Behind the scenes at Strictly
BBC stalwart Strictly is back on Saturday night telly - and Muddy went backstage to bask in all the star-studded, sequinned glory. Wanna know some Strictly secrets?
A seat in the Strictly Come Dancing audience is the hottest ticket in town every autumn. More than five million fans apply for tickets each series – but with only about 600 seats per show, less than 100,000 are lucky enough to bag a seat.
Tickets are allocated by a random ballot – so it really is the luck of the draw. And for those jammy enough to get their hands on the prize, it’s a chance to see the glitz and glamour up close, as well as to glimpse, first-hand, the Strictly backstage secrets.
Muddy’s Surrey editor Amber got lucky and made it into the Strictly studio for the new 2019 season – and we’re ready to share the juicy backstage goss. Here’s what we discovered on our own Strictly journey.
1. The winning email
The first step into the Strictly studio comes via an email from the BBC informing you that you’ve been successful in getting tickets. Don’t cheer too soon though – because the small print will quickly tell you to report to the studios on Saturday morning to validate your tickets. And then – deep horror – there are no guarantees you’ll actually get tickets because they allocate more tickets than they have seats. It’s first come, first served. Gulp!
2. The early morning queue
The BBC begins validating tickets from 9am on the Saturday morning of the show. People start lining up at 11pm on Friday night. Those people you see sitting behind Tess in the audience? That’s them – the overnighters! Muddy Surrey was less committed – arriving at around 7.30am. That arrival time secures you a place at about 450th in the queue – early enough to get validated tickets, just. Phew!
3. The studio
Strictly is filmed at the Elstree Studios in Borehamwood. It’s known as the birthplace of Star Wars, and this is where some of Hollywood’s most famous films have been produced including Superman, The King’s Speech and Paddington. I expected something more glitzy. But, glitzy this is not. It’s more like a big shed on an industrial backwater. And you know – I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it is.
4. The arrival
Audience members are told to arrive at the studios from 4pm on Saturday afternoon. Initially everyone is shepherded into a marquee in the studio carpark, where they wait for a couple of hours before being allowed into the studio. The occasional former Strictly dancer wanders through – hello Vincent and Iain – on their way to the VIP tent. Heads turn, hands reach for phones.
But there’s a no-phones-allowed rule, so all mobile devices are handed in to security, and all audience members are politely patted down on their way to make sure there are no Samsungs strapped to inner thighs.
Top tip: leave your phone at home because you get fed up of queuing.
5. The dress code
It’s a no-jeans dress code. And for pretty much everyone – me included – this means go glam, and them glam it up a little bit more. There are sequins, satin, sparkles and stilettos. I wore a bright ‘look-at-me’ cherry red jumpsuit, and I fit right in!
6. The set
Finally, we’re allowed into the studio. And it’s brilliant. A bit surreal, but brilliant. Those sweeping staircases, the judges podium, Dave Arch and his ever reliable orchestra and singers. Another staircase leading up to Claudia’s balcony, that huge glitter ball. It’s all so familiar, if a little smaller than I expected. And of course, there’s the dance floor. The shiny, brightly-lit, dance floor where all the Strictly magic happens.
7. The audience
We’re sitting on chrome fold-up chairs and they’re packed in tight, so inevitably we get to know our neighbour’s pretty well. For us, it was Steve and Emma from Derby. Emma nipped out to go to the loo at one point during the show and came back to report that she’d seen Anton. Even got a peck on the cheek from him. I was only marginally less jealous than if it had been Aljaž.
8. The warm-up
Stuart Holdham is the warm-up guy and he comes shimmying onto the stage in his gold sequinned jacket, perky bow tie and super-shiny shoes – mic in hand, smile on face. It’s Stu’s job to get the audience cheering, clapping, booing at Craig and cheering some more. There’s no room for slackers in this audience. You will cheer. You will clap. And you will cheer again.
9. Tess and Claudia
Finally, the girls arrive. And the excitement goes up another notch or two. Tess Daly in her – ahem – cherry red jumpsuit, and Claudia Winkleman in her fitted black one-shoulder one. Both are as down-to-earth as you might expect them to be as the run through some rehearsals. Tess is constantly hitching the strapless top-half of her jumpsuit up over those ample knockers, Claudia has issues with her spanx wedgie. We know this because she told us. Gotta love Clauds!
10. Lights, camera, action
And then the actual show begins. Alan Dedicoat’s booming voice announces that we’re live from the BBC – and the audience goes crazy. There’s clapping from us. There’s cheering from us. The dancers and their celebrities are introduced – and we go just a little more wild. Stuart will be happy!
It’s the first show of the series, and the professional dancers are the stars of this show. Until Kelvin Fletcher and his abs arrive on the dance floor. Then Kelvin is the star. We audience have been itching to get to our feet for a standing ovation. So, thank you Kelvin. You made Saturday’s audience very happy.
11. Behind the scenes
It’s not hard to get caught up in the Strictly dancing fervour – but it’s fascinating to watch what’s going on, off the dance floor. I have a new-found admiration for Tess. She didn’t stop running, often on the arm of the floor manager. And her make up and hair people, were forever primping and poking. That must get tiresome.
A small army wearing black flit on and off the dance floor – lugging on the the sets for each dance. And then lugging them off again. The football goals for David and Nadiya’s Foxtrot, the convertible car for Karim and Amy’s Cha Cha Cha, and the green shop set for Anton and Emma’s Jive. And confetti, there’s plenty of that to be swept up. It’s a constant hive of wonderous activity.
When the dancers go into a spin, a cameraman runs onto the dance floor and does his own twirl around them – camera in hand. The rest of the time a camera attached to a big extendible arm manoeuvres in and out, up and down, catching every move.
12. The judges
New judge Motsi Mabuse, alongside regulars Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and Shirley Ballas are seated on their podium, on seats with massive plump cushions. I presume this is so they can see over the desk. Or maybe to prevent numb bum. They’re booed for their low scores. And cheered for their high ones. Shirley sways and claps to the dances. She’s on her feet a lot peering over the desk to get a closer look. Bruno waves his arms around like an overexcited little boy. And we audience members? We lap it up and we do the same. We’re as fully invested in this show as the judges, the dancers, and the celebrities.
13. The results
Normally, the results show would be filmed after the Saturday show. But as this was Week One, no one went home. And so, after the 15 couples had danced – they all spilled down the stairs from Claudia’s balcony and onto the dance floor. The theme tune plays, kisses are blown, there’s lots of hugging. Emotions are high. They’ve made it through the first show.
And so have we – all five hours of it. So off we go home, to watch it all again on catch up TV – knowing that the dark figure in the shadows, wearing the red jumpsuit, the one at the back, that’s me. On the telly.
Strictly Come Dancing is on BBC1 on Saturday evenings.