After 12 weeks, 11 eliminations and one early unexpected exit, this year's series of Strictly Come Dancing has been up there as the most controversial, the most entertaining and the most spectacular series in the show's 12 year history.
Ahead of tonight's grand final, I went along to the Strictly Final press conference at the BBC, hosted by Jeremy Vine, to hear what the finalists; Danny Mac, Louise Redknapp and Ore Oduba, and their respective dance partners; Oti Mabuse, Kevin Clifton and Joanne Clifton make of tonight’s Strictly Come Dancing grand final.
Ore, what does it mean to you to be in the final of Strictly?
Ore: Being in the final of this show, wasn’t even an option. I’ve watched Strictly for the twelve years that it’s been on and it’s been the thing that I’ve dreamt about doing. Working at the BBC, it’s always been one of the shows that I thought, “Wouldn’t that be incredible to be a part of?” So when I arrived, it was a realisation of a dream. I still feel like I’m inside the telly, let alone part of a TV show. It’s beyond belief, it really is.
Louise, how are you coping with the nerves?
Louise: You can’t ever imagine it. I’ve watched the show for so many years and never thought I’d have the guts to actually go on the show. When you’re there, there’s sort of a mix of nervousness and excitement. You just don’t want to let everybody down.
You’ve been working so hard so you really don’t want to let your partner down who has been putting the hours in all through the week. You just want to enjoy it, so it’s a really mad emotion but amazing. You have an incredible time and everyone is so supportive that it’s just great.
Danny, does the final take those nerves to another level?
Danny: I think the final is what you dream of at the start of the competition, but you only ever take it one week at a time. It’s such a great experience. It really is THE best thing I’ve ever done. To be in the final now, feels like you’ve gone the whole way. It’s just brilliant. I’ve had the best time.
Professionals, what’s the best and worst thing about your partner?
Joanne: The best thing about him (Ore) is that he works really really hard. He doesn’t want breaks, he doesn’t do coffee breaks, he doesn’t eat sometimes! He doesn’t even want lunch, he just wants to carry on. That’s probably the best thing... and being a good friend.
Worst thing? Outside of the training room I call him the sloth because he’s the slowest person to get ANYWHERE.
Kevin: Whenever I’m asked about what partner I want on Strictly, people always assume that you want someone who’s going to be an amazing dancer who you can hopefully win with. But really, all you want is someone who’s going to be really nice to get on with and a good laugh so that you can have a good time. I can’t think of anything worse than if you didn’t get on. I think Louise is the loveliest person in the world. She just comes into training with a massive smile on her face every day which just makes your series.
Worst? I don’t think I’ve got anything bad to say about her actually! (Laughs) I remember right at the beginning of the series she came and said to me “I nearly didn’t do it in the end. I’ve always wanted to do it but I was really scared of doing it.” She said “I’ll give you my best, but I’m probably not going to be confident enough to do any of that jazz hands and thigh-slapping stuff.” And I said, “Unfortunately Louise, you’re partnered with me!” (Laughs)
Oti: Every day with Danny is such a nice experience. I think the best thing is just seeing the progress that he’s made. When I met him, he was sitting under a table on his phone, not talking to anybody, because he just thought he wasn’t good enough to be there. Getting to know him, getting his personality out there and getting him to open up, that’s been the best thing.
The worst thing... Is that we do take lunch! We love lunch. We absolutely love lunch! (Laughs) The only problem is when lunch comes out of the body and he ends up burping all the time. I’m like “Really Danny? Really?! I’m trying to count! Why? Why?!” You end up just tasting a bit of the burger.
I think it’s absolutely cute because you look at him and you think that Danny Mac would never do something like that. It just makes him human and more adorable.
Has the competitive streak been unleashed now? Do you want to win?
Louise: I’ve come in to Strictly thinking that I’m just going to make the most of this. I did it for real personal reasons. I just wanted to get out and do something for me. Anyone who’s got kids knows that your life becomes very wrapped up in them and you end up doing nothing that you love doing. So Strictly for me was always about making the most of it week by week, enjoying it, learning a new dance every week and just getting back out there and remembering that I love performing.
The minute I thought of it as a competition, I would have stopped enjoying it. I would be an absolute liar to sit here and say that taking it (the glitterball trophy) home wouldn’t be amazing, of course it would, but at the same time, Saturday night for me, I’m so proud to be there, I’m just going to give it my best and enjoy every minute of it.
Kevin: I’m the same as Louise. We’re all going to sit here and we’re all going to say “It’s all about the enjoyment”... and it is. But also at the moment when we’re all stood there we’d all be lying, as Louise said, if we didn’t have that little bit in us hoping that they’re going to read our names out. I’m starting to think that I’m running out of chances, this being my fourth final. But as Louise said, it is such a massive thing just to be in the final. As much as we’d all love to win, we don’t want to feel like we’re competing against each other.
We’re all going out for dinner, the finalists, just to feel like we’re going in to this final together rather than against each other, which I think is a really nice thing.
What about the Clifton rivalry? Two Cliftons in the final! Are your parents going to be there?
Joanne: Of course! One’s on my tickets and one’s on his tickets.
