Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 617

50 22 SEPTEMBER 2022 Taking part in Strictly Come Dancing last year was a big decision. I had turned it down four years on the trot but, after pressure frommy kids, 2021 was the year I finally said ‘yes’ – and I’m so glad I did. As the class of 2022 prepare for the 20th season, it has been nice to look back and remember those early feelings of dread. I have always been a confident person, but my comfort zone never extended to dancing in front of 10million people on a Saturday night – I didn’t even dance at my own wedding! Our series was a ected by the pandemic. We took a Covid test weekly, there was a limited and socially distanced audience and strict protocols were in place on set. The new season launches tomorrow (23 September), with the first live show on Saturday – a week later than planned as amark of respect after HerMajesty The Queen’s death. I have friends taking part this year andmy advice to themhas been the same. Firstly, allow yourself to enjoy it and don’t get distracted by the silly headlines and the sheer size of the show. There is nothing worse than leaving Strictly and thinking: “I wish I had enjoyed it more.” Secondly, trust your partner. They are amazing at what they do. At my first meeting with the Strictly team, my only request was for a dance partner I could get on with. I was delighted to be paired with two-time 10 Dance world championNadiya Bychkova, and promised her on day one that we’d have fun. I told her I had no idea about talent, but I wouldn’t go out for lack of e ort. I thought I’d only be in for a couple of weeks, so I kept doingmy normal jobs on BBC Breakfast and The NFL Show, while doing other bits and all the Strictly filming and photoshoots and trying to learn a new dance every week. I slept for fewer than 24 hours some weeks – but I loved it. Strictly is an assault on your body andmind. For a start, you lose weight. I lost about a stone andmy bottom still hasn’t returned to its original size. You eat di erently because you must grab what you can when you can. I thinkmy diet was about 70%flapjacks and pizza. I even walk di erently now – Nadiya decided I wasn’t doing it right in week one. You dream about dancing and –most importantly – youmake amazing friends. Rose Ayling-Ellis was the undisputed star of the show and a worthy winner, but there are somany people I will stay in contact with forever, and one is Nadiya. One privilege of my job has been seeing brilliant people up close and personal. I’ve stood next to TigerWoods while STRICTLY COME DANCING ‘My comfort zone didn’t extend to dancing in front of 10million people – I didn’t even dance at my ownwedding!’ he hit golf balls. I’ve watched footballer Cristiano Ronaldo take perfect free kicks. And I’ll never forget sitting within ametre of one of the world’s great cellists as he played the solo in Karl Jenkins’ The ArmedMan, backed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I felt every note throughmy body and can still feel themnowwhen I listen to that music. That is what it was like to watchNadiya. My appreciation of dancers and dance went through the roof immediately. I knew they were talented, but I had never seen the control of the body, the skill, the ability to channel power and feeling throughmovement. It was all so alien tome. It was a formof communication I had closedmyself o frommy whole life. Thankfully, I was alongside someone who spoke it fluently. Some professionals specialise in ballroomand some in Latin, but Nadiya was a 10 Dance champion so is amaster of both. We were a great team. Nadiya took care of the dancing, while I took care of the TV side. I’mnow going to let you into a Strictly secret. I’ve watched the show for years and, having now taken part, there are four crucial elements to doing well. Obviously, the dance itself is essential. It lasts for 90 seconds, but each couple also gets a 90-second film (or VT) and another 90 seconds to chat with ClaudiaWinkleman. The fourth element is outside the confines of the show – social media and Strictly spin-o programmes such as It Takes Two. These are all as important as each other, yet most contestants seem to spend four days learning the dance and put little e ort into the VT, the interview or the extra bits. Viewers want to know if you can dance and are improving, but the other elements are the only chance they get to see who you are and howwell you get on as a couple. These matter as much as the dance, which is why it’s possible to get average scores (normally fromCraig) and survive. I lasted threemonths, reaching the quarter-final, and it was the best fun I’ve had on TV. I felt like I’d climbed amountain and could see for miles at the top. This season will have a few twists as the BBC celebrates 100 years and I’mexcited to watch the next crop of contestants enjoy the climb. I might even crack out some old photos to remindmyself of what the view looked like. Dan’s book Standing on the Shoulders: Incredible Heroes andHowThey Inspire Us (Headline), is out on 13October. @mrdanwalker As millions of viewers prepare for the first live episode of the 20th season, DanWalker looks back at his time on the show, the friends hemade and the valuable lessons he learned The insider’s guide to Weekending