WOW. Taylor Swift, rain effects, and three great dances from some of the best competitors Strictly's ever seen made the 2019 finale a showstopper and a half. Right until the moment the glitterball was pressed into Kelvin Fletcher and Oti Mabuse's hands, it was hard to tell whether they would triumph, or whether EastEnders star Emma Barton and her partner Anton du Beke or TV presenter Karim Zeroual and pro dancer Amy Dowden would emerge victorious instead. The show's head judge, Shirley Ballas, has been there to provide her on-set insights to HELLO! every week since the series started. Now, she looks back on that spectacular final and the last 13 weeks and tells us what she loved, what she'll miss, and what she'd like to see more of in future…
What an amazing final! Every year it seems to top the year before and what made this one so wonderful was that we had three great dancers and any one of them could have won, it was all down to the public. I didn't know who would win and I'm glad I didn't have to make that decision. They all worked hard, and they were all fabulous. I gave every routine a ten because I thought they were all great. It's hard to pull off three dances in a week because although you've done two of them before you haven't been practising them the whole time. You've got to stay focused, remember them and learn something new, it's very difficult.
I think Kelvin's Freestyle just tipped it for him with the viewers. It was very fast and a great choice of music, I'm sure people were dancing around their living rooms. We picked the Rumba for him to dance again and he executed that fantastically, with the quality of his technique and the self-control it took to not rush it, he was a true professional. He must have been nervous inside but outwardly, we couldn't tell. That was challenging enough, but for him to pick the Samba to perform again told me that he really wanted to show the public that he could still improve, so he went for the hardest option, and it was exquisite.
I think generally people probably thought Emma and Anton were going to win. They danced brilliantly, he's been there a long time and the audience likes a bit of an underdog, so I think Kelvin was genuinely shocked that he won. Emma's Showdance played to her strengths, it was old Hollywood, beautifully groomed, and I love the way she came down the stairs. She had choreography, armography and even cane-o-graphy! I saw Anton afterwards and I think he felt he'd had an opportunity there, but in my mind, all the finalists were winners. That's why it's so hard to critique one against the other, every couple was spectacular, and I loved it all. Emma didn't get a perfect score, but I can't speak for the other judges, I just know I sat back and enjoyed it as a viewer. I think Motsi and Bruno felt the same, I don't know about Craig!
Karim's Contemporary was fabulous, he was really in touch with his emotions, but it's a risk to go slow unless you pick a really popular piece of music. I wouldn't like to guess what the public thought about it because you can never tell, but people seem to prefer it when he does his Jive and other upbeat numbers. I have to pay tribute again to Amy, though – that was her first time in the final and her work ethic is amazing. To bring Karim on like she has is a credit to her. I know we give the celebrities a lot of credit, but it's hard work for the professionals, too. They have to have patience and show guidance and be on top form every day.
I had to dash away after the show because I was in panto in Darlington on Sunday, but I popped into the wrap party and spoke to all the finalists to say well done. Motsi was thrilled to see her sister win, she just loved it. Every week has been so exciting this series, and one of my favourite parts has been getting to know Motsi in that judging format. I've known her for 20 years but getting to judge alongside her has been a fun and uplifting experience. In fact, I've loved it all and I'd like to thank everyone who watched for tuning in week in and week out: the show is what it is because of you, not because of us. On behalf of everyone who works on Strictly Come Dancing, thank you for watching, and a very Merry Christmas!
Is there a dance you'd like to see on the show?
It would be nice to see a Bolero which is American-style dance that has a lot of rise and fall – it's slow like the Rumba but you don't have to have all those straight legs, it's a little bit more interpretive. I love the Mambo and Jitterbug, too. I think every now and then it's good to throw something in there that none of the celebrities has done before.
What's the best thing about being head judge?
That's a lovely question. I feel that I'm clued into the whole show and if the judges have any questions or aren't sure about something they ask me, and if they can't agree on who to send home, they have confidence in me that I'll make the right decision. That respect and trust is really nice. It takes all four of us to do the job but being head judge is unique and special and I take it seriously.
That's all from Shirley for this year but tune in to BBC on Christmas Day to catch the Strictly Christmas Special and see celebrities from past series get a second chance to impress the judges!
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