gamu Nhengu, who lives in Clackmannanshire. She got through to the Judges' Houses stage and everybody seemed to love her. Unfortunately, Cheryl didn't pick her.

She has recorded a charity single, Where will you sleep this Christmas?, in aid of the charity Aberlour Child Care Trust which helps vulnerable children across Scotland.

Please take some time out of your day today to download this song. As a mum, I find it searingly poignant.  Christmas is about helping people and the fantastic folk at Aberlour will make good use of the money it raises. Have a look here at some of the things they do right across Scotland.

The Strictly Finalists 2010: Kara Tointon and Artem Chigvintsev

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, I thought I'd do a profile of each of our deserving finalists, look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Matt's is here and Pamela's is here.

Pre Strictly Life

Kara's been acting since she was a child, playing Brigitta, one of the Von Trapp children, in a production of the Sound of Music,then roles in various team dramas like Dream Team, before playing Dawn in EastEnders for four years. After leaving the show last year, she became the face of Michelle for George underwear at ASDA.

She also has Dyslexia and filmed a documentary about it, called Don't Call me Stupid earlier this year.

Strictly Partner

Russian Artem Chigvintsev made it to the final of So You Think You Can Dance in the US and has been dancing all over the world since he was 15. My friend Elspeth will be particularly interested to know that he was once in the OC - being seduced by an older woman. I think I want to borrow that episode.

He can be quite fierce and exacting and has pushed Kara way beyond her comfort zone. He's given her very complicated choreography from Day One. She's had to master lifts and drops and props and all sorts. Doing the Argentine Tango with a hatstand takes some skill.

If the tabloids are right, though, his ferocity doesn't seem to have put her off him as there is all sorts of speculation in the tabloids about their off screen relationship. I have to say, though, it must make it a lot more difficult in some ways if a Strictly couple are getting it on for all sorts of reasons.

Strictly Story

Kara and Artem don't know what it's like to get a Strictly score of less than 30. They have been that good, from the beginning. They did get away with murder, though, in the lifts department as, until Len laid the law down about half way through the series, all their dances contained some sort of lift. They've also played fast and loose with the format of some of the dances, much to Len's dismay. If their adherence to the rules has not been total, their performances have always been excellent. Their American Smooth caused the biggest division of the judges all season, with a grumpy Len only giving it a 6 while Bruno and Alesha gave them 10. They are taking a risk by doing it again in the final, especially after poor Artem was injured during rehearsals for it. My view is that so what if they were only in hold for a few seconds - it was fabulous.

It looked for a while as if Kara might go the way of people like Emma Bunton and Lisa Snowden who were always panned for being technically good but not giving enough emotionally to their dancing. I wonder if that had more to do with the fact that she had to spend so much time mastering the incredibly difficult choreography Artem gave her. He will squeeze every tiny nuance out of every single phrase in the music. Maybe that intensity was hard to get to grips with at first.

It wasn't until her Paso Doble, danced to the Phantom of the Opera, in week 5, that her performances really started to join head and heart. That was strong, passionate and dramatic and she looked Artem's tempestuous equal on the floor.

I am, frankly, very annoyed that her semi-final performances of Viennese Waltz and Rumba didn't get 40. The Rumba certainly deserved it and Craig really needs to be slapped about the head for that. The Rumba is a hellish dance to master - although it may have been easier if the speculation about their relationship is true. The routine was technically very complicated but still captured the emotional frisson of the dance.

Kara is incredibly graceful and she manages to produce beautiful, fluid, elegant lines. She has this great awareness of what each part of her body is doing - but makes it look effortless. She's also really gone for it in the costume department - really flaunted everything she has, but in a very tasteful way. From the vampish cha cha outfit, to the tinsel two piece she wore for her Charleston, she's looked fabulous.

The Dances

First - Cha Cha Cha Dominatrix style with wardrobe malfunction and fantastic recovery

Best - there are two here, so I might as well put them both up. First a graceful Viennese Waltz, secondly probably the best Rumba on Strictly ever. Up there with Rachel Stevens.

