In the lead up to the semi-final, the main talking point in the media surrounded perceptions... allegations even, of “biased” marking—attempts to manipulate the leader-board to cancel out the vagaries of the public vote that had seen the talented Helen George dispatched in a dance-off against another of the leading contenders, Georgia May Foote.
Katie Derham had made remarkable progress during the competition and was as popular with the public as the overly-excitable (yet wonderfully gifted) Kellie Bright evidently was not... but the judging panel’s collective credibility was lost (or maybe the producers’ instructions were simply followed...?) when Anita Rani was sacrificed to allow Ms Derham—or rather Anton du Beke—a free pass to the final.
The controversy theorist in me thinks that this will be du Beke’s swansong, with a place on the judging panel beckoning as Len Goodman drifts into walnut-pickling retirement. Only Craig Revel-Horwood voted to keep the inspirational Anita Rani on the show; and it is to the credit of the oft-maligned judge that he raised his head above the political parapet to support the better dancer overall... the better dancer on the night... and the better performer in the dance-off.
As for the final itself, it seems quite bizarre to state that the night’s surprise came with the fact that the pre-show favourite duly lifted the Glitterball trophy, because after du Beke had enjoyed his moment in the proverbial sun, Jay McGuiness and Aliona Vilani played it incredibly safe, whilst Kellie and Georgia threw caution to the dancing wind with contrasting, but equally brilliant show dances and two sublime Charlestons.
Georgia and Giovanni’s show dance, which started with the former Coronation Street actress blindfolded, moved me to tears, before Kellie Bright and Kevin (from Grimsby) produced a routine that fully justified the four tens it received.
For his part, Jay McGuiness made the difficult look effortlessly easy; he was consistent and eminently watchable on the dance floor, and understatedly charming off it. His pre-final favouritism was totally justified, but his three dances were not of the quality of his two main rivals; and we were left with what was effectively a popularity contest to determine the winner.
Having appeared in two dance-offs, Kellie Bright may have feared the worst, as an element of public indifference had already been demonstrated. The Queen Vic’s landlady could have done little more on the night (119 out of 120 is staggering) and Georgia’s efforts look like being rewarded with a future West End career... not a bad prize for a runner-up, but ultimately it was Aliona plus Boy Band member (shades of Harry Judd and the Kazakhstan-born beauty in 2011) who emerged victorious.
Despite the contentious moments, and the continually irritating presence of Tess Daly (am I the only one who thinks Claudia Winkleman is streets ahead as a presenter?), season 13 of Strictly Come Dancing has been fantastic... but I still bet that by Boxing Day you’ll not be able to name all the celebrities who took part!