THE Strictly Come Dancing professionals give their verdict on this year’s celebrity line-up, reveal who’s one to watch and gush about hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman
It’s time to dust off your dance shoes, flex those twinkle toes and perfect your Paso Doble – Strictly Come Dancing is back!
The much-loved BBC1 show launches this Sunday and promises to be jam-packed with more razzle dazzle than ever.
We caught up with professional dancers Kevin Clifton and Karen Hauer as they kicked off the first day of rehearsals at Elstree Studios in London.
And the pair can’t seem to contain their excitement for the show’s return.
“We’ve just met the celebrities. They’re a really talented bunch and a nice group of people,” Kevin told us.
“Yeah, definitely,” adds Karen. “Everyone has such great energy and positivity. It’s a great line up. We’re really excited about the whole show.”
Celebrities battling it out for the glitter ball trophy this year include: Masterchef star Gregg Wallace, radio DJ Scott Mills, pop princess Pixie Lott, Eastenders actor Jake Wood, rugby player Thom Evans and tennis coach Judy Murray.
Kevin and Karen say they’ve never met any of the stars before and are keeping coy about who they’ve instantly bonded with.
“All of them actually. I sort of don’t want to say that I really bonded with someone and then not get paired with them!” laughs Kevin.
“That’d probably be a bit awkward for whoever I was partnered up with.”
Singer Pixie Lott is already the bookies favourite to win the show, however Kevin, 31, thinks it’s far too early to call.
“It’s difficult to know until they’re paired with a professional. I think Pixie will be good but I think it’s going to be an open year. The favourites will probably change week to week.”
Alongside Pixie, there’s a host of young faces such as The Saturdays’ stunner Frankie Bridge, TV presenter Caroline Flack, radio DJ Mark Wright and former Blue hunk Simon Webbe.
Critics have said the show has brought in younger faces to compete with its ITV rival The X Factor, however Kevin thinks this is only a good thing.
“I noticed that as well. I don’t know why they’ve done it but there’s a lot of eye candy this year,” he jokes. “Especially for the ladies!”
Karen, 32, says that even though some of the youngsters are in pop bands and may have had some dance training, they don’t have an unfair advantage.
“Ballroom is a completely different ball game. Learning the techniques, connecting with a dance partner… it’s on a different level,” she said.
“I think that having a little bit of stage presence does help but when it comes to ballroom dancing you have to be in gear and be ready for anything.
“You’re on camera in front of 15 million people dancing a tango, who knows what can happen.”
Last year Venezuelan-born Karen made it to week seven with Hairy Biker chef Dave Myers, while Kevin made it all the way to the final with his newsreader partner Susanna Reid.
Kevin, who earned the nickname ‘Kevin from Grimsby’ as a nod to his hometown in the last series, says he’d love to go all the way this year but doesn’t want to get his hopes up.
“That would be amazing! It was a pretty good first series for me and I don’t know if I’ll be able to top it.
“Obviously everyone wants to win the glitter ball. Another partner who is hard working and fun like Susanna would be perfect.”
Kevin and Karen are not only professional dance partners but they’re also engaged. He popped the question in April 2013 during the stage show of Burn The Floor but the pair admit they’re currently too busy to tie the knot.
Kevin has previously joked that they’ll “perhaps end up getting married live on Strictly”.
Do they find themselves falling out or competing over the show?
Karen says: “The thing is if either one of us is out first, that person has to do all of the cleaning and the shopping. So for Christmas, it’s a win win situation in a way.”
“We’ve very supportive,” adds Kevin.
The pair agree that one thing that will be missed this year is former host Sir Bruce Forsyth. He’s bowed out of the presenting role to be replaced by Claudia Winkleman.
Karen says: “Of course we’ll miss Brucie, he is Strictly.
“I think Claudia and Tess are going to be amazing. I can’t wait to see their chemistry and what else they’ll bring to the table for Strictly. It’s going to be a great series. Girl power.”
While Kevin adds, “I love that they’ve kept it in the family. We’ll all miss Bruce of course but Claudia is brilliant. We love her. Claudia is just hilarious. It’s going to feel really familiar, it won’t feel new.”
Mrs Brown’s Boys star Jennifer Gibney, Bargain Hunt’s Tim Wonnacott, wildlife expert Steve Backshall, Casualty star Sunetra Sarker and This Morning reporter Alison Hammond complete the starry line-up.
World champion dancers Kevin Clifton and Karen Hauer are back for the upcoming series of BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing.
Follow them on Twitter, @karen_hauer and @keviclifton.