Santa’s arrival may be imminent, but there’s another festive tradition that has us all just as excited – the Strictly Come Dancing final.
After a scandalous season, four celebs – Faye Tozer, Ashley Roberts, Stacey Dooley and Joe Sugg – are still in the running to lift the glitterball.
Here, we ask those who work on the show for the inside track ahead of the final on Saturday, on BBC1 at 6.30pm.
Dazzline outfits are one of the show’s most exciting elements.
But costumes such as the one Stacey Dooley, right, wore for her Charleston last weekend are created under huge pressure.
And some may not be quite as polished as they appear, confesses designer Vicky Gill.
She says: “People have been on live with pins still in the hem and things like that.
“And then we’ve clocked it you know and the eyes go wild and you think ‘Oh my goodness there are pins in that person’s hem.”
She also says many of the outfits are onesies. “On shirts and things like that we’re always putting them on to pants so you step into a onesie which is always a bit of a surprise.”
And while make-up and wardrobe can take a very long time, professional dancer AJ Pritchard, 24, admits he can be in and out in five minutes. AJ, voted off with Lauren Steadman, 25, last weekend, said: “I’m so lucky. The girls have to come in an hour early.”
The man with his band
His wave is one of the most famous in showbiz. For 13 years he has cheerily, if awkwardly, greeted ten million-strong audiences each week for every series.
Yet composer and pianist Dave Arch does not get recognised in public.
And that suits the shyest man in showbusiness just fine.
“Hopefully I’m generally invisible,” he laughs, visibly nervous. “But I like it that way. People say they don’t recognise me without headphones on.
“I’m just not showbiz, I’m not that animal. When you realise it’s the biggest show on I pinch myself.”
Dave, 56, was first asked to join the show in 2005, a year after it launched. He has the mammoth task of arranging the music for every single Strictly dance.
But he keeps his head down and does not get involved in the “curse”.
When asked about the furore surrounding the public snog between Seann Walsh and married dancer Katya Jones, he says carefully: “The week after it was a little awkward. You could feel the tension around.”
But he did love working with the show’s first host, Bruce Forsyth.
“He would do the odd number himself and I’d go down to his house and routine it. You had to blink sometimes. I’d be in his living room, me at the piano.
“He was very particular, occasionally he’d say ‘Not like that Dave’.”
On the primetime show he writes all the arrangements but has just three hours to practise on Fridays – and 15 minutes to go through the music with the brass section on Saturdays before the stars’ dress rehearsals.
“Getting it ready can be quite hellish and near the wire,” he says.
Outside of Stictly his CV reads is pretty impressive. He has worked on the first five Harry Potter films, The King’s Speech and The Shape of Water to name a few. Oh, and supported singing legends Sir Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams and Diana Ross.
But Dave drawns the line firmly on one thing.
“People have tried to get me dancing,” he groans. “But I know my boundaries.
“I can’t dance.”
The dances may often look effortless but there are dozens of hours a week put into making them look that way.
Dancer AJ admits it is always incredibly busy.
After spending the first part of the week training in the dance studio, the pairs head to Elstree for rehearsals on the Strictly floor.
AJ says: “Non-stop, that’s the best way to describe Strictly. You’re always on the move.”
On Friday, the pairs get to rehearse their routines three times in the space where the live shows are filmed.
AJ says: “We’re practising in the studio all week and it never quite feels the same when you get to rehearsals.
“Plus you’re getting used to using the props. Once, we had one chair in training as a prop and then we got to the studio on the Friday to find our actual prop and it’s like, ‘Oh wait… that’s now six foot high’ or now we’ve got like a million chairs.”
And there is more than the pairs’ dances to think about. For the pros like AJ, there is a group dance to learn.
“Between dancing with our partners we’ll suddenly have to do the same thing with our group number,” he says.
“Sometimes you’re so focused on the dance with your partner you have forgotten the pro number!”
Every live show has its moments and even off camera there is plenty that can go wrong with a show like Strictly.
AJ says: “There was one amazing moment with one of our lifts in the Charleston.
“I had to pop Lauren on my shoulders and do a 360-degree turn, and Lauren had to go down towards the floor, I had to make sure she didn’t hit the floor.
“So I had to throw her up and put her on my shoulders. I got her in the air and then she ended up landing on my head and literally just sat there.
“I was completely frozen and I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, there was a crash mat – but I’ll never forget that.”
The live show
Once they’re primed and TV ready, the pro dancers apparently like nothing more than a pre-show nap.
AJ Pritchard says: “The boys’ changing room is the most relaxing place ever.
“We get an hour or two before the live show, so we just switch the lights off and lie down in the dark. I ended up falling asleep. Giovanni fell asleep. All the pros just fall asleep. We have a group power nap where we’re all just absolutely all out of it.”
Who can blame them? It’s an exhausting gig, but the dancers keep going somehow.
AJ continued: “When you get to the live show, you are absolutely knackered and are just running on adrenaline.
“It just flies by because everybody’s having so much fun.”
Even though the dancers are run off their feet, there is still time for chats with hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman – though not always looking as glam as on the show.
AJ says: “We always see Tess and Claudia backstage, they’re always in their comfy clothes. Claudia’s always in some sort of onesie and comfy shoes.
“Tess is always a bit more smart-casual but Claudia, she goes for like a big hoodie, nice slippers… how we all want to be in a studio.”
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