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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Michael Hogan

Strictly Come Dancing final: who will hoof their way to glitter ball glory?

The actor Layton Williams, picture with his dance partner Nikita Kuzmin. hailed by the judges as one of the best-ever Strictly contestants.
The actor Layton Williams, pictured with his dance partner Nikita Kuzmin, has been hailed by the judges as one of the best-ever Strictly contestants. Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA

Is Strictly Come Dancing about to see its first same-sex winners? Going into the BBC ballroom contest’s grand final on Saturday night, the actor Layton Williams and his professional partner Nikita Kuzmin are the in-form pairing. They would make hoofing history by lifting the fabled glitter ball.

Same-sex couples were introduced in 2020, with the UK edition lagging behind several international versions. This year’s pair have already matched the achievement of John Whaite and Johannes Radebe, who reached the 2021 final. If they go one better by clinching the coveted trophy, it would be a landmark moment for diversity and representation on primetime TV. Better Layton than never.

Bury-born Williams, 29, best known for the sitcom Bad Education and musical theatre roles, has been a standout all series. A thrilling dancer who combines power with finesse, he is the contest’s highest scorer, topping the leaderboard a record seven times in 12 weeks. In the past fortnight, he’s notched the only two perfect 40-point scores of the series. However, his stint has been dogged by controversy and criticism.

Grumblings about his dance background – he’s stage-schooled with extensive West End credits – have grown louder as the competition progressed. Williams wasn’t trained in ballroom or Latin but is accused of being a professional in a contest for amateurs. The backlash has spilled over into racism and homophobia. As Strictly’s first male celebrity to dance in a dress, he has been subjected to vile abuse online but has weathered the storm with dignity.

The judges have hailed him as one of the best-ever contestants. However, the result in the final is decided by public votes alone. A lack of viewer support could prevent Williams from winning. This would leave the way open for fellow Bury actor Ellie Leach, a strong favourite with bookmakers to be crowned Strictly’s 21st champion.

Ellie Leach and Vito Coppola during their appearance on the live show on Saturday for BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing. Issue date: Saturday December 9, 2023.
Ellie Leach has topped the scoreboard table four times with the dance partner Vito Coppola. Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA

The Coronation Street alumna, 22, would be a worthy winner. Second only to Williams on the total scoreboard, she has topped the table four times. The unerringly consistent Leach has been hailed as the most versatile dancer in the field, equally strong in ballroom or Latin.

Leach’s secret weapon in her quest for the title is her popular Italian partner Vito Coppola, whose enthusiastic post-dance interviews and elaborate animal analogies have endeared him to viewers. Coppola has reached the final in both his series as a Strictly pro, having finished runner-up with Fleur East 12 months ago. There have been rumours of a romance with Leach, although the notorious “Strictly curse” does not apply since both are single. Either way, they have sizzling chemistry.

The rank outsider in an all-thespian final is EastEnders’ Bobby Brazier who, at 20, would become the youngest ever winner. The son of the late reality star Jade Goody has overcome a childhood in the media spotlight to become a rising talent and mental health advocate. With his model looks and cheeky charm, Brazier has a fervent fanbase who will need to mobilise to propel him to victory. He is the lowest scorer overall and has twice survived the dreaded dance-off.

Bobby Brazier and dance partner Dianne Buswell, who has never lifted the glitter ball.
Bobby Brazier and dance partner Dianne Buswell, who has never lifted the glitter ball. Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA

Will the winner be the groundbreaker, the bookies’ favourite or the ballroom baby? Whatever the result, we will see a new pro champion. Neither Kuzmin, Coppola nor Brazier’s partner Dianne Buswell have ever lifted the glitter ball. Each pair performs three dances on Saturday evening: their own favourite, the judges’ pick and the eagerly anticipated show-dance – a no-rules, razzle-dazzle routine that is always a series highlight.

It’s a fitting climax to another successful year for the BBC’s flagship autumn franchise. Highlights have included Angela Rippon, the oldest ever contestant at 79, rolling back the years with a levitating leg lift. Rippon came full circle by bowing out in Blackpool Tower ballroom, where she presented the original series Come Dancing during the 80s.

The inspirational former tennis player Annabel Croft just missed out on a place in the final. Dancing through grief, her husband, Mel Coleman, died suddenly in May, Croft rediscovered her confidence, improving her scores from a lowly four to a perfect 10 en route to the semi-final.

An eventful series saw two surprise withdrawals. The actor Amanda Abbington quit for “personal reasons” and Casualty’s Nigel Harman pulled out after sustaining a rib injury in training. The Channel 4 newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy embraced guyliner and lost two stone. The comedian Les Dennis descended from the ceiling on a glittery anchor.

While other reality contests have struggled – ratings for ITV’s I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! have fallen, while the BBC’s Survivor reboot has flopped – Strictly continues to inject sparkle into the nation’s Saturdays. Its regular 9 million audience is expected to rise to 11 million for the final. All that remains to be seen is who succeeds reigning champion Hamza Yassin by claiming that festive bauble.

• Strictly Come Dancing: The Final airs tonight at 7pm on BBC One

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