Why do the Strictly Come Dancing stars find fun such hard work?

“They sound like they’ve spent a week cleaning blast-furnace boilers, not twirling around dance floor for a fat fee”


Would you excuse me for just a moment, I must fling myself onto the nearest chaise longue like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. Why? Because I’ve been working so hard.


Get me a gin and tonic and the finest cashmere blanket, I’m utterly exhausted. In fact, I’m so exhausted I might have to have a little cry.

Honestly, being a television critic, it’s like working on a trawler, but without the cold, hardship, sleeplessness, waves, seasickness, precariously low wages, cod and hourly risk of death. I have to watch TV for a living! I have to write about TV for a living! I have to sit in a room, snarl at interlopers who interrupt the minute workings of my finely tuned mind, watch something and – get this – write about it! I sometimes even have to sit through an episode of Paranoid! You should try it: it’s draining. I am helicoptered home after work, sobbing with exhaustion…

OK, I’ll stop this nonsense now. You’re not fooled. I’m clearly having you on. I have a nice job where I don’t have to go out into the fresh air, I can sit and eat battenburg in an office that’s heated to my specifications ie it’s kept very cold at all times to match the temperature of the ice that runs through my veins. And I get paid for it, enough to keep me in cheap milk chocolate and cubic zirconia earrings.

I might work hard, but I’m sensible enough to know I’m not splitting the atom or performing keyhole surgery. Yet everyone “works so hard” on television, particularly the participants of Strictly Come Dancing. Every week before dances, after dances and in those arch little filmed inserts, we are regaled by how everyone “works so hard” that they sound like they’ve spent a week cleaning blast-furnace boilers, not twirling around dance floor for a fat fee.

This isn’t meant to sound churlish, but come on, get some perspective. You’re doing a fun thing, Strictly people, just for a few weeks. You’re being watched and admired, you’re making new friends and you’re clearly enjoying yourselves. Just look at the walking revelation that is our Strictly columnist Ed Balls, reinventing himself in a series of outré dressing-up clothes.

He’s a lesson to every middle-aged person who’s ever pondered a late career change. Though, Ed, please don’t nearly drop Katya again, don’t hold her as if she’s a folding stepladder that you’re trying to manoeuvre into place to change a smoke alarm battery.

All television talent-show contestants – MasterChef, The X Factor and so on – please go easy on the overstatement. You’re in a showbiz bubble where people you don’t know bring you coffee while real life goes on outside. You might well be challenging yourselves and indeed working hard, but don’t make it into some kind of fetish. You’re not part of a lifeboat crew, you’re not a potash miner or a marine engineer.

I know that it’s now our culture to encourage people to make great claims for themselves, particularly on television where everyone has to be “passionate” about something (and this is usually food, particularly “locally sourced produce”). And everyone is, of course, “on a journey”. (Can I state once again: the only journeys we ever go on are by road, rail, boat or plane.) Everyone, too, must have a flipping “story”. They don’t: the only stories that matter are in books.

We are cosseted and a bit wet in 21st-century Britain, where life for most people is generally comfortable, but banging on about “hard work” while dressed in sequins borders on narcissism.


Strictly Come Dancing continues tonight at 6:55pm on BBC1