As the BBC’s flagship Saturday night show returns, Tess Daly tells why the Olympic feel-good factor – and a couple of medal-winning heroes – help it give X Factor a run for its money
13:55 GMT, 15 September 2012
For almost a decade Strictly Come Dancing has waged a cat-and-mouse battle for ratings supremacy with its ITV arch-rival The X Factor.
But, as it returns for a remarkable tenth season, the BBC celebrity dance show’s co-presenter Tess Daly believes the goodwill from the Olympics might have fundamentally changed what viewers want from Saturday night TV.
‘We are a positive show. We’re not out to assassinate characters,’ she says, making the contrast with Simon Cowell’s controversial talent show crystal clear. ‘Strictly is there to celebrate success,’ adds Tess, taking a bite of her lunchtime salad nioise.
Strictly Come Dancing is there to celebrate success says host Tess Daly
‘That reflects the mood of the nation right now. Every- one’s feeling incredibly patriotic and proud of our gold medal haul.’
It helps that this year Strictly has attracted some actual Olympic champions – cyclist Victoria Pendleton and gymnast Louis Smith – alongside names such as Jerry Hall, Fern Britton, Westlife’s Nicky /09/13/article-2202690-0EF9478900000578-613_306x423.jpg” width=”306″ height=”423″ alt=”Has she ever considered what Strictly might be like without Bruce 'I cant begin to imagine it. Bruce is Strictly. He has no intention of going anywhere anytime soon.' ” class=”blkBorder” />
Has she ever considered what Strictly might be like without Bruce 'I cant begin to imagine it. Bruce is Strictly. He has no intention of going anywhere anytime soon.'
'This is Bruce’s lifeblood. Entertainment is what keeps him young. That’s the secret to his longevity. It keeps him vital and fresh. Well, that and marrying a Miss World, of course!’
Tess has formed a strong friendship with Bruce – she insists he is a ‘close mate’, not a father figure – and is clearly protective. She bristles when I bring up ongoing complaints about his presenting style. ‘I’d like to see anyone who criticises Bruce do a better job on a Saturday night in front of 14 million people,’ she fumes.
‘And what you don’t see at home is that before the show, Bruce is singing and dancing and telling his gags in front of the audience. He insists on doing his own warm-up.’
Bruce has also formed a close bond with Tess’s husband Vernon Kay, who hosts All Star Family Fortunes for ITV. ‘He sees Vernon as a bit of a protg.
They get a bit TV geekish over the phone together all the time,’ she explains. ‘Vernon has huge respect for Bruce because he’s always been one of his idols. He worships the ground Bruce walks on.’
For the third year Tess will take the helm of Sunday night’s results show without Bruce. Instead, she takes the main hosting role with Claudia Winkleman as her sidekick. But while The X Factor features high-profile battles between its female judges, Tess insists there is no rivalry between the pair. ‘It’s terrible when people say that. Surely two women can actually get on and like each other’ she sighs.
In fact, the pair have formed a close friendship backstage, bonding over a joint love of motherhood, make-up and Jimmy Choos. ‘Claudia is brilliantly bonkers. She’s hilarious – she has me in stitches in her dressing room with her potty mouth. We have lunch together and hang out during the day. Then we get our make-up done at the same time. We’re mates. I adore her.’
The new female addition to the line-up this year is ballerina Darcey Bussell, who replaces Alesha Dixon on the judging panel after she defected to ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent. Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood all return.
For the third year Tess will take the helm of Sunday nights results show without Bruce
‘None of us had any idea Alesha was going to leave,’ Tess reveals. ‘Of course, initially I was disappointed. I’d known her since I got into television. I loved the girl. But she’s going to make a success of whatever she chooses in life.’
She has met up with Darcey, at 43 the same age as Tess, and offered her one piece of advice. ‘I told her, “Keep those boys in line. Treat them mean and keep them keen!”’
The next three months will be the busiest of the year for Tess. But she’s determined that her two daughters – seven-year-old Phoebe and three-year-old Amber – remain her priority.
