About last night.. I feel like I’ve got a hangover. Not the alcohol-induced sort, but a Strictly Come Dancing hangover. The type that proves you can have one of the best nights of your life without a drop of strong stuff! Last night I was an audience guest of the production team at Strictly Come Dancing, and after being a super-fan for a good few years, it was an incredible money-can’t-buy treat.

I’m writing this to help me lock the memories into my head forever. I’m a photographer and my starting point for preserving my memories is to take a photograph. But audience members at Strictly must surrender their phones in exchange for their ticket to the sparkle filled ballroom. So instead I am writing this blog to preserve the pictures in my head and reinforce the importance of time spent away from our mobiles.

My long-time friend Steph is a choreographer on the show. She assists the pros with specialist dances such as the charleston, and works on the spectacular group numbers that open up the TV show on themed week and results shows.  When she rang to offer me two tickets to Movie Week I could not believe my luck! My guest for the night was the lady who brought Steph and I together in the first place – our childhood ballet teacher Diane Gulliford. Somewhat of a legend in her field, but now in semi-retirement, she is also a Strictly super-fan and jumped at the chance to come along.

Being a guest of the production team is a huge leg up on the Strictly audience stakes. Firstly you bypass the ticket lottery that four million people have entered this year. Secondly you bypass the queuing (a lot of which takes place in the small hours of cold autumnal mornings). And thirdly you get a separate set of portaloos so you can bypass a long line of ladies preparing to sit in a studio for a very long time…

We arrived at 4pm and time for a quick hello with Steph who was coming out of the dress rehearsal. After surrendering my phone and our coats we settled in for a good spot of people watching in the production guests marquee. It wasn’t long before some familiar faces started coming in to great their own guests – first Amy, then AJ, then Saffron and Karim followed.

Walking onto the set was probably the most thrilling part of the whole experience. It feels a lot smaller in real life compared to on TV. We were sat in the blue area which is the section to Bruno’s left, behind where Tess interviews the contestants after their dances. We had aisle seats in row 5, I decided we were close enough to Bruno to have fun without being in any real danger if he fell off his chair.

Before proceedings began another former ballet class member arrived who is now a producer at Strictly.. she offered us a trip past the security guard and onto the dance floor, plus her phone to take a photo! Naturally I did not need to think twice about this and very quickly our super Strictly experience was becoming out-of-this-world amazing!  Never in a million years did I think I’d set foot on the Strictly dancefloor. That probably sounds ridiculous to someone who doesn’t watch the show, but I’m just a regular person who spends her days looking after two small kids and rarely leaves the house in the evening!

strictly come dancing movie week 2019

When we got back to our seats, Johnny Ball and his wife came and sat next to us. I knew who they were, but needed a conversation starter, so went for the ridiculous choice of, “Do you come here often?!!” A bit ridiculous but it worked and they were absolutely lovely.. somebody pinch me?!!

What followed was a whirlwind live show featuring 14 dances, two perfect 10s, and a very numb bum! I felt this really strange antithesis between it being a totally surreal out of body experience and yet also feeling very familiar sitting within the set of the TV show that I’d watched from my living room for all these years.

Being a part of the studio audience gave me a fascinating peek behind the scenes of the live show.. and here are a few things that I want to remember about the experience:

1. Let’s talk about Tess. What a beautiful woman she is, both inside and out. She looked absolutely stunning in her dress and was also so kind to everyone. She kept checking on a lady in the front row who was 37 weeks pregnant! She also runs up a short set of stairs after each link that lead to nowhere other than a chair behind a glittery pillar where she can have a sip of water, get off her feet and review her script for the next segment!

2. The VTs between each dance are vital scene changing time. Some of the dances had complex scenery and every last second was used to wheel away the old and set up the new. I saw lights failing to work and a fire torch fall almost to the floor but each time a person in black appeared to fix it with seconds to spare!

3. The pro dancers are incredible. Not just amazingly toned bodies which would look fabulous in any costume, but also hard grafters who not only teach dance but clearly support their partners with the enormity of the competition as well. The lifts and spins looked ten times scarier in person than on TV, and the confidence with which they throw themselves around is insane!

4. Movie week was a long two hour show with 14 dances. I didn’t move from my seat for three hours, yet my Fitbit claims I took 7,000 steps in that period… so I’m assuming that’s my clap count instead of my step count and it might explain why I was so tired this morning.

5. A warm up comedian is responsible for getting the crowd going and keeping us on track if the claps and cheers start to flag (see point 4 above). He was pretty funny, although I got the impression from those around me that he does reuse his jokes each week!

6. Claudia was very funny. Naturally funny. Her interviews were not directed by the autocue and she was always joking about when the cameras were not rolling.  She made a lot of jokes about her spanx being too tight.. from talking to others I think she says this every week.. perhaps went to the same school of comedy as the warm up guy?!

7. Alan the floor manager was incredible. He did a really wide range of jobs from directing audience applause, to escorting Tess to the spot for her next link, to wiping up water when Bruno’s drinks bottle sprayed everywhere! He looked like a man who never gets stressed. I wonder if he can organise my kids with the same level of efficiency? Fun fact, he’s also brother to Brian Conley.

8. Everything seemed to be held together with gaffer tape… If the dancers are stitched into their costumes then the set is stuck together with nails and tape I reckon! We had a prime view of the back of the judges table and they wouldn’t want that shown on camera.. the floor was awash with popcorn, voting paddles and trailing skirts – no wonder Bruno falls off his chair and trips over!

9. On the topic of the judges, let’s talk about their seating. They have the same seats as the audience, but with significantly more padding! Motsi and Shirley have cushions of gargantuan proportions – I’m talking princess and the pea style! I don’t think for Alan-Sugar-style make-me-look-tall reasons, but just to stay comfortable and give them good posture at the table. Craig had a small cushion, and poor old Bruno (who I noticed had a chair labelled, ‘spare chair’!) was sat on a raggedy old cushion which used to belong to Arlene!

10. Every single person I met was SO kind. From the friends who got us tickets and onto the dancefloor, to the staff who took my coat, the audience team, the dancers that I chatted to and Tess with a heart of gold.

In a world full of Brexit shambles, environmental chaos and financial uncertainty Strictly gives us many of us some warm and fuzzy escapism. It’s fun, it’s friendly and it’s fab-u-lous! Thank you Steph, I’ve got a gold sqeuinned skirt I’m never going to wear again, but I’ve also got a bucketful of amazing memories and a blog post to record them all.

PS I got my phone back at the end. No hostages were taken during this performance, human or mobile!

Katie Lister Photography
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey


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