Strictly Come Dancing, like every reality show, is not made up of whoever happened to be available. You don’t get on it by being around and being good.
You get cast in the show exactly the way you would in a drama: the producers are looking for what makes the entire series work, not just your part in it. So every year we get certain types of celebrities to fit certain roles and appeal to certain people.
Type 1: Sportsmen
These are almost always men who you would expect are far too hard and far too manly to ever even watch Strictly Come Dancing. They’re the ones who baulk at wearing the spray tan, are uncomfortable showing skin and aren’t sure why they should have their hair touched. One of this year’s contenders, Robbie Savage, is unusual in that he looks permanently tanned and he’s already known for his hair, but he has said he’s only doing this show for his mum.
Sportsmen like him invariably have 10 per cent teasing and 90 per cent unexpected support from their sports colleagues.
These are the contestants designed to get men watching the show along with their partners – or at least to stop them grumping when they’d rather be watching The X Factor. Sportsmen are very good for Strictly because they are also chosen to appeal to women.
There’s usually at least one sportswoman, too, and they are the ones who get tipped to succeed for their athleticism. Unusually, this year the nearest is Nancy Dell’Olio who, while she has no sport background per se, brings a certain sports audience for her relationship with Sven-Goran Eriksson.
This year: Audley Harrison
Previous examples: Austin Healey, Peter Shilton
Type 2: Ingénue
The youngest person is always a woman and whenever the show can manage to pull it off, they are also “the youngest contestant in Strictly history.”
Invariably they have a soap background but not a great one: they’ll be well known but quite new to their soap and Strictly counts on them being endearingly nervy and scared. As scared as any of us would be: the ingénue gets us on her side through empathy, which also lets us pretend we’re rooting for her and her journey, and are not just, cough, um, aware of how she looks.
This year: Chelsee Healey
Previous examples: Louisa Lytton, Tina O’Brien, Kara Tointon
Type 3: The good sport
Their career may or may not have been very visible lately but they are definitely among the oldest in each year’s group and, again, if the show can pull it off, “the oldest celebrity in Strictly history!” They’re guaranteed to be 60 or more, almost always overweight (at least compared to the ingénue type) and if you don’t already expect them to be rubbish for some reason, you are subtly nudged toward that impression.
Then they either unexpectedly shine or they prove to be dreadful, giving us that I-knew-it feeling and also letting us see whether they’re good or bad losers.
This is the one type of celebrity who doesn’t actually have to dance. They also tend to stay in the show purely through popular vote, consequently getting Craig Revel Horwood’s back up.
This year: Russell Grant (though odds are he’ll surprise us), Edwina Currie
Previous examples: Ann Widdecombe, John Sergeant
Type 4: BBC personality
Bring that BBC1 audience to the table. A bit of cross-promotion never hurts: this year Alex Jones is bringing The One Show audience with her and you can be sure her own series will get a boost from Strictly. At the very least, you’ll tune in to see if she’s coping with doing two jobs.
This year: Alex Jones
Previous examples: Matt Baker, Gethin Jones
Type 5: ITV personality
For preference, a breakfast TV presenter, though that’s understandably a limited pool. But Strictly has had great success with GMTV presenters being deliciously appalling and now gets to start over with the new Daybreak and see how they are. Just as with the BBC personality, this type is designed to bring a new audience to BBC1 Saturday evenings.
This year: Dan Lobb
Previous examples: Fiona Phillips, Andrew Castle
Type 6: The soaps
Soaps and sports are usually over-represented because they each give such good value to Strictly. For soaps you have the ingénue but then also at least one old hand. Maybe they’ve actually been out of their soap for a long time but regardless of how their career has been going since, they are still best known for Corrie or EastEnders. Other soaps are available.
This year: Anita Dobson
Previously: Gillian Taylforth, Letitia Dean
Type 7: The bound-to-win type – or are they?
Every year, there is at least one celebrity who you are immediately and totally sure is going to win. Before the series properly starts, there will be expectation and speculation that they have an unfair advantage. Then when the show starts, every effort will be made to show you that, in some way, they really do not. Yes, they’ve been in a girl/boy band known for their dance moves but that’s not ballroom and don’t you forget it. Yes, they’ve been in musicals but do you know that they’ve never had dance training in their lives?
This year: Jason Donovan and Holly Valance
Previously: Kelly Brook, Alesha Dixon