In fact, she and Vernon, 38, who live in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire, share childcare duties and have both had to say no to jobs in order to avoid having hired help.
‘Some of my friends laugh at me and tell me I’m far too working-class about my childcare, but I refuse to have a nanny. I don’t want to hand over the role of parenting to someone else,’ she says.
With Amber about to start pre-school (‘I can’t bear it – my little baby!’ she shrieks, covering her eyes), Tess is satisfied with the size of her family. Vernon, on the other hand, wants more children. ‘Vernon would love a busload!’ Tess admits.
She and Vernon, 38, who live in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire, share childcare duties and have both had to say no to jobs in order to avoid having hired help
‘He just loves having babies around. He’s a brilliant dad. He’s very hands on. It’s a joy to see them together because they’re obsessed with their daddy. But I think if I have another baby I’d end up never leaving the house again. It’s already a battle to get out of the front door!’
Vernon and Tess were considered to have one of the strongest showbiz relationships, but their nine-year marriage was rocked in February 2010 when he admitted sending sexually explicit text messages to five women, including topless model Rhian Sugden, who recently appeared on Celebrity Big Brother.
Vernon made a public apology on his BBC Radio 1 show and it’s clear the couple’s marriage is back on track. In fact, after jointly hosting the BBC1 singing competition Just The Two Of Us five years ago, they’re now actively discussing working together again.
‘We’d be up for it because we enjoyed it last time,’ Tess says. Could they be the next Richard and Judy ‘You mean I’d tell him off and he’d comply That sounds like our home life! But it’s got to be the right format. I can’t imagine us doing a daily show together.’
Five years older than her husband, Tess is now a TV veteran and, somewhat disturbingly, one of the oldest female entertainment presenters. Can she imagine being on TV in her 80s like Brucie ‘Absolutely not,’ she says. ‘I’ll be sitting on my terrace somewhere overlooking the Med sipping ros in the sun and thinking fondly of times gone by.’
Slim Tess, who looks at least a decade younger than she is, says she’s noticing changes to her body. ‘Honey, trust me, it’s starting to go south. Having stayed out of the gym for my entire adult life, I might have to bow to pressure. It’s time to take action.’
What about anything more extreme like Botox or surgery ‘I don’t want to pump myself full of collagen. That’s not what I’m about. Yes, I have fine lines and wrinkles. But I’m not going to beat myself up about things I can’t change.’
One of the biggest factors behind Strictly’s rejuvenation has been its casting of quirky celebrities who capture the heart of the nation. While it remains to be seen whether this season’s batch of star hoofers will live up to their potential, I can’t resist returning to Nancy Dell’Olio, the Italian former girlfriend of Sven-Gran Eriksson, who stole last year’s show.
‘Everyone was a bit wary, we expected major diva-tronics. And a lot of the time she didn’t disappoint'
‘Everyone was a bit wary, we expected major diva-tronics. And a lot of the time she didn’t disappoint,’ Tess giggles cheekily. ‘If I’d compliment her on her dress or her figure, she’d say, “Well, of course dahling! I’m fabulous!”’
In one particularly riotous incident, Nancy threatened to sue Bruno who, while judging her performance suggested she had ‘inhaled two gallons of Veuve Clicquot’. Tess says, ‘When she arrived she thought there’d be champagne on tap in her dressing room. But there was only a bottle of water and an apple. She realised if she wanted champagne she’d have to bring her own.’
And did she ‘She did indeed. In a wheelie bag each week! There were at least two bottles, bless her.’
Nancy is just one of those who have found their star on the rise, thanks to the gruelling Strictly journey. That’s why Tess believes A-list stars who run a mile from more tawdry TV series will continue to beg to be part of the show. ‘We get a lot of celebrities who wouldn’t do other reality shows because they know they’ll come out looking good on ours.’
And that could be the formula for Strictly Come Dancing to finally take the gold medal from The X Factor, once and for all.
Strictly Come Dancing, tonight, BBC1, 6.30pm. Tess’s debut novel, The Camera Never Lies, is out now.