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What will the Strictly 2021 judging panel look like?

Will Bruno come back?

Strictly judges
Published: Thursday, 25th March 2021 at 9:20 am

BBC's Strictly Come Dancing has always been popular, but last year it won brand new plaudits for providing a port in a storm - a sprinkle of much needed razzle dazzle when the days felt very dark indeed.


The BBC has now confirmed this year's series (surely one of the easiest recommissions in history?) and announced the Strictly Come Dancing 2021 professionals, getting us all excited about a brand new batch of celebs learning to Argentine tango. Hopes are high that the show can be a little more ambitious this autumn, after scaling right back and bringing in COVID restrictions last series.

Perhaps the audience will come back, maybe the Blackpool special will be on the cards again, and who knows, the Clauditorium may even recreate its bustling, overcrowded heyday. But the big question on our minds is what will happen to the all-important judging panel if life isn't quite back to normal by the autumn?

Strictly is well-known for it's entertaining and knowledgeable judges, who are able to give detailed technical feedback rather than leaning on endless empty phrases like, "You smashed it!". Three quarters of the panel looks set to stay the same. Craig Revel Horwood is as traditional as the dancers' spray tans and he must never be allowed to leave. Seriously, we'll cry if he does. Motsi Mabuse has breathed effervescent new life into the series and Shirley Ballas is a worthy successor to Len Goodman as head judge. But what about Bruno?

At one point, a series without Mr Tonioli's flailing arms and jack-in-the-box judging seemed impossible. But with travel restrictions in full force last year, Bruno had to make a choice between staying in LA for the American version of the show, Dancing with the Stars, or moving to England for a few months to appear on the UK series. Unsurprisingly he chose Hollywood over Elstree, Zooming in to give a few comments about the British performances each week.

Alas, in a series that was so very brilliant in all sorts of ways, this was one part that just didn't work. Bruno, who we know to be exuberant, passionate and energetic, seemed a bit flat. Maybe someone had fed him the lines to say, or perhaps watching the dances on video rather than in the studio didn't inspire the same vigorous responses from him. But just as we are exhausted from Zoom calls in real life, it didn't seem to add much to the show to include them on TV.

Bruno Tonioli
Bruno Tonioli Getty

Dancer Anton Du Beke joined the panel for a couple of episodes when Motsi had to self-isolate. Many believed it was a natural progression for the Strictly pro, who has been with the series since the beginning, and thought he might get the gig permanently in 2021. But Anton has now been announced as part of the professional dancing line-up, so there'll be no comfy seat and notebook for him this year.

Will Bruno come back? He could do. But if one thing is proving a stumbling block on the road back to normality right now it's international travel. This could leave Bruno with the same choice as last year, and there's no reason to think he wouldn't opt for the American series again. It seems unlikely we'll be any more enamoured with the idea of a Zoom judge by the autumn either.

So could we be about to meet a brand new judge? Very possibly. Perhaps Darcey Bussell could be persuaded out of Strictly retirement for one series only? Or perhaps it's time for someone totally new to join the programme, who could eventually become as iconic as Bruno? Maybe Bruno will decide he missed us all too much, or that his bromance with Craig is too good to lose, but something tells us we might see a bit of a shake-up this year.

We'll bring you any announcements as soon as they come...


Strictly Come Dancing returns to BBC One this autumn. Stay up to date with all the latest Entertainment news with our dedicated hub, or to find out what's on telly tonight, check out our TV guide.


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