Now, my favourite. I have found it really hard to choose between their Paso, Charleston, Tango and Argentine Tango. I've had to watch them all again several times. In the end, though, the Tango wins. I mean, a hatstand is one thing, but overbalancing a chair and then continuing, seemlessly, a complicated routine is quite another.I also think it shows how everything combines to make a fabulous performance. It's not always about the dancing - the props, dress, make up, acting and music all mix together to give an outstandingly intense performance. It made me think the unthinkable - that it might be better than Zoe and Ian's from five years ago.

Kara is one of the best dancers ever on Strictly and I'm looking forward to seeing their showdance tomorrow. It will no doubt be full of drama and deep intensity.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Strictly Separation Anxiety has started already

I can't believe that we are just two days away from the Strictly Final already. This must have been the fastest series ever.

Every year about this time, I get Separation Anxiety. Claudia Winkleman has been on my tv every day except Saturday since the middle of September and the thought of not seeing her makes me feel a bit sick. How will I cope without her batty hilariousness for a whole nine months?

At least we still have Film 2011 to look forward to. I know that re.l film buffs were less than happy with her appointment. However, I never bothered with the programme before - it was on way too late and an hour of Jonathan Ross in any given week was more than enough.  I now have it on series link on the Infernal Wickedness of Sky Plus and I thoroughly enjoy it

Jennie felt that Claudia's knowledge wasn't as broad or as deep as she wanted but maybe those are the very reasons she appeals to my trashy shallowness. My knowledge of film isn't great & nor really is my interest, but I feel like she's dragging me along on a great adventure & making me want to learn more. That surely has to be a good thing. You have to follow her on Twitter to get the maximum effect, though. She went off to see Burleseque at about 8am the other day. That just didn't seem right, somehow. It's the sort of film you'd watch after several cocktails, I feel.

This last week of Strictly is always hard - things like coming to the end of Vincent's Strictly alphabet, or Len's last dance class, or the closing stages of the pro challenge. I still think we should have an ITT on the Monday after the final and around the Christmas Special. Maybe next year.

I am so looking forward to the Final. The right three made it, much as it pained me to lose Scott Maslen. I actually prefer him and the partnership he has with Natalie to Matt and Aliona, but the latter pair have been more consistent.

Do you experience Strictly or Claudia Separation Anxiety and how do you deal with it? I always save a selection of the classic ITTs to watch later so I don't have to go completely Cold Turkey. Ann and Anton and Pamela and James have provided most of my must see again moments. Pamela discussing her Salsa stumble has to be one of the funniest tv moments of the year. Here it is again, just for fun.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Ann to dance with Craig on Strictly Tour

When I say Craig, I'd better make it clear that it's not Daniel Craig, I'm talking about, or Wendy Craig, even. Nor Craig Charles, nor Craig David.

In one of the biggest twists in Strictly history, Ann Widdecombe will be doing a special dance with the man whose been cruellest about her weekly performances, judge Craig Revel Horwood. I'm impressed that Craig has put his professional reputation as a choreographer on the line because he'll have his work cut out to do a better job than the genius of Anton Du Beke. Who can forget Ann flying in to dance her Tango, or her finger waving Salsa, or the hilarious Titanic themed Rumba?

I also wonder how the dynamic between Ann and Craig will be. They have a very feisty banter on the show, and that will probably transfer over into their routine. She and Anton have a hilarious relationship, but there are times when she's dancing with him that she looks at him with an almost childlike faith and trust. Will Craig get as much out of her as Anton does, or will he get upset if she refuses point blank to do certain things?

Craig is stretching himself this year - as a judge, director and performer in the show. I'd decided to give the tour a miss on financial grounds this year but now that Ann's going to be there, I kind of think that eating can wait that week. With Patsy, Pamela, Matt and Jimi, also appearing, it'll be well worth seeing.

Erin Boag against the machine

If you've been watching It Takes Two, you may have seen Erin Boag giving the Midweek Report the last couple of weeks, with the wonderful machine which makes Claudia feel nauseous and scares the life out of Ian Waite.

Erin, though, has no such fear. Her mastery of the technology is complete. She can make it do things nobody else can and talk quite happily while she's doing it. This may be very wrong, but I kind of had a mental image of her showing her Christmas Special partner Vince Cable some detailed feedback on his performance, drawing for him what he should be doing with the various bits of his body.

Joking aside, though,  this gizmo must be an incredible teaching tool.

In Erin's hands, it's her that's scary, not the machine. She is a genius.

Here's this week's in case you missed it. Enjoy.