As the new series launches tonight, reigning champion Bill Bailey shares his best tips with this year’s celebrities on how to tie that famous glitter ball…
REMOVE YOUR INHIBITIONS WITH A SPRAY TAN
One of the many firsts I experienced on Strictly was my first spray tan. It was a bit of a shock to step into a pop-up tanning bed shirtless, with no socks and no pants. For starters, I was not prepared for how cold the tanning spray gun is. It’s like standing naked in a one-person tent in the bow of a speedboat in rough seas, emerging as polished and bronzed as Captain Ahab.
Well, I say naked – you can go commando if you want, but I’m a little too prudish for that. At least for the men, the only visible tan areas are above the waist, so I saw no need to fully tan – and the thought of having to makes me shudder…
I felt more comfortable wearing makeup after years of filming, but another first was applying eyeliner, or as it’s called for men, “guyliner.”
The judicious application of makeup was part of a broader lesson on Strictly; that what seems too much actually looks good on TV
LASHINGS OF GUYLINER MADE ME LOOK
I felt more comfortable wearing makeup after years of filming, but another first was applying eyeliner, or as it’s called for men, “guyliner.” There is something old about this, because it reminded me of the many dark eyes of ancient Egypt, on the pharaoh’s henchmen. However, they didn’t dance the jive.
The judicious application of makeup was part of a broader lesson on Strictly; what seems like too much actually looks good on TV. Though it might raise an eyebrow if you stop for chips on the way home in the garage that is open all night.
Bill Bailey celebrates with a bottle of champagne in his Strictly dressing room
In fact, it was only in a few dances that the makeup took center stage, and each time it enhanced the look immeasurably. The most notable of these transformations was when we danced Argentine tango to the Phantom Of The Opera soundtrack.
Initially I wore a mask during rehearsals to get used to the sensation. But after many incidents where the mask got stuck to Oti’s hair or her costume, or it slipped over my face, or I sweated under it, and tried to wipe it off halfway through the dance, it was decided it had to be replaced with make-up. up . The final effect, expertly applied, solved the problem and looked great. . . so much so that viewers thought it was indeed a mask.
BECOME ONE WITH YOUR SHOES. . . LIKE A HOBBIT
They may be soft on the sole, but they are as hard as Wolverine’s claws on the heel – so there will be blisters
Dance shoes are specialist pieces of equipment that must be ordered, and my patented ballroom dance shoes are like nothing I’ve ever worn.
They may be soft on the sole, but they are as hard as Wolverine’s claws on the heel – so there will be blisters. There’s no way around it, so grab some blister plasters quickly.
The first weeks will be painful. . . and you just have to smile through it. These professional dancers are as smooth, graceful and pliable as glittering manta rays, they often smile and laugh, but not a single wail will elicit an ounce of sympathy from them, and for good reason.
It’s best to carry them around the house to break them in – and don’t be afraid to ask for different sizes. There’s quite a bit in them, and they stretch – what you don’t want is for them to be completely loose.
They should become a part of you, so you forget you’re wearing shoes, and imagine you have leathery feet like a sequined, waltzing hobbit.
FAMILY SUPPORT WAS THE KEY TO MY VICTORY
I wouldn’t know at first, but my Strict experience would last many weeks. And to stay fit and healthy and stay equanmous, you need a lot of support from your family. Soon my routine took on a much greater significance.
My teenage son, Dax, was skeptical of my involvement with the show, but seeing the work going into it and the skills I was acquiring, he was quietly impressed – though with each passing week he became more amazed that I had not fallen already passed.
My wife Kris’s famed cooking now became a necessity. She was behind me all the way, encouraged me, supported me and was a big part of my success.
Every night after practice, I came home with a wreck, barely able to open the car door, and stumbled toward the house. Once inside I was offered a cold drink and a tasty home cooked meal. I can’t tell you how important that is.
THERE IS NOTHING BETTER THAN A BATH
While I was in the bath before dinner, a ton of aches and pains, I could barely speak so I would relax by listening to audio books.
I went through The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and The Mirror And The Light by Hilary Mantel. I thank all these great writers for resetting my mental balance.
