Behind the scenes of Strictly Come Dancing 2023 as the semi finals arrive: 12 things I saw from the audience
and live on Freeview channel 276
It’s almost midnight, raining and blowing a gale but one by one the sparkle-clad, exhausted and biscuit and adrenaline- fuelled audience of Strictly Come Dancing are spat out into the darkness, finally reunited with their mobile phones and desperate for a glass of wine or their beds.
I’m amongst them and can confirm spirits are high and bums sore after an evening of marathon-level clapping through two shows - one live, one pre-recorded. Some have been in their seats since early afternoon, unable to move, and not just because their bums have welded into their seats and they haven’t eaten since lunch. But there's little complaining - after all a record 4.5m people applied for audience tickets in 2023 for the launch show alone - so those picked at random have already won the lottery.
Here's 12 things you might not know - observed behind the sparkle while in the audience at Blackpool week:
Most of the audience arrive VERY early and have to queue. You have to give in any phones or recording devices for the full 10 hours. It also means the audience (apart from celebrities and close family who get to keep theirs) can’t vote.
My friend and I were booted out of our balcony seats above the judges table by a crew so they could get a shot of Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman announcing couples for the dance off (results show). They popped themselves gingerly on the edge of the ballroom balcony and Tess was so terrified of the height she was white and literally trembling with fear - Claudia kept a tight grip on her. I felt for Tess but it says something about her professionalism that she still managed the short pieces to camera (although there were several takes - she shrieked when a piece of tinsel came floating past her head as she was so tense). When they had finished ( and she’d recovered from the experience) she still found time to compliment my dress though.
The entire operation is fuelled by Custard Creams. You think I’m joking but most of the audience are there for 9-10 hours and the only food available is free biscuits and water which are dolled out in between show filming. The audience is heavily advised to eat a big meal beforehand (though I saw pizza and champagne delivered to VIPs).
Both shows are filmed on the Saturday, one after another, with the same audience. When they say ‘yesterday’ in the interviews it’s still today. There’s only approximately 30-40 minutes between Saturday live show and Sunday show filming. The dancers are absolutely shattered and those in the dance-off are on their last legs and use ice buckets backstage. Filming only finished around 11.30pm -we the audience are begged to stay quiet about the results - and most manage it.
Strictly is the only show on TV with a live band and singers all the way through - they are amazing and cope with the banter and long shift very well, even playing happy birthday to to an audience member.
Warm up guy Stuart Holdham, working closely with floor manager Alan Conley (yes, he’s comedian Brian Conley’s brother), actually hold the whole shebang together, keeping the audience laughing and behaving. They even tell off celebrities when required - eliminated Strictly star Zara McDermott nearly lost her front row seat for wandering off. They cueing up clapping and booing. - and, yes, even that is rehearsed.
The dozens of black-clad floor crew are incredible - they have just minutes to remove entire sets and build a new one, partly in silence, as Claudia conducts the live broadcasts in the ‘Clauditorium’ which in reality is just at one end of the dance floor. A large part of this is vacuuming up acres of glitter and tinsel ( and bits of costume) after every performance with giant leaf blowers - and setting up flame special effects. The glitter etc is all recycled and used again - explained Stuart Holdham.
The live act have had to play their song twice with the dancers so they can get all the camera angles - Madness used a large-print autocue complete with the song lyrics throughout (to be fair I’d probably need it too).
The costume and makeup department do a lot of running and repairing - often sewing split costumes between takes and tackling what Stuart Holdham described as ‘eyelash injuries’. Everyone looks stunning.
The corner of the first balcony is often used by couples to get some last minute practice - I saw Nigel and Katya rehearsing away.
During the results show, after Bobby and Dianne learned they had been saved, Dianne as was sobbing her heart out at the side of the dance floor off camera. Bobby was hugging and trying to console her. Dianne’s dad was diagnosed with cancer and had started chemotherapy the week before in Australia - it must be hard for her on top of the Strictly stress and exhaustion.
There is so much more but needless to say, the whole thing was INCREDIBLE. and actually pretty emotional. For the record, I wasn’t a huge Strictly fan before last year - I’m a convert!