THE Strictly Come Dancing Grand Final takes place this weekend but fans needn't say farewell to their favourite professional dancers and celebrities as, come January, they will be waltzing into arenas – including Belfast – for Strictly Come Dancing Live.
As Kelvin Fletcher, Emma Barton and Karim Zeroual compete for the Glitterball Trophy this weekend, one celebrity who is looking forward to adding to the spectacle of the grand final in the group dances is sports presenter Mike Bushell.
He and Russian dance partner Katya Jones were the seventh couple to be eliminated from series 17 of the show – but the pair are delighted to be reuniting for the live version.
“I’ve loved every second of my Strictly journey and can’t wait to continue dancing across the country,” says Bushell, who lost a stone and a half weight during the series.
“I can skip up the stairs at the train station now, but the experience has also made mentally sharper and more able to deal with pressured situations,” says the 53-year-old.
Bushell is no stranger to a challenge – he holds the world record for participating in the greatest number of different sports, including hurling and even an Irish ploughing contest, on his Saturday morning slot on BBC Breakfast. But he says dancing was his hardest activity yet.
“Dancing exercises every muscle in the body. It takes great agility and then add the mental side, the pressure to perform, being in time to music and getting the posture right. It’s physically and mentally the most extreme sport I’ve tried,” he says.
Bushell pays credit to his dancing coach Katya – whom he likens to Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill – for his success.
“Katya has a reputation for being one of the most creative choreographers in the show. Like any great sporting coach, such as Martin O’Neill recently, she had the ability to get the average athletes to believe in themselves and push you beyond your limit.”
The Russian star pushed Bushell hard, training from 8am to 10pm throughout the week.
“She told me from the start that was no point in taking it easy – 'because you're the dad dancer of the series I have to push you'. She would be on her hands and knees prodding my legs into positions I never knew were possible.
“In the second week she told me to stand there and suddenly she back flipped on to my shoulders. She had her legs wrapped around my ears and she told me to throw her off as if she was a lasso,” he recalled about learning their American Smooth dance.
Bushell’s other highlights include performing a tango dressed as a rabbit, receiving a score of nine for his Quickstep routine to Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners and getting Katya's skirt tangled over his head as he attempted to lift her in the air.
After eventually surviving three dance-offs, Mike decided that once they were voted off he would take the opportunity to celebrate – turning their final dance into a giant conga – which has been described as the best ever Strictly exit dance.??“I wanted to celebrate how far we had come. The fact judges Motsi and Bruno and presenters Tess and Claudia came to join in the conga meant so much to me.”
And who does he think will win this year's series? “I don’t know. The standard has been so high this season. I have watched Kelvin since he was a child in Emmerdale. He came in as a reserve, after Jamie Lang’s withdrawal, so had less training, but on paper but he’s amazing and is now the favourite.
“Karim is an absolute genius too. I remember watching him on the West End stage in The Lion King years ago. But Emma and Anton du Beke could be a popular choice. Anton has been on the show since it began in 2004 and has yet to win.”
Next year’s live tour will feature music from the Strictly singers and live band and will be hosted by reigning Strictly champion Stacey Dooley. And giving their opinions will be judges Shirley Ballas, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood, who also directs the tour.
“I’m really looking forward to the tour. Every show is different and who knows what will happen?” says Mike, who is intending to surprise judge Craig by wearing a T-shirt printed with comments he made about Mike’s dances throughout the series.
“Although Craig tries to put across a persona as being the top guy on the judging panel, he is hilarious. His remarks were like a panto script. He told us our American Smooth was “very odd”, my samba was like “watching a three-year-old” and that my “jockstrap was too tight”,” he laughs.
The other couples set to sashay all over the UK and Ireland next year are EastEnders actress Emma Barton and Graziano Di Prima, Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher and Janette Manrara, social media star Saffron Barker and AJ Pritchard, Sky Sports presenter Alex Scott and Neil Jones, actress Catherine Tyldesley and Johannes Radebe and CBBC presenter Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden.
:: Strictly Come Dancing Live will be at Dublin 3Arena on January 28 and Belfast SSE Arena January 29 – 30. Visit strictlycomedancinglive.com for tickets.