After the hype and training, we’re all very relieved to have the first dances out of the way. Nothing quite prepared us for the nerves of that opening weekend. No matter what the contestants had done to earn their fame – Premier League football, West End musicals, primetime soap opera, live television presenting, dating Sven-Goran Eriksson – everyone feels the nerves. Alex felt so ill we decided the show should be renamed “Sickly Come Dancing”.
So much of the performance is about how you cope with nerves and keep your concentration. In the dress rehearsal I had no energy in my legs. Audley told me it’s about mental strength. Anton talked of embracing the fear – something you’ll never experience anywhere else. I told myself to absorb the warmth and goodwill of the audience and make my family proud.
Standing in front of the judges is surreal. Their faces are as familiar as the Muppets or Mount Rushmore, but this time they’re talking to you. Thanks to Erin’s coaching, they were kind. The advice is wise, and Len’s quite avuncular. You know you can put any grumpiness down to having just spent 14 hours on a plane with Bruno.
As with all good parties, no one wants to be the first to leave. This year, it’s very open, and popularity with the public carries equal weight. While, for example, Russell may not convince with his technical skill, the public may reward his full- hearted enthusiasm with their votes.
Early memories: the two Queens of Strictly, Anita and Russell, clutching each other and weeping with laughter as Edwina flashed her knickers; the fierce intensity of Jason and Kristina; Anton and Nancy grappling with a feather boa.
My favourite? Catching a glimpse of Audley, a huge mountain of a man, dressed in white tie and tails and lost in a world of his own as he practised his waltz in the corridor outside his dressing room. Shadow-dancing, you could call it. It was beautiful; one of the many moments that go to make up this extraordinary show.