They’ve been training hard. They’ve filled their social media feeds with pics of sore feet and sweaty brows. They’ve been plucked, buffed, spray-tanned and rolled in glitter. Now we’re about to get our first proper look at the Class of 2023.
Last weekend’s pre-recorded Strictly Come Dancing launch show saw our 15 celebrities matched with their professional partners. Now it’s crunch time for the newly formed couples as the first live show looms. On Saturday night, they’ll take to the ballroom floor for their first full routines, critiqued and marked by the familiar four judges.
Who is in the frame to lift the fabled glitterball trophy? And who will receive the sparkly wooden spoon, suffering the ignominy of the first exit? As pro-turned-judge Anton Du Beke told the hopefuls in last week’s launch show: “It could last three months, it could last three weeks, so enjoy yourself.”
To make our predictions, we’ve crunched the stats, studied Strictly history and rewound last week’s group dance multiple times. As a result, we’ve divided the field into four categories: early departures, mid-series cannon fodder, mercurial wild cards and potential finalists. We’ve even made a bold early forecast as to exactly where they’ll finish. In reverse order, here’s our ranking of the runners and riders…
15. Nikita Kanda and Gorka Márquez
As a self-confessed jump-around-with-arms-aloft raver, the Asian Network DJ looked panicked by getting the waltz for her first dance. She’s arguably the line-up’s least famous member, which won’t help with the public vote. “Gorka the Corker” reached last year’s final with Helen Skelton. This partnership won’t be as popular, echoing his early exits with Tameka Empson, Katie Piper and Katie McGlynn.
14. Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Lauren Oakley
Breaking news: we fear the Channel 4 anchor won’t last long. Guru-Murthy has a heart condition and jokes that he’s “physically decrepit”. His dad-dancing in last week’s curtain-raiser was a worry. A work trip to Taiwan has eaten into his training time. Older men tend not to fare well, with Bill Bailey the only 50-plus male ever to reach the final. Guru-Murthy won’t change that.
13. Jody Cundy and Jowita Przystal
We’re not sure what made the decorated Paralympian look more uncomfortable during the launch show: wearing pink trousers or disco-dancing. Sportsmen often struggle with Strictly’s performance side. Cundy faces the added challenge of a prosthetic right leg. Polish pro Przystal lifted the glitterball with Hamza Yassin in her debut series but could come crashing back down to earth.
12. Les Dennis and Nancy Xu
There’s plenty of goodwill for showbiz survivor Dennis and firecracker pro Xu is a fan favourite. Sadly the “aww” factor will only get him so far. Dennis looked every inch the pensioner during the launch show, admitting: “I’m touching 70. Lifts are going to be a problem.” Our survey says he’ll do well to make the Hallowe’en spooktacular.
11. Adam Thomas and Luba Mushtuk
The Emmerdale actor’s rheumatoid arthritis is causing him pain in training and could curtail the hours he’s able to put in. The fact that Russian pro-Mushtuk has never gone beyond week three is another ominous sign. In the battle of the big three soaps, he’s doomed to defeat by EastEnders’ Bobby Brazier and Coronation Street’s Ellie Leach.
10. Amanda Abbington and Giovanni Pernice
The Sherlock actress looks like a stylish performer and was lucky enough to land three-time runner-up, one-time winner Pernice as her pro partner. However, Abbington was accused of transphobia earlier this year and has become something of a hate figure on social media. This could come back to bite her in the public vote.
9. Ellie Leach and Vito Coppola
The Coronation Street starlet could be good value - see her unguarded reaction when told she was doing a jive in week one: “Oh no, that’s really hard!” In only his second series, Coppola’s teaching skills could be tested. Throw in the fact that Corrie alumni tend not to excel on Strictly (rival soaps EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Emmerdale fare better) and Leach could hop off the sparkly tram at Blackpool.
8. Annabel Croft and Johannes Radebe
The tennis pundit and popular South African pro make an endearing team, with Radebe gently helping the recently widowed Croft dance through her grief. “Team Johannabel” pulled off a spectacular spinning lift in last week’s group dance but was it cunningly covering technical deficiencies? Johannes reached the 2021 final with John Whaite but is otherwise a mid-series merchant.
7. Eddie Kadi and Karen Hauer
The livewire comedian looked the part during the launch show. Kadi plans to represent the British-Congolese community with his costumes and Afrobeat song choices. He’s hyped up his snaky hip action and with Latin specialist Hauer as his teacher, should thrive in the party dances. The question is whether he can control it for the more formal ballroom styles.
6. Angela Rippon and Kai Widdrington
The oldest-ever contestant has serious credentials: she’s ballet-trained, has starred in stage musicals and hosted Come Dancing before it was Strictly-fied. The former newsreader’s Charleston swivel has already wowed the hard-to-please Craig Revel Horwood. In gentlemanly Kai Widdrington, she’s partnered by a ballroom specialist. Latin dances and physical stamina could pose her main challenges. Keep a close eye out for this pair, not least because Rippon is The Telegraph’s Strictly columnist this year, and Telegraph Strictly columnists often make the final (Joe Sugg, Debbie McGee, Jamie Laing, Helen Skelton) or indeed win (Bill Bailey).
5. Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin
A fleeting look at Williams in last week’s group number was enough to impress. He’s a trained West End veteran with musicality in his veins. His first dance, a samba, already promises to be a show-stealer this Saturday. However, a tendency to “Layton-ize” routines might divide the judges. A voter backlash against his prior pedigree could prevent him going all the way to glitterball glory.
4. Zara McDermott and Graziano Di Prima
The former government advisor and Love Island alumna is elegantly leggy, hugely likeable and hails from a family of Strictly devotees, so knows her stuff. If she can conquer her nerves, there’s a ballroom girl waiting to get out. Sicilian pro Di Prima won friends and reached the semi-final with Kym Marsh last year. With another promising partner, he’ll hope to go one better.
3. Nigel Harman and Katya Jones
The actor might be best known for soapy roles in EastEnders and Casualty but he’s an Olivier Award-winning West End stalwart with stage school training. He looked suavely confident in last week’s group dance. His pro partner Jones is a tough taskmaster and former champion. If she could make dancers out of Tony Adams and Ed Balls, imagine what she might do with Harman.
2. Angela Scanlon and Carlos Gu
The Meath-born TV presenter was a professional Irish dancer in her teens. Can she go from Riverdance to rumba? She looks charismatic, rhythmic and reminds viewers of similarly flame-haired 2018 winner Stacey Dooley. Chinese champion Gu finished runner-up with Molly Rainford in his debut series last year. He should get the best out of Scanlon’s plentiful promise.
1. Bobby Brazier and Dianne Buswell
The winner is fiendishly difficult to call, especially at this early stage, but the EastEnders actor is bookies’ favourite and it’s understandable why. This year’s youngest celebrity at 20, he has a fervent fanbase who propelled him to victory at the recent viewer-voted NTAs. He’s got cheeky charm and, as the son of the late Jade Goody, an emotive back-story. Australian pro-Buswell is a great teacher who reached the final (and found a boyfriend) with Joe Sugg five years ago. The signs point towards Brazier taking the second glitterball back to Walford in three years, after Rose Ayling-Ellis triumphed two series ago.
Strictly Come Dancing airs on Saturday at 6.15 pm on BBC One