Kevin: Try and keep them away!
Joanne: They vote more for me because I’m the favourite child.
Kevin: They told me that they were going to vote for Danny and Oti so that they don’t have to do that!
What dances did you find the most challenging?
Danny: Honest to God, I cannot explain how much of a challenge every single routine has been, Monday and Tuesday... and a lot of times through to Wednesday and Thursday! It’s because Oti will push me. None of us will ever be as good as the pros, we’ll never be able to do what they do, which means there’s always so much to learn.
No matter what I come into the training room with. No matter what Oti gives me to do. If it’s working, then Oti will make it harder. She’ll push me and push me and push me and that’s what’s been the best process. That’s why I feel like I’ve achieved so much out of this. It’s always been a challenge. No one day has been easy and I’ve always gone into Saturday clinging on to what I’ve learnt that week. Always on the knife edge, thinking it could all go wrong. It’s never been perfect, but the sense of achievement when you get there, because it’s never been easy, I can’t explain how brilliant that is.
Danny, lots has been made about your previous training. Do you feel that puts you at a disadvantage?
Danny: I’ve no idea whether it’s put me at an advantage or a disadvantage to be honest. Also, people say there’s this dance experience, but everyone’s got varying degrees of what they must know. I can give you a full background on it if you like, it was three years at drama school and never before and never since.
If that’s the case, then that would be a shame. The thing that bothers me the most about is that I know what I came into this competition with and anything I’ve achieved, to give credit to that, would be taking it away from Oti and that wouldn’t be fair. It’s completely 100 percent down to her. I was never going to be a dancer. That was never going to be the case and I have never been employed as one.
It was part of my training at drama school, but if people want to believe that because they don’t want to vote for me, then so be it. There’s nothing I can do about it, but I give 100% credit for what I’ve achieved in this show to this girl next to me.
What’s been the best and worst moment of the past three months for you?
Ore: The best thing has been learning to dance. And learning to dance with such an amazing friend. Before I started, I had an idea about how amazing Strictly might be because of the opportunity to dance, but what the production put together by putting me with Jo has just made it so much better than I could have ever dreamt. I didn’t even dance at my own wedding.
I certainly didn’t do any kind of routine and now we’ve ben going through some of the routines and the styles that we’ve learnt and to have the opportunity to learn with someone who you absolutely love, you don’t get to do that. So that has been the best thing.
Worst moment was being in the dance off for the very first time. We’d done a salsa that we loved doing but we found ourselves in the bottom two, and in that moment, the whole of your Strictly experience flashes before your eyes. You think within a dance that you might not be able to do this again. It’s crushing. Absolutely crushing because actually there was a positive to come from it as we came back fighting and we’re still here.
But that feeling when the lights drop and you’re fighting for your strictly life, is devastating.
What can you tell us about your show dances?
Joanne: Because I thought he (Ore) suited quite well the characterisation of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, I’ve done it to I’ve Got Rhythm. All I’m going to say is that we’ve got MASSIVE props.
Kevin: I actually think the show dance is the most difficult one to choreograph, because week by week you’re told “This week you’re doing foxtrot” or “It's Movie Week and you’re doing this movie”. It’s sort of the easiest thing to do because there are boundaries to it. You’re playing this character, this is the dance so you’ve got a bank of steps and then make something out of it that is your own”. So you’ve got your rules to go by.
When it comes to the show dance they just go “You can do whatever you want” so you can pick any song in existence, any props, any kind of style so it’s almost too blank a sheet of paper. So it’s quite difficult to go in one direction of what you want to do.
In the end, I decided that for ours, it’s going to be based on Louise. That’s the best thing for me to do and tell the story of how she’s developed from the beginning to the end, so that’s what our show dance is based on.
Oti: I think we might have been in the same dream! Ours is about Danny. We tried to make it about the journey that not a lot of people got to see, because when you start with your first dance, you’ve got three weeks to prepare. In our three weeks I was like “You’re going to smile.
You’re going to look confident. You’re going to look like you own it because you’re the best!” but people didn’t get to see that he came in saying “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”
It’s really me saying, Danny, this is all about you. This is all about how you accepted who you are and began to see the worth in you through dancing and hope that people will get it and understand it and love that he’s grown through this competition. Strictly has made him a better person.
It’s Len’s final ever Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday, would you ever like to replace him on the panel? And how would you feel if another pro did?
Joanne: I’d like to be on the panel. I’d judge him (points to Kevin). I’d love to criticise my own brother, that would be great!
Kevin: I’m just happy being a dancer at the moment. I’ve not been asked. If it is one of the other pros that becomes a judge, then I’d be happy with that if that’s the direction they go in. It’s the best bunch of pros in existence, they all know their stuff.
Oti: I think the production will do a good job ad choosing the next judge. My sister is actually a judge on the German Strictly, and I know it’s such a big responsibility because you have to be honest and you have to be true to yourself. Sometimes the dancers don’t take well to it, or the celebrities don’t understand it, so it really is a big opportunity with big responsibility.
I don’t think personally that I would like to sit there because I love creating. I love choreographing, it’s what I do. Or maybe... Not yet! Later. (Laughs)