My toes had lost touch, my shoulders were tight, my feet were pounding, my neck was stiff and my knees were complaining, but a chilled glass of Sauvignon and a plate of lovingly prepared dishes solves all that.
And the sleep. . . oh my word, sleep is like childhood sleep. Deep, instant and often dreamless, it is the other essential element of this dance odyssey.
SAVE YOUR ENERGY FOR THE SHOW
Every week, Saturday is a blur of activity. Camera rehearsals, Covid testing, press, social media, photo calls – it’s relentless. And somehow you have to pick yourself up and throw everything out again.
The week of the semifinals was the toughest, because for that you have to learn not one, but two new dances from scratch. I was thrown into the tango, then taken back to the Charleston, then back to the tango, and so on. Both completely different dances, and both with complicated and specific footwork and different styles.
I was almost at the limit of my stamina at the time, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so wrung out. During rehearsal for the Charleston, I slipped, which didn’t bode well for the evening performance. I was exhausted, we were all, and it seemed like I could have gone as far as I could.
But we were through to the final, and this was a big deal. Oti had taken me there, Kris and my family had taken me there, and I’ll be honest, my own damned determination had brought me there. Oh, and the voting public, God bless you all!
Oti Mabuse and Bill Bailey during the live show on the BBC1 dance competition
LISTEN TO CRITICS — BUT HAVE FUN!
They seem like simple words of advice, but in this case it is true. The more you put into training, the more success you will have. And the judges, for all their comments (and Craig’s scathing critique), really know what they’re talking about. So take any criticism at the chin and strive to improve.
But don’t forget to enjoy! This is a top level TV entertainment show. Yes, it is also a dance competition where you are judged, sometimes hard. This may be too much for some and they react badly. I think it’s good to have low expectations, that way any praise is even more welcome.
So I would like to say to all of this year’s participants, listen to your professional partners. They know what they are doing and make you look good.
Don’t complain, just put in the hours, immerse yourself in the show, in the competition and in the dance world. You only do this once, so make it count!
COSTUME IS KING – EVEN IF IT MEANS TO WEAR A BABY GREEN
The fitting of the costumes were always fun days, and they usually took place on Fridays. The character is set and you may have practiced with a prop or basic version of some aspect of the costume during training, but now comes the real deal.
For the American smooth, for example, I rehearsed with the top hat and cane, but not with the full white tie and tails. It can be a quick learning curve to adapt to the dance in new, limiting threads.
This is an important part of getting the character. I dare anyone to go all out in full evening wear and not feel like a million bucks.
My favorite costume was for the paso doble, where I was offered a pair of custom suede knee-length boots, which completed a fantastic hippie-cowboy look, with added guyliner.
And first there was an important costume: the ‘Shant’. This is a shirt sewn into your pants to tuck it all in.
It’s strange at first, because you have to squeeze in like a Babygro. It felt weird, but like everything else. Strictly speaking, you quickly accept it as the norm and eventually you love it.
Pro tip though – make sure you’ve been to the toilet beforehand – it’s a pain to free yourself once you’re ‘shanted’.
WHAT YOU DO, DO IT WITH SWAGGER
Other dances may not go so well, they may not suit you, and you feel like the wind has dropped from your sails. Pictured, Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse
When we danced to Rapper’s Delight, it was a game changer. It was our first ten, and I hopped down the stairs after talking to Claudia. It was a tough dance, but what it did was the attitude.
I was bolstered by the success of the paso doble the week before, so I was on a roll. I threw myself into that dance with swagger, and it worked out a treat. So this was a huge highlight. The downs are caused because it is impossible to sustain them.
Other dances may not go so well, they may not suit you, and you feel like the wind has dropped from your sails. Then you have to dig in and keep pushing, like in life.
Sara Davies, Ugo Monye, Nina Wadia, John Waite, Robert Webb, Rose Ayling-Ellis, Adam Peaty, Judi Love, Tom Fletcher, Tilly Ramsay, Rhys Stephenson, AJ Odudu, Dan Walker, Katie McGlynn, Greg Wise on Strictly