This weekend's Strictly was a Blackpool extravaganza, and appropriately enough, the celebrities experienced a rollercoaster of emotion. From Saffron's shock at being in the dance-off to Anton's excitement about his first-ever tens and everyone's tears to see Michelle go, it was an intense time. HELLO!'s exclusive columnist, head judge Shirley Ballas, shares why she thinks everyone upped their game, who she expects to see in the final, and the behind-the-scenes meeting that made this such a royally good week…
It was a fabulous week even before we got to Blackpool because I met Prince William at an event for the homeless charity Centrepoint, which I'm an ambassador for. I was with Claudia Winkleman and she was talking with HRH about dancing. I asked him if he liked to dance and he said, "I have been known to watch the show on occasion, Shirley, but my mother-in-law and my stepmother are huge fans." I knew the Duchess of Cornwall watched because I've met her three times and she loves Craig Revel Horwood! William spoke with us for a good ten minutes and was absolutely lovely. He's so genuine, with a great sense of humour.
On to Blackpool, and that was one of the best shows that Strictly has ever had, there was every form of emotion. Of course, it was hard to say goodbye to Michelle. If you go home in week one, it's sad but when you get to week nine, the public feels like they know you, so it makes it that bit more difficult. I love Michelle, she brought elegance to the show and she did herself proud. The Vogue routine was very regal, very stylised and theatrical, and she sold it completely – and the message behind it was just outstanding. She could possibly have done a little bit more dancing with Giovanni, it was quite subtle and linear so I'm not sure it had enough volume for the Tower Ballroom, it's a big space and you have to fill it. But she was a great competitor, bringing us some fantastic numbers that we'll remember forever, particularly her The Addams Family-themed Foxtrot.
Saffron didn't expect to be in the dance-off and we had some tears, so I told her to go out there and give it the performance of a lifetime, and she did. She had a few missteps on Saturday but when she did the dance-off she was great. What's important in the Quickstep is your body is shifting so quickly across the floor, especially across that sprung floor, it's difficult to control your whole body and your feet and she was able to accelerate at the speed of light then decelerate just as fast. She's still got to work a little bit on her shoulder line and that's why I wasn't able to give her a ten but I was really impressed, particularly in the dance-off. The choreography was difficult, and it was very entertaining.
I wasn't prepared for how much everybody upped their game this week, though. Chris started off in week one with a three from me and yesterday, I gave him a nine. He came out there and gave it his all in his hot pink pants. He gave Kelvin a run for his money and I was really pleased because he was our ultimate non-dancer: when he started on the show he didn't seem to know his left foot from his right, and now he's coming on looking like he has danced all his life. Dances like Salsa and Street Commercial suit him but they're also improving his coordination so when he gets another Ballroom routine he's going to find it a lot easier. He always looks surprised when he gets saved, which is refreshing as he doesn't seem to take anything for granted.
Alex is also going from strength to strength. She danced a pure girl power Paso with great choreography and atmosphere. She was deducted a point because of her neck issues: as we're going toward the final, she needs clarity of shape in the upper half of the body. But when she was in the solo parts, it was hard to tell who was the amateur and who was the professional, it was fabulous. She's really good at following instructions and of course, she's with her partner who she's known since the beginning and of course, making it to Blackpool gives everybody a boost.
Kelvin came out like a man on a mission and left me speechless. In international Latin style, we use opposite arms and feet and he did that just beautifully, he had great control. I think he's loving every moment and he always takes criticism on board. Generally, the ones who are left standing towards the end are the ones that take the criticism and keep moving. I met Oti's mum afterwards and she was absolutely adorable, I'm sure it felt nice to do so well with her family there.
I didn't realise Anton had never had tens before, that made everybody emotional. We've been friends for years and have a lot of respect for each other, so I was delighted for them. Even before he saw his score he came over and gave me a big hug and a kiss. When people get a low score as they did for their Rumba a few weeks ago, they can either improve or they buckle, and Emma improved. Their American Smooth was delightful, it was like a merry-go-round that you didn't want to get off, a very Hollywood number, right up Anton's street. I know that Craig didn't particularly care for her facial expression, but I thought it was absolutely correct for the mood of the dance.
Craig hasn't got his ten out yet and I think in his heart of hearts he wanted to give a ten yesterday, but he'll do it when we least expect it I'm sure. I almost wanted to give everyone a perfect score, they were all so fantastic. But for me, Karim was the star of the night. The last few weeks I've told him off because he's made a few mistakes, or his routine was overly busy but this week it was flawless. He enjoyed every moment, stuck to the music and shone like the star he is. He looked so much like a professional, I would be highly surprised if it wasn't in the final. He and Kelvin are the ones to beat.
Come back next week to see if they're still in Shirley's good books!
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