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Take your partners! Stars pair up with the professionals as Strictly returns

EastEnders pin-up (and Jade Goody’s son) Bobby favourite with bookies


STRICTLY Come Dancing 2023 sashayed on to the nation’s TV screens last night as its 15 stars were paired with the show’s professional dancers.

Former Come Dancing presenter Angela Rippon, who turns 79 next month, will be cha-cha-cha-ing with Kai Widdrington – who is mere 50 years her junior.

Raring to go, Ms Rippon told the show’s host Tess Daly: ‘I’m going to enjoy it. I couldn’t be happier.’

Former tennis ace Annabel Croft, 57, who revealed she was competing to ‘find joy’ after the death in May of her husband, yachtsman Mel Coleman, said of her pro Johannes Radebe, 36: ‘I’ve got the best partner I could possibly have wished for.

‘Honestly, he’s so special. It’s such an honour and a privilege.’

Radebe told her cheekily: ‘I’m going to take you through your paces, my darling – but the most important thing is that we are going to have fun.’

Meanwhile, EastEnders actor Bobby Brazier, 20 – the son of late reality TV star Jade Goody – will foxtrot with youngsters’ favourite Dianne Buswell, 34, who met her boyfriend – the YouTuber Joe Sugg – when they were paired in 2018.

She told Ms Daly last night: ‘I am so happy. I have already adopted Bobby as my little brother.

‘I already care so much about him, I just want him to have the best time ever.’

Veteran comedian, actor and gameshow host Les Dennis, 69 – who revealed that his wife cried when she found out he’d be competing on the BBC1 show – will take to the floor with Nancy Xu,

32, who danced last year with soap star Will Mellor.

The same-sex couple this year is stage star Layton Williams, 29, who played Billy Elliot in the West End, and Nikita Kuzmin, 25.

Paralympian swimmer and cyclist Jody Cundy, 44, is paired with Jowita Przystal, 29, who raised the Glitterball trophy with last year’s underdog, wildlife cameraman Hamza Yassin, 33. Sherlock actress Amanda Abbington is partnered with Giovanni Pernice, who won the trophy with deaf EastEnders actress Rose AylingEllis in 2021.

There were calls to boycott the show after Ms Abbington, 51, said on social media that a drag act for parents and babies aged up to two wasn’t suitable for the infants.

However, Pernice, 33, is a safe pair of hands and could waltz her through the competition – and perhaps even win back the favour of the general public.

Casualty heartthrob Nigel Harman, 50, is paired with one of the show’s most popular pro dancers, Katya Jones, 34, who won the competition in 2017 with partner Joe McFadden. TV journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, 53 – the contestant tipped as being least likely to win by the bookies – could present a challenge for professional Lauren Oakley, 32.

Love Island’s Zara McDermott, 26, dismissed the threat of the infamous Strictly ‘curse’ on her relationship with Made In Chelsea’s Sam Thompson after being paired with Graziano Di Prima, 29, who is married to fellow dancer Giada Lini.

Di Prima does bear a striking resemblance to Thompson’s onscreen pal Pete Wicks, though.

According to most of the other celebrity contestants, Eddie Kadi, 40, is the one to watch for his surprising dance skills.

The comedian and radio presenter has been partnered with professional Karen Hauer, 41. Irish broadcaster Angela Scanlon, 39, is paired with Carlos Gu and Waterloo Road’s Adam Thomas, 35, is with Luba Mushtuk, 33.

BBC Asian Network presenter Nikita Kanda, 28, will dance with Strictly heartthrob Gorka Marquez, 33, while former Coronation Street actress Ellie Leach, 22, is with Vito Coppola, 30.

The stars will now start training intensively with their partners – but preparations for the show have already prompted weeks of drama behind the scenes.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that professional dancer Neil Jones, 41, was ‘bereft’ after he wasn’t paired with a celebrity, having been shunned last year, too, and being voted out in week one in 2021 with actress Nina Wadia. A source said: ‘Neil really thought he was going to get a partner this year, he really believed he would, so he is gutted, so upset.’

Ukrainian Nadiya Bychkova, 34, also failed to get a celebrity partner, and is said to have berated BBC bosses – who weren’t impressed that she had dared to question their decision.

Producers are also said to be ‘furious’ with former presenter and 2021 Strictly contestant Dan Walker for saying on social media that not giving Ms Bychkova a partner was like leaving footballer Lionel Messi on the subs bench for a Champions League Final. One said: ‘What the hell did he think he was doing getting involved? What has any of this got to do with him